Hip-hop crews. Posses. The inevitable Wu-Tang comparisons. They’re lovely things. And it seems like there are four standing poised at the moment- Odd Future, Black Hippy, the A$AP Mob, and Pro Era- and any of them could come out on top by the end of the year. If I had to have a guess? Well, I suppose I could spend a little while considering who I’d predict, or most enjoy, to be dominant by year’s end. Yeah, cool.
Well-known members: Tyler, the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, Frank Ocean, Mellowhype.
So far: My love for Odd Future isn’t exactly hidden. But they did used to release a lot more music. At one point they were dropping quality, free albums every few months, if not every few weeks. But this year, in almost nine months, they’ve released Purple, Naked Ladies, OF Tape 2, Channel Orange and No Idols. The first three were studio albums, that cost money to buy. So that’s less good. In terms of quality? Channel Orange is insanely good. But the others are a bit hit-and-miss. No Idols is pretty cool, but Domo just doesn’t have Tyler’s charisma (which is especially apparent when you listen to the title song), or Earl’s lyrical skills. Purple, Naked Ladies was interesting, but not exceptional in any way. And the OF Tape 2 was fragmented, to say the least, but easily their second best release this year.
To come: As you’ll soon see competition’s heavy, so OF’s gonna need more than a release from their resident prodigy of R&B, and a scattered, while good, group album, to come out on top this year. So what’s coming? The thing with OF is that anything is possible at any point. But from what they’ve said, releases sound somewhat set. And the two releases that could sink or swim the whole operation are from the dudes above: Tyler’s Wolf and Earl’s so-far anonymously-named album. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m more excited about Earl’s debut album than I am about any other musical artist or project at current. The kid has the potential to be anything. But both albums could really be either game-changers or ordinary. Both guys have said that these albums are going to be far different to any music they’ve released to this point, and Tyler has identified that there will be more of a jazz-influence, and more of an emphasis on production than in his previous albums. And Earl has tweeted that he is “just trying to make pretty music”, and that he hopes he loses fans who only like him because he “rapped about raping girls when [he] was 15.” Which sounds fair enough to me. Also, Mellowhype (Hodgy Beats and Left Brain) have Numbers dropping next month. But unless they lift their game a lot, it won’t effect much.
Tyler’s Wolf is due in November, and Earl’s album could drop at any time in the near or distant future. Thing is, Tyler hasn’t yet finished Wolf and Earl has finished his album. And he’s apparently started on his second. Now he just has to release it… It could be this year (I really hope so), or it could not. You’ve have to think it probably would though.
And for what it’s worth, here is the only snippet released from either album- 26-seconds of a song called Awkward off Wolf, which Tyler added sneakily into his Summer Camp mix this year. I don’t know why, but it makes me really, really excited to hear the rest of the album.
Well-known members: Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Ab Soul.
So far: Poor Jay Rock. There are only four Black Hippys, and three are “well-known”. Poor Jay Rock… Well, in terms of released material, Black Hippy probably has the most consistent release quality, and the most seen-potential of any of the groups. Kendrick released Section 80 last year, Schoolboy Q released Habits & Contradictions in January and Ab Soul released Control System in May. All three were well-recieved, and launched the three guys (especially Kendrick) into guest appearances aplenty, and hence attention from the right kinds of people. Kendrick was “especially”, not only because he’s had the most guest appearances of anyone (in Black Hippy, or possibly of anyone anywhere), but he also landed a deal for an album with Dr Dre’s Interscope label.
To come: Thing is, the other three members don’t have much coming (as far as I know) by the end of the year, either because they’ve already released their big, studio album this year, or else because they’re Jay Rock. But the one album still to come? good kid, m.A.A.d city by Kendrick. The two (or maybe three) songs that have been heard from it are fire- Swimming Pools (Drank), The Recipe, and Cartoons and Cereal (which was leaked, but hasn’t been confirmed as a GKMC song). Dr Dre’s in charge of operations, and he’s not only one of the best hip-hop producers to ever live (not that he’s producing the album, but still… he’s there), but a perfectionist as well. So if anyone’s gonna push Kendrick, it’s him. And if any young MC has depths of genius to tap, it’s Kendrick.
