Some people might think that music is simply categorized by the genre in which it is placed, however I don't think that all hip-hop songs should be labeled so broadly. Often times we choose the music that we're listening to based on our mood or what we're doing at the time. If you're trying to get pumped up you're more likely to play an upbeat song or one to which you know all the words versus a more reflective, personal track. What I've done is, after thinking about some of the different scenarios for which people select specific music, created several sub-categories for hip-hop songs and then offered some of my current favorites of each type.
Another thing that I have realized is that while some artists will stick to creating hits based on one or two types of songs, the most prolific tend to jump between types. For example, on the one hand you have an artist like T-Pain from whom you can expect to hear auto-tuned club hits like "Buy U A Drank" or "Bartender," but that's about it as far as his range goes. Now I will be the first to admit that when "Blame It" with T-Pain and Jamie Foxx comes on in a bar, I get embarrassing, however since that doesn't happen very often I tell myself that it's okay to "Treat Yo'self" every once in a while. In contrast to the T-Pain, Plies, Chris Brown and Akon types, we have artists like Eminem, 2Pac or Nas who not only have a vast amount of work, but also who produce hip-hop hits that fall under multiple categories.
This is the song that the DJ plays at either a bar or a party when they're focusing on trying to capitalize on the energy of everybody in the room. Even the people who don't dance (or in my case, can't dance) are getting down when this comes on. Most of the time people aren't even sure of the lyrics when it comes to the verses, but when that refrain drops you begin to understand that this moment is why everyone's voices are shot by the end of the night. The thing with party anthems, though, is that the playing of them is often about the timeliness of the song. If you're at a bar or club the party anthems are most likely songs from the Top 40 and don't tend to go back much further than a few years. At a party however, it's up to the iTunes collection of your host, and from what experience tells me people tend to appreciate it more when party anthem is synonymous with throwback. Regardless, this type of hip-hop song is getting people amped, bringing out the inner back-up dancer in all of us, and in the end can be the saving grace of any event that seems to be losing it's steam. While the first couple of artists that come to mind when I think about party music include artists like the aforementioned T-Pain, Flo-Rida or LMFAO, I prefer the throwback, so next time things are dying down put on "Ms. Jackson" by Outkast, "Big Pimpin" featuring UGK by Jay-Z, "Got Your Money" by Ol' Dirty Bastard, or my one of my personal favorites "Stay Fly" by Big Tymers (video below) and watch nostalgic happiness sweep over your partygoers.
One of my favorite types of hip-hop songs is the narrative. On these tracks the artist is taking you through a journey that's either introspective, anecdotal, or both. Songs like "Little Man" by Atmosphere are extremely powerful because they offer a moment of relatability between the artist and the listener. And even if someone can't relate to the exact scenario described there is something about the vulnerability you sense from a song like "Cleaning Out My Closet" by Eminem that can connect you to the pain, guilt, or resentment expressed by an artist. The narrative is a cool category too in that the option of doing a concept album allows artists to further extend that narrative into a series of songs bound by an overarching theme or storyline. My favorite example of the extended narrative has to be the newest album by The Roots entitled Undun, which tells the fictional story of a man named Redford Stevens. While narrative tracks don't necessarily make it to the Top 40, because of the connection forged with fans they seem to fall under personal fan favorites or even critics' favorites, as opposed to the commercial/radio success of party anthems. Some of my favorite hip-hop narratives include "Da Grind" by Masta Ace, "Sagaba" by Blue Scholars, and "Scattered Pictures" off of Out of Focus by Elzhi.
Songs For The Smokers
This next type is a party anthem of a different variety, in fact it's more about a gathering of people going for the exact opposite effect. These people are trying to chill out with some dope music and, well, some dope. In no way am I promoting drug use of any kind, however, many of the hip-hop artists you listen to either do or have burned the herbal supplement known as cannabis and, consequently, have written a slew of songs chronicling such endeavors. Thus came the arrival of the smoking song. Contrary to what smoke and novelty shops would have you believe, there are in fact more artists associated with ganja than Bob Marley, however he is looked at as the quintessential artist to have in your music collection if you want people to know that you're down with the green. Anyways, when it comes to hip-hop good smoking songs tend to have certain qualities that often include a warm tone so as to maintain the "chill" factor, a slower tempo, and many times acknowledgment of the act taking place. While you can find many a smoking song from artists such as Three 6 Mafia, Lil' Wayne, Wiz Khalifa and Bone Thugz N Harmony, I recommend checking out "Spliff Remix" by Sol, which also features Prometheus Brown of Blue Scholars, Grynch, and Thig Nat of The Physics.
Rhymes For The Road
The next song category I've uncovered houses the tunes that come through the speakers and make you immediately wish that you were cruisin' LSD or, for you non-Chicagoans, driving down your favorite road or highway with the speakers blaring. These songs draw movement out of a person that is different than an urge to dance. It's a desire to be a part of that flowing traffic, knowing that your hands on the wheel are the only factors determining your destination. While this is a highly subjective category each person decides what songs they like to ride in the whip to in much the same way that most of us make our own playlists for road trips. There's something about having a soundtrack when you're behind the wheel that adds a layer of depth to the whole driving experience. Furthermore, this category often overlaps into some of the others that I've identified, for example, if you're on the way to a party you're probably going to be bumpin' some more upbeat tunes than you would if you're driving just to drive. My favorites include "Be" by Common, "Man on the Moon" or "Cudi Zone" by Kid CuDi, and "Higher" by Do or Die featuring Kanye West so check that below for the next time you hit LSD.
While most of the aforementioned song-scenario connections tend to have positive connotations, let's be honest, we can't all always be in a good mood. Thus comes the playlist you put on when your feeling angsty, angry, or just plain frustrated. For me, this tends to manifest itself in songs that I feel are musically expressing my emotions for me. Eminem once again is a good choice when it comes to this category because his rawness often comes through a seemingly anger-laced delivery. Lately, however, I've discovered that listening to Tyler, The Creator of OFWGKTA talk about stabbing Bruno Mars is incredibly therapeutic. While I find the Odd Future crew extremely talented, the fact that they're so young allows their angsty side to show through their music more so than some of the older rappers who, as opposed to condemning the world, use lyrics that are socially conscious and/or offer a critique of the hegemonic systems at work within it. That's not to say that older rappers can't be angsty or that younger artists can't be eloquently critical of society, but in general it seems that angst seems to dissipate with time and, well, popularity. A few tracks that have helped rid me of my post-collegiate angst as of late include "Despicable" by Eminem, "Pigeons" by Earl and Tyler of Odd Future, "Demons" by A$AP Rocky, and "I Don't Need Love" by Evidence, which you can listen to below!
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