While they might debate the exact dates, the vast majority of hip hop fans would argue that the ‘Golden Age’ of the genre happened somewhere between the mid 80s to the early 90s. With classic acts like Tribe Called Quest, N.W.A, Snoop Dogg, Notorious B.I.G and Eric B & Rakim, it isn’t hard to see why this is a revered time for the genre. There may have been some standout acts that have come and gone, but there hasn’t been the same consistently high level of quality since. This month of March could stand as a true contender, however, it could be argued that is part of a different phenomenon altogether.
Ever since the early noughties, hip hop has suffered from a critic’s gamut of prefix-laden variations on the original genre. Not that that has been a bad thing but it has demonstrated the much wider scope now present. In recent years, these acts once deemed alternative are now those making the top of the charts, with number ones from Joey Badass, Schoolboy Q and Childish Gambino over the last few months. We live in a world in which the hip hop music that was once deemed non-mainstream is exactly that.
So now here we are in March of 2015 and the sheer amount of mic-dropping releases from this month alone have been overwhelming:
Kendrick Lamar with his highly anticipated To Pimp A Butterfly
Death Grips and their hard hitting, post industrial swan song Jenny Death
Odd Future alumni Earl Sweatshirt with his debut followup I Don’t Like S**t, I Don’t Go Outside
Chef-cum-rapper Action Bronson, with his second album, Mr Wonderful
Considering the breadth of styles these artists imbue with their craft and the fact that this is only a sampling of the wider hip hop community, it’s apparent that “alternative” is now only the alternative to the past. Lamar’s album broke the world record for most streams for a new release, then breaking that the next day. This popularity is just as important as ever, as Hip Hop journalist Andrew Nosnitsky points out: “A strong first-week outing can define the popular perception of an artist’s relevance, a weak one can instantly destroy a career.”
While it may not completely rival the original masters, it’s definitely worthy of note that hip hop is a genre that continues to grow and innovate, certainly in a way that’s different from other genres. Hopefully it remains a consistent trend well into the future.