Hip-hop has been killed. Itï¿½s been killed by the million-dollar
videos and drug dealers turned hook dealers. Itï¿½s been killed by the
fear you see in artists who are only as good as their last albumï¿½s
sales. But these are just indicators of hip-hopï¿½s success and industry
domination. Like rock in the ï¿½70s, hip-hop is the engorged king, fat
with its own pomp, convinced of its own hype. If violence has replaced
drugs, have we really learned any more from Biggie and Pac than they
did from Hendrix and Morrison?
Pop singles are all weï¿½re left with, and the hip-hop machine
rages on, destroying the innovation that made it so vital to begin
with. But look closer; this homogenization of hip-hop is only an
illusion. Even ignoring the ever-evolving underground, the strength of
the genre — which is really the last major jump in musical evolution
— is how much it can adapt to a new environment: witness the birth of
an ever-evolving style.
Grime is what the kids — rather, the journalists and
publicists — are calling it in London these days. In reality, there is
no designated name for this inevitable mixture of straight hip-hop and
that other impossible-to-name genre, U.K. garage (two-step? Dub-step?).
My preference is for Wileyï¿½s Eskibeat, named after his genre-defining
ï¿½Eskimoï¿½ circa 2002, (check out Wileyï¿½s great ï¿½What U Call It?ï¿½ off
last yearï¿½s unfairly ignored Treadinï¿½ on Thin Ice for an overview of the problem). But one listen to Dizzee Rascalï¿½s Boy in da Corner shows this is just British hip-hop finally gaining its own voice.
That distinction might bother fans of the genre (who have already
turned their back on Dizzee thanks to his crossover attempt with Showtime).
But the hip-hop ethos does not have to be constraining, and in no way
does a clear influence dilute the power or originality of the new
sound. Just like punk in the late ï¿½70s was really rock ï¿½nï¿½ roll reborn,
grime is the music worldï¿½s first serious opportunity to reclaim
hip-hop. Other people can debate the social and cultural developments
that led to the phenomenon, though. What you need to know is that this
is vital music, pulling stark samples and hiccupping drum kicks into a
volatile shape-shifting whole: think break-core stripped of excess and
cut with paranoid delivery stuck to a synth held hostage.
Whatever you call it, 679ï¿½s Run the Road compilation,
released in America by the increasingly relevant Vice Records, is an
essential move in the genreï¿½s development. Bringing together the
sceneï¿½s kings (and queens), the compilation isnï¿½t just important, itï¿½s
effortlessly impressive in its superior selections and variety. Kano,
who will be opening for Nas — yeah, thatï¿½s right — on his U.K. tour
this spring, is featured on four songs. He is one of the more
conventional hip-hop artists on the album, but he emerges as a star,
particularly on ï¿½Pï¿½s & Qï¿½s.ï¿½ Dizzee and Wiley make excellent
appearances, but even better are the young emcee Ears on the bubbly
ï¿½Happy Dayzï¿½ and the quick spitter Durrty Goodz on ï¿½Gimme Dat.ï¿½ Lady
Sovereign, often denied grimy status by the genreï¿½s elitists, is the
most likely to succeed commercially. Already well known for her
appearance on the remix of the Streetsï¿½ ï¿½Fit But You Know Itï¿½ (also
included here), her ï¿½Cha Chingï¿½ brings fuzzy bass hits and rave-style
breaks to a climax under her playful and startlingly charismatic
Few compilations are worth owning in the long run, but if grime has its way with the world, Run the Road
might turn out to be the essential singles collection of the early
years, when the greats were still mapping out uncharted territory.
People have been trying to pigeonhole hip-hop for more than twenty
years, but as this comp testifies, the ability of urban poetry and
dance breaks to transform struggle and community experience into new
artistic expression is still as powerful as ever. No matter where it
comes from and what life is like there, music speaks for itself. And
this music has something to say.