A wise man once said “Hip hop is the new rock and roll”
Alright, simmer down. Are we all over the Oscars and the biggest TV shocker since the Red Wedding? Nah, me neither. What would happen if I told you the Academy Awards itself was gazumped this past weekend? Now I have your attention...
A wise man once said “Hip hop is the new rock and roll”. That’s pretty bang on. Whether it be for intensity, outrageous behaviour or innovation, rap has broken out of the narrow confines of its genre and is changing the way we look at music with every new release.
After a weekend of incredible spats and public airing of dirty laundry, hip hop isn't just the new rock and roll - it’s the new Eastenders.
Let’s take it back to the start of this weekend's omnibus and it’s a landing point appropriately close to Albert Square at the Brits where UK hip hop's brightest young star, Stormzy, performed with the arguably inoffensive Ed Sheeran.
Nobody in the world would dispute that London's rap sub-genre, Grime, is having a moment right now. Skepta’s sellout shows across the world last year were followed by the Mercury Prize and then came Stormzy (real name Michael Omari). His performance with Ed Sheeran was yet another landmark for grime.
The sub-genre has broken through every barrier put in front of it by the angry bleaters of right-wing Fleet Street, which has been very quick to label it as the soundtrack to criminality or, infamously, put it in a racially-tinged box of ‘knife crime’ promotion.
Stormzy’s Brits bow coincided with the release of his first full length album, in which he blasts the charge put to him by LBC on the very first track. “I don’t use a shank/ I got money in the bank,” Stormzy claps back; “D***heads!”
What followed was far more compelling. The 23-year-old Croydon boy didn’t just serve up banger after banger, he switched his style up to a whole new terrain: Gospel.
Nobody in their right mind expected Stormzy to take his listeners to church, much less to do so in such a life-affirming way. His mum’s prayer on 100 Bags was a particularly emotional moment.
Throughout the rest of the appropriately named 'Gang Signs & Prayer', he talks about his war with depression and rages against his absent father. It’s an incredible effort from a young man determined to resist the stereotypes. He will not be defined. And he deserves all the adulation that’s already coming its way.
The old genre expectations were also being shattered on the other side of the Atlantic. Atlanta, Georgia, is having one of the rarest pop culture moments - when a city becomes the centre of the entertainment world.
We’ve seen Donald Glover pick up Emmys for his hip hop comedy ‘Atlanta’, getting himself roles in 'Star Wars' and 'The Lion King' in the process. We’ve seen young trio Migos give birth to 2017’s biggest viral track already in 'Bad and Boujee' and even the Atlanta Falcons made the Super Bowl, while the city’s favourite son and civil rights Congressman John Lewis locked horns with President Donald Trump.
One of the city’s musical titans is Future, who as recently as last year, was vying with Drake to be the pop charts’ top rapper. Future released an eponymous album two weeks ago to a tepid reception. It was, by all accounts, a let down - trap drums, mumbles and rhymes about codeine, and no departure from his previous work.
On Friday, he caught us off guard. He served up a second album in as many weeks and it was a gut punch.
'HNDRXX' is an emotional, tormented, self-reflection on the pains of a broken heart, betrayal and his own failures as a father. It’s a phenomenal piece of art and is - I don’t want to exaggerate here - the closest thing to 'Lemonade' for scorned men. Whatever your view of the man Future was, and still is, this album is going to be debated and remembered for some time to come.
So we’re two for two on glass ceilings broken by MCs this weekend. So far, so revolutionary but the real shock came on Saturday night. It was the musical equivalent of thermonuclear warfare.
You’ll have heard of Nicki Minaj, pop and hip hop chart-topper famed for dexterity and her masses of ‘Barbie’ fans. She is, for all intents and purposes, the queen of hip hop and has earned that spot. But now? Now she’s been eviscerated; torn limb from limb by the most brutal diss track in many years.
The culprit? Brooklyn’s own Remy Ma and the seven minute onslaught that was shEther (itself a reference to Ether, the most infamous diss track of all time - in which Nas nearly ended Jay Z’s career).
It’s seven minutes long. Yes, seven!
Remy takes on everything from Minaj's image to her past relationships and her alleged use of ghostwriters. It’s petty and clearly in poor taste. It’s also completely unrepeatable but it could certainly never be called dull. In fact, it's quite exciting.
Hip hop has wrongly been characterised as a man’s game for far too long (which is infuriating when you’ve had the likes of Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott and MC Lyte grace the earth). This unprecedented assault on a hip hop star with mass appeal might be the moment the world starts to take notice of the underground starlets. If that’s the price Nicki Minaj has to pay for it, I’m sure she’ll eventually appreciate the significance of her musical drubbing.
So, here we are on Monday evening and after all that drama, it feels like there hasn’t been a weekend at all. It’s been a breathless 72-hours for hip hop. Where it goes next, whether it be a response from Minaj, further innovations from Stormzy or chart domination from Future, I cannot wait to find out.