In the wake of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s rise to success this year, there has been a lot of debate about whether they are ‘real’ hip-hop, or whether they are merely hipsters pretending to rap. There was even a movement by some members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences to disqualify the duo from the best hip-hop album award because their music was too pop. While Macklemore and Ryan Lewis could definitely be called white hipsters, dismissing their music because they wear skinny jeans and suck at tanning ignores how much so-called white hipster music has been incorporated into hip-hop recently. There are artists like Clams Casino and Lee Bannon who use ambient electronic music in their beats, a trend that has been picked up by distinctly non-hipster artists like Migos. Jay Soul sampled indie duo Beach House on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Money Trees.’ Pitchfork darlings Grizzly Bear, possibly the whitest, most hipster band on earth, have been sampled by Oddisee, Brandun DeShay, Childish Gambino, and the Aztext. We are no longer in the 1980s, when white kids listened to mostly white music, leaving R&B and hip-hop to the so-called ‘urban’ crowd. Everyone listens to everything, and the boundaries around music are getting blurry. Atlanta rapper Rome Fortune’s “Beautiful Pimp” mixtape is a good example of just how blurry the lines between hip-hop, electronic music, and indie music have gotten.
Dun Deal, Childish Major, and C4 produce most of the tracks on the mixtape. They mix the staples of Southern trap rap (rolling hi-hats, snapping snares) with samples often taken from indie sources like Les Sins and Beck. The beats tend towards atmospheric, with washes of sound that create space for Rome’s rapping. It makes for music that is both beautiful and banging, combining the best elements of electronic music and hip-hop. It’s like peanut butter and chocolate together – two things that are great on their own that are even better when combined. This is some of the most impressive production of 2013, and rivals Zomby’s ‘With Love’ in taking Southern trap production to exciting new directions.
Unfortunately, while hip-hop producers are taking the music further and further out, rappers are not keeping up. As innovative and boundary-pushing as the music is, it is often paired with a rapper saying the same old same old. For some reason, the forward-thinking beats almost always get paired with half-assed rhymes. That’s true on ‘U.E.N.O.,’ it’s true on the Migos mixtapes, and it’s true on “Beautiful Pimp.” Rome Fortune isn’t a bad rapper, but he sticks too close to the tired pimp rap cliches: Getting guap, partying, and getting with bad bitches. He’s more romantic and less crude than your typical Southern rapper, but he still doesn’t stray far from the well-worn script. He no doubt knows his demographic and is speaking to his audience, but it’s a shame that his lyrical content doesn’t match the musical content. That’s not to say he’s a bad rapper or the lyrics are atrocious; Rome’s got a nice flow, and he’s a decent rapper. He’s just not as next level as the beats he’s on, and is too content to tread the same worn path.
“Beautiful Pimp” is worth a download for the production alone. Those of you more sympathetic to Southern rap will love this and not have any issues with the subject matter or lack thereof. Even though I was disappointed that Rome Fortune didn’t bring more lyrically, he’s still a rapper to look out for, and this is a mixtape that is well worth tracking down.