Below is Swimming Pools (Drank), the most recent single from GKMC. If there’s one thing Kendrick can do it’s write songs about social issues without sounding like a tool. It’s conscious hip-hop, but it’s not “conscious hip-hop”. And if there are two things Kendrick can do, the second is rap.
Well-known members: A$AP Rocky
So far: A$AP Rocky stands at the forefront of the A$AP Mob like Tyler stands at the forefront of Odd Future: boldly and instinctively. While there are other members who rap well, or produce well, Rocky is the still far ahead of anyone else in the bunch. A$AP Ferg, I think, is probably the second best MC, and A$AP Ty Beats can make some really nice beats (like two of Rocky’s biggest hits, Peso and Purple Swag). But still, they are in the underneath, lifting Rocky’s game: making beats for him, or giving him guest verses to prop his songs up. None of the other members have come into their own yet. Even when The A$AP Mob mixtape Lords Never Worry dropped last month, it seemed like a star amongst his occasionally talented friends: they could almost keep up technically, but you can’t mimic star power. And Rocky’s mixtape last year, LiveLoveA$AP, had that. It’s not that he has technical brilliance, because he doesn’t, really. But Rocky has an image; he knows how to choose beats that he can complement and vice versa; he knows how to rap through the dull formalities of money, women and guns and make it sound interesting.
To come: In saying all of that, it would be redundant to even consider the A$AP dudes, if not for one reason: Rocky’s studio album debut, LongLiveA$AP is coming at the end of next month. Like Kendrick for Black Hippy, this one album from their star hinges the whole crew between greatness and dominance. I wouldn’t consider it as any kind of competitor against the other crews, but for Goldie, really. That one and only song that’s been released from the album so far is really, really good. And Rocky has said that, like Dre, he is a perfectionist and he won’t release the album until he knows it’s the best it can be, which he admitted was a part of the fault of Lords Never Worry.
Well-known members: Joey Bada$$
So far: Well, again there’s the one-man star of the crew. But Pro Era is different (I think) to the A$AP Mob in that Pro Era has just emerged, and Joey has been the only one to release anything, though there is every chance that the other members could release quality music. Back in June, Joey released 1999– probably the best mixtape released this year, and one that has only grown on me in the months since I first heard it, especially considering Joey’s 17, and as far as I know the rest of the crew aren’t beyond their teens. The lyrical depth Joey showed in 1999 and Rejex, another mixtape released earlier this month full of surplus tracks from the 1999 recordings, is astounding. And I know I just said this, but seriously: there are so many songs that have grown on me from 1999: Waves, Killuminati, Snakes, Suspect, to name a few. The depth of the tape is really, really promising.
To come: Who knows. That’s the truth. Joey could well release another mixtape, or even a studio album before the end of the year, or he could not. And the rest of his crew (who I’ve only heard in guest features on 1999) aren’t underwhelming at all. On Suspect, the final song on 1999, a posse cut which features 9 rappers from Pro Era, the non-Joey rappers are surprisingly good. And in terms of when/whether any of them will release solo music is unknowable. But whatever is to come, I really am looking forward to it.
The Verdict: Well. The talent I’ve seen from all of the crews is huge. I could easily say Odd Future, simply because I love Earl and Tyler so much. Or I could pick Pro Era, the crew with the smallest output, so there’s the element of mystery there, and there’s definitely potential there. Or I could bank on good kid, m.A.A.d city or LongLiveA$AP to be more brilliant than anything else. To be honest (and to sit comfortably on the fence), I really don’t know. The uncertainty over releases, or whether the lead singles from albums are an indicator of the quality, or are carrying the thing, I don’t know. Honestly, I think (and hope) more than any of the others that Odd Future comes out on top. Frank Ocean has already released what has to be close to album of the year, and I can’t imagine Tyler and Earl making anything I wouldn’t like.
But at the same time, GKMC has every ingredient of an incredible album, and Habits & Contradictions and Control System were really well-made, interesting albums in their own way. With his lack of poignant lyrical themes (like Kendrick), technically brilliant lyricism (like Earl and Joey… and Kendrick), or other-worldly charisma (like Tyler), Rocky will have to make sure he is doing what he does well as best as possible in order to be a contender.
In summary: OF have my vote.