Serious hip hop has seriously taken over hip hop. If further proof that the death knell was rung for the genre, look no further than this year – even Kanye West’s third album, ‘Graduation’, was solid but seriously devoid of the fun element so prevalent in his earlier work. Anything risky or comic, even light-hearted, is either made for clubs or for mixtapes – rarely in between. Again, look at West’s inspired video for his "Throw Some D’s" remix – against his own wishes, it never even made it to TV, and had to swim upstream, streamed down from YouTube. In fact, hip hop has often sneered at anyone who makes ‘fun’ music – from the era of De La Soul and Biz Markie, the general guidelines tend to follow "We’ll let you do it once, but don’t you dare do it twice." It’s a shame, but surely there is room – considering that the majority of the world’s interaction with hip hop is solely through club music, the genre will lose character if the sole purveyors tend to be part of the corporate steam-rollers (look at BEP, 50 et al). At the moment, R Kelly’s virtual stand-up comedy album, ‘The Double Up’, is looking more like an oasis in a desert of barren laughs.
Of course, hip hop (in a similar path to the video game industry) is growing up, reaching a stage of maturation that effectively means it is entering its 30’s. That is a good job/marriage/kids age – not listening to hip hop that might make you dance or, God forbid, smile. Except that the video game industry was heading that way, before Nintendo threw a curve ball – the incredibly successful Wii has reinvigorated the entire genre, and injected a healthy dose of fun and interaction into video gaming, and making it accessible for virtually anyone. That may well be precisely what hip hop needs right now – someone to shake things up a bit. Of course, that is going to become progressively more difficult as the barriers to entry simultaneously go down (anyone can do it nowadays) and heighten (the major labels are cornering off their genuine opponents, one by one).
Which leads us to an interesting self-titled concept album courtesy of Yea Big + Kid Static. Effectively an attempt to cater for those who "just want to get their dance on", it may hold your interest for a while. This isn’t intense headphone-worthy hip hop, and it may frequently deviate from its mission statement, heading for "futuristic comic book hip hop" instead, but the excellent production and diverting delivery on display here give you something different from the norm. They mash up genres for fun, and although this incredibly short and skit-laden LP shouldn’t really work on paper, as an experience it is enjoyable. The lyrics aren’t comparable with De La Soul and company, only insofar as they are frequently too abstract for their own good, and the narrative arc is ostensibly only there for show. But tracks such as the interesting tabla fest that is "Joining Forces" would find favour in most people’s ears; the unsuspecting switch in "The Basement/Enfant Terrible" will impress the hell out of you; and the more middle of the road (by their standards) hip hop of "The Life Here" could even find its way to college radio. The production is truly different to most of what we’ve been exposed to this year: that alone is not enough, but the quality is certainly there.
Listening to the album as a whole, however, I’m not quite sure that this really is that much of a ‘fun’ album, let alone something to really make you get up and dance. If those were the sole objectives, this album would have to be considered a failure – but luckily, it has a depth of quality that means it is worth recommending to those who find that the genre we all love so much may be getting a touch stale. This proves that there are people who care about hip hop, and are willing to take risks in getting out what makes sense to their ears – even if it is not immediately accessible to the whole as a whole. It is called diversity, and long live being a bit different – or as Big Yea + Kid Static put it, "the odd man out is always in." Bravo.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: October 23, 2007