Published Dec 20, 2012Overall, 2012 was good to hip-hop: the artists that had the greatest successes proved that the genre has matured beyond a binary old school versus new school equation. There's enough distance from the genre's golden age to where new works can be seen as building from a foundation, rather than imitating it.
Hip-hop canon fodder
The early '90s was a good time for hip-hop. And as a number of classic albums reach the quarter-century milestone (Maestro Fresh Wes' (pictured above) Symphony in Effect, Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet) hip-hop is effectively entering its "classic rock phase." This ever-growing hip-hop canon — comprised of core original hip-hop acts — serves as a foundation that has obviously inspired the rap artists who made the most noise this year: Kendrick Lamar, Azealia Banks et al.
The return to the classic concept album
Despite the singles-oriented nature of the digital music biz, 2012 saw various rap albums and mixtapes that forced you to listen from a more holistic perspective. A seeming return to old-school concept-oriented projects — classic rock style.
What's old is fashionable again
The death of baggy couture has been long in coming, but it has seemingly given way to a fascinating mash-up of hip-hop styles gone by. The post-Swag era (Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Drake) sees the genre's legacy of bravado manifest itself into an urban explosion of retro and GQ styles — a delicious juxtaposition that reflects both the genre's current global and economic influence.
Continued scene fragmentation
Hip-hop, by its cultural design, is a postmodernist genre, but the increasing number of scenes and subsets— and the multitude of sounds, styles and types that entails — have made it virtually impossible for hip-hop to be defined as a single sound. As such, listening patterns are all over the map; even the most successful rapper this year can't lay claim to winning over the genre audience as a whole. The year has been marked by small victories: good for mixtapes and diversity, not so great for an artist seeking broad commercial success.