I grew up listening to rap. I listened to other music too, but rap; That shit was my jam! Like most people who were spoiled during the Golden Age of Nas, Tupac, Snoop, Big L, Eminem, Biggie, Mobb Deep, Jay-Z - You know the names, those names - I'm appalled at what passes for rap today.
I remember diss tracks about rappers who didn't write their own lyrics, who were caught plagiarizing, who couldn't freestyle. Fake rappers, basically. Those guys died quick deaths on the charts. See Ja Rule. See Benzino. See Chino XL.
Now nobody can freestyle, nobody writes their own lyrics, and they can barely even rap from memory. But, okay, if repeating a hook ten times and composing four-bar verses is rap who am I to judge, right? But what the fuck happened to sixteen bars? What happened to the poetry? What. The fuck. Happened?
The shitty thing about this whole situation is it turned me off the music entirely.
Every now and then I'll wax nostalgic and get on a classic hip-hop spree on Spotify. I get my fix and then I'm done. But this also means I outright discard most rappers (with few exceptions) who came on the scene after, say 2010 or so. I figure they're just mumble rappers with Soundcloud careers who would've got bullied so hard in the '90s they'd have committed suicide before anyone had a chance to honor them with a drive-by. But, to paraphrase one of the decent ones, "my generation's stuck on stupid/ showing guns on the 'gram, but no one use it."
So there I am in my car the other day and this track starts to play. I have no idea whose it is or why it's on my Shazam playlist but it's going hard. I peek at the display and I see "Loud - Mac Miller". When did I Shazam this? Mac Miller, really? Isn't that the guy who died last year? I remember hearing/reading something about yet another OD-ed rapper and dismissing it as the tragic story of one more tatted-up buffoon only in it for the fame. But I was loving this track.
Then I got home, looked him up on Wikipedia and sure enough, he was that guy. And then I went down the YouTube rabbit hole...
Well, shit. Mac Miller could rap. He had the lyrics, the flow, and that classic hip-hop vibe that made rap what it used to be. He was the real deal. I listened without forwarding through any of the fifteen or so tracks on the playlist. "Nikes on My Feet" blew me away. What an homage to one of the great street ballads of the Golden Era with the sample from Nas' The World is Yours. That same laid-back, boom-bap vibe, the smooth, easy flow. Such a complete track.
The same went for pretty much all of his music: Donald Trump, Don't Mind If I Do, Cruisin, 100 Grandkids, Ladders...there's no denying it, Mac Miller truly was the real deal, or "white boy awesome", as he refers to himself on Knock Knock.
How would he have fared in the 90s? Well, it's hard to tell. It was different era. That street image meant something else than it does now. But he had the skills and that smooth flow which nobody can deny. I can see now see why he got so popular. And I'm sorry I was so quick to judge without ever listening to his music. I'm also sorry he's no longer here to make more of it.
But there is a silver lining, as there always is when it comes to art: Ars longa, vita brevis.