Let’s face it. The young vs. old mentality of rap culture is not going to go away. Perhaps it’s because the genre is so youth-driven, and because the genre is ultimately still very new. The ’90s for rap music were like the late ’60s for rock. Instead of the Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, and the Who, we had Biggie, Pac, Wu-Tang, and Dre. And that was only 20-25 years ago. So looking at how rock has changed over 50-60 years, we can say with certainty that rap still has a long way to evolve.
Perhaps that fact is what fuels comments like Lil Xan’s critical assessment that Pac was “boring”, or Lil Uzi Vert tweeting last year, “remember the old must die”. But these shortsighted comments forget the fact that hip-hop culture is built on the old. It’s built on renewing the music of the past, reapplying the sounds of yesterday to show progress going into tomorrow. However, the new wave of trap rap and emo rap largely forgot this and became incredibly self-referential and uniform.
Of course, not every newcomer has succumbed to the uniformity of the mainstream. Chuck Strangers, formerly most well-known for his beats on Joey Bada$ projects, is releasing his first rap project Consumers Park via Pro Era. Throughout this record, Strangers makes the argument both verbally and sonically that the era of Pac and Biggie must be remembered. “Style Wars”, the second single from the project, is the most direct attack on the young wave of rap.
Strangers delivers laid-back East Coast vibes a la Biggie Smalls, the type of vibe he considers “sonic and aesthetically pleasing”. He references Rakim and 2Pac and admits “We past the days of ‘yes, y’all and’ / Most of my heroes ain’t ballin’, they fallin’.” But this is all the more reason for Strangers to resurrect it in light of a rap game taken over by “mumble rap”: “I just wanna fuck you, singing ass bitch / Don’t take the curve personal / I’m just not trying to work with you.” He even takes a jab at meme DJ Khaled with the Gang Starr reference, “My niggas be playing they selves to have mass appeal.”
Strangers’ soul samples and laid-back vibes are very welcome changes of pace from the relentless ticking hi-hats heard on the daily. And though the project was recorded over the years, the tracks are very consistent (maybe to a fault), creating a lot of wide atmosphere and having the feeling of a cool, windy day at the beach. In fact, one of the two excellent singing interludes titled “Riis Beach” carries this cool, jazzy, soulful trip-hop vibe. Elsewhere, Strangers takes influence from early Kanye on “Two Pit Bulls”, while “Peaceful” featuring Issa Gold sounds like it could’ve come off Jay-Z’s 4:44.
But throughout the entire tracklist, you get the idea that Strangers is trying to make the argument that classic East Coast soul-infused rap is not to be forgotten, and is, in fact, superior to the mainstream of today. A spoken excerpt on “Class Pictures” argues, “The mass production, it don’t have no substance. So you can produce a lot of them very quickly. But they just as quickly lose their flavor. Just as quickly as something is number one this week, you never heard of the people who did it next week because there was no substance there.”
But this is not just a trap rap issue. This is a pop music issue. Whatever is in vogue at present will always be copycatted, mass-produced, and played to death. Biggie had disposable copycats too; we just don’t remember them. We often remember the best art of the past, and look at the garbage of today and say that the past was better. The garbage was there too; it was just taken out. The same will happen with the current wave of rap. It just takes patience. So despite Chuck Strangers’ production and a few songs like “Style Wars” and “The Evening” on Consumers Park being excellent, his arguments in the old vs. new debate, however accurate they may be, are preached to the choir and do very little to inspire change.