Ouch. Not sure how we got here, but somehow hip-hop has arrived at the point where it's not only unpopular to be a thinking fan or MC, it's plain uncool. If you ain't trappin' with Jeezy or snappin' with D4L if you actually have something, dear God, thematic and artistic and substantial on your mind keep waiting for your break. Seems almost nobody in pop music's wartime hall of mirrors, least of all hipsters craving cred or gangsters counting coin, wants to wake up to the brick wall this blinged-out Hummer called America is heading for at top speed.
Talib Kweli's signing with Warner Bros. in January is a glimmer of hope on the national front; locally, we've got Wrekonize demanding attention with his latest release, The Waiting Room Mixtape.
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Wrek's a kid from Hollywood signed to Miami's Southbeat label, still working on his first official release. He already made waves by winning MTV's MC Battle of Champions in 2003, but his underground mixtapes prove that he's a master of both stage improv and studio songwriting. With a midtempo, confident cadence clearly informed by the Native Tongues clique, broad vocabulary, and twisted wit, Wrekonize is ferociously versatile, enough to subdue on introspective tracks like "Dear Suicide" and "Sirens" and keep heads nodding on slick, upbeat bumpers "Yo Yo Yo" and "Who's the Man," featuring production by DJ Spinna. "Bizness as Usual" is one of two tracks featuring West Coast underground spitter Ras Kass and comes off as both a scathing critique of the war in Iraq and the war in the streets of America. "Where's Your Money" slings an unusual and unforgettable vocal hook over brooding downtempo piano, and "How Come" takes a classic hip-hop trope the interrogative track and puts it in a modern industry context. There's a ton of powerful, thought-provoking stuff here, the antithesis of the "Laffy Taffy" rap currently gumming up the airwaves. There might be a backpacker backlash right now, but that won't last long. Hip-hop is a fickle bitch, and Lord knows it could use a makeover. Hopefully she won't keep Wrekonize and the rest of us waiting too long.