2015 was a great year for hip-hop – plain and simple. There is practically no debate that 2015 was one of the best years in rap music we have seen in almost a full decade. In terms of quality, quantity and excitement, these past 12 months have been everything a hip-hop head could have wanted. We got some fantastically put-together projects from some of the culture’s best; up-and-comers and OGs alike. On top of that, we got treated to some high profile beefs, unlikely relationships, fashion fads and some pretty hilarious memes.
However, as great of a year as 2015 was, there are still some trends that blemished an almost perfect year. By no means did they completely tarnish all the good things that happened this year but if we want to have an even better 2016, these trends are better put to rest. If rappers make a conscious effort to put an end to these tendencies, the game as a whole will be a little better balanced.
So without further ado, here are ‘5 Hip-Hop Trends That Need to Stop in 2016’. Let us know what you think in the comments below!
TOO MANY COLLABORATIONS ON AN ALBUM
If he hasn’t already, DJ Khaled will probably tell us that a major key to success is endless collaboration on a singular project. This may work for a Khaled album but for most other rappers that strategy is getting old. Of course not everyone can go platinum off a no-features album like J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive, but jamming your album top to bottom with featured guests isn’t exactly the best way to raise your stock.
Take an album like Full Speed by Kid Ink for example. The 12 song album only had 5 songs in which Kid Ink was the only artist on the track. Or even Big Sean’s Dark Sky Paradise. Out of the 15 songs on that album, only 5 had just Sean on them. With that many different voices, cadences and even effort levels, it’s hard to fully appreciate one particular artist. Obviously hardcore rappers shouldn’t have to sing a delicate hook on their albums just to have no features but the focus should shift from quantity of features to quality of features. There is nothing wrong with a couple smart, strategically placed features across a full length project but packing each song with upwards of 3 other artists gradually turns a “solo” project into more of a collaboration album.
For 2016, rappers should be extremely conscientious about who they are featuring on their album and why. We all know that in rap today, despite a few exceptions, everyone is pretty much friendly with everyone – so the opportunities to get anyone and everyone on your project are practically unlimited. With that said, rappers should trust their own skill set and attempt to make albums that don’t depend on the amount of featured guests are included on the final cut.
SOCIAL MEDIA BEEFS
2015 had more than a few feuds. The Drake vs. Meek Mill skirmish obviously being the most high profile of the bunch. Unlike the Drake/Meek beef though, a lot of beefs took place online; social media to be exact. There is a long list but beefs like Action Bronson and Ghostface Killah, Wale and Meek Mill, Game and Young Thug, and then of course Birdman and Lil Wayne all took place via social media. Sure, Wayne threw a few jabs at Birdman on a song or two but other than that, pretty much everyone who beefed this year caught a case of the “twitter fingers”.
Rap beefs are great for the culture. It gives an added level of excitement and competiveness that isn’t found in any other genre. When a feud can be fought out over beats instead of in the streets or in the tweets, it’s a win-win. Drake and Meek’s beef is a perfect example. Meek was caught up with settling things online via a string of angry tweets and Instagram captions whereas Drake didn’t need to hit the timeline to draw first blood. Loading up on an arsenal of battle bars and letting them spray over “Charged Up” and “Back To Back” was the be-all-end-all for Meek.
The lesson that should be learned here is that carrying out a rap beef on Twitter, Instagram or any other social media outlet will always lose to a well-constructed diss track. Careers have been built off the strength of a solid diss track and by the same token, and maybe even in Meek’s case, careers can be ended. For 2016, rappers should not be afraid to clash with their peers but in doing so, stay away from social media. Who knows, you might even win a Grammy for a good diss track.
LACKLUSTRE LIVE PERFORMANCES
The days of standing in one spot on a stage with a mic on a mic stand are over. Solid live performances are an incredibly important part of being a successful rapper these days. In 2015, the focus on internet buzz was through the roof. Everyone and their mom was attempting to flex their talents on the internet whether it be through Soundcloud plays, Instagram followers, YouTube views etc etc. And although mastering the internet is obviously one of the biggest components to a rapper’s come up, you can’t forget the live show.
It’s one thing to make a hot record in your bedroom and become “internet famous” but that’s only a foot in the door. The real leg work comes in the form of showing face and killing live performances. Rappers are fortunate enough to live in a space where a main act will have 2-3 openers before they even hit the stage. If you are lucky enough to open for a bigger name and play for a packed crowd that barely knows your name, you better make sure you are performing your best song – and performing them right. It’s not enough to just waltz on stage and go through the motions.
This isn’t only a trend for up-and-comers. There are plenty of mainstream, top tier rappers that are half-assing their live shows. If your sound is thundering, impactful and filled with energy, there is no reason that your live performances of those songs should be any different. A live show is the perfect opportunity to capitalize on merchandise, label-leveraging and increasing your overall brand. If everyone in the venue feels the burning desire to cop a CD on their way out, you’ll be platinum in no time. In 2016, all rappers need to make sure everything from the lighting on the stage to their own facial expressions is top notch when performing live.
EVERYONE DROPPING SURPRISE ALBUMS
A trend that was exponentially increased in 2015 was the dropping of surprise albums. Truth be told, this was perhaps the most popular yet crippling trend of the year. Since Beyoncé’s late 2013 ultimate surprise release, the urban music world has been obsessed with not dropping albums in any type of traditional way. Either artists are literally dropping them out of the blue or giving less than a month’s notice before the release.
This isn’t so bad if you are a big enough artist to pull it off. People like J. Cole, Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Future all dropped surprise or semi-surprise albums since last December and the result was Internet crashing. In these few rare cases, a total surprise album out of the blue will still do numbers and have the cultural impact it deserves. However, not everyone can succeed following this model.
Rappers like Tyler The Creator, Tyga, B.o.B. and Earl Sweatshirt all dropped surprise albums this year. Of course the term “surprise” is being used loosely here but in these cases the rappers, who were all due for a project, set no date, did no promo, didn’t release any singles and proceeded to drop said project out of thin air. The result was poor numbers and weak critical reception by fans – despite some of those albums’ strengths. Ipso facto, this is not a sustainable marketing model for artists of this tier. There is nothing wrong with a traditional album rollout and rappers seem to have been caught up in thinking that doing things like working singles at radio and doing press runs are obsolete; when in fact they can help more than they hinder.
In 2016 rappers need to know their reach and strategize how to release their projects. Getting radio play, doing press runs, and having standout singles isn’t always a bad thing. Often times rappers need to allow the systems that be to do their job instead of dropping their brand new project on Spotify at 2am on a Wednesday.
THE RHYME PATTERN THAT USES “N***A” AT THE END OF EACH BAR
This trend is a little more under the radar but is still something that made 2015 lazy. In many songs, rapped by many artists, there has come to be a rhyme pattern that is as lazy as it is played out. A perfect example would be on the recent J. Cole remix of Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”. He raps “If I quote it n***a, I wrote it n***a/Six head shots, I’ll erode a n***a/Pop another clip and I’m reloading n***a/Ain’t no way around it, I’m the coldest n***a” and this very same rhyme scheme goes on for another 8 bars. It isn’t just J. Cole who is guilty of using this flow. Rappers like Drake, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar and many more have defaulted to using this rhyme pattern in multiple songs.
Most of you are probably wondering why and how this trend is hindering current rap music as it has been around forever. The issue is how often it’s used from song to song. While using it occasionally can help emphasis or convey a certain tone but when it becomes the only rhyme pattern a rapper uses – it’s an issue.
Using the J. Cole example above, you can see how it takes from the actual rhyme words placed second last in the bar. If rappers just added an extra word or couple syllables somewhere at the beginning or middle of the bar then the actual rhyme word would fit the tempo perfectly. It is a lazy way of writing and in 2016 rappers should get a little craftier with the pen, leaving that trend in 2015.