Nas and Lil Wayne for 2021 MVPs
The global pandemic has rocked industries of all sorts to their very core and the music business is no exception. Live events from local open mics to sold-out arena tours were brought to a complete halt, robbing artists of a significant portion of their revenue and denying fans of timeless experiences.
It wasn’t just the arenas that turned into ghost towns though. Life became less vibrant as artists grew hesitant to release new music during humanity’s latest and most volatile chapter. Who could blame them? Most of the new albums were dead on arrival due (in my opinion) to the shut down of bars, clubs, and other places of gathering that typically serve as incubators for new music. Without different environments and experiences to anchor the music into, those new works of art were doomed to leave as quickly as they came.
However, this recap of all that we’ve experienced is not a cue to revert to anxiety and gloom. Rather, it’s a testament to what we’re made of and what we have outlived. We’ve lost our jobs, our loved ones, and our minds. But as chaotic as the world has been on both a macro level (supply chain looking shaky, socio-political arena in a frenzy, etc.) and a micro level (grief at an all-time high, everyone deprived of connection and stability, etc.), Hip Hop has always thrived in adversity. We fought the power. We screamed fuck the police. We made a dollar out of fifteen cents. And against all odds, we were roses that grew out of concrete. In the face of adversity, we innovate and adapt. For that reason, it should be no surprise that 2021 has been dominated by seasoned veterans who were once thought to be past their prime. Think again.
Enter The Heroes
Eight months into one of the most difficult years in recent memory, Nas and Hit-Boy graced the world with King’s Disease. The match made in heaven couldn’t have blessed us with this care package at a better time. Nas’ familiar tone and effortless wordplay over Hit-Boy’s production engulf the listener in a sense of pride and reassurance. Not only is Nas back, but he’s... even better than before. Since then, the duo has doubled down, delivering two more remarkable displays of excellence in King's Disease II and Magic But they aren’t the only ones doubling down.
It was apparent to a legend by the name of Lil Wayne that we needed reminding of exactly who he is. If you thought for a second that recent label disputes would decommission this absolute monster of a writer, you are certainly mistaken. A list of features too lengthy to break down in a single article reflects a hungrier Lil Wayne than the one we got acquainted with over twenty years ago. My personal favorite of the streak is Wayne's performance on Cordae's recently released Sinister.
As baffling as it is two see two pillars in the rap world giving the new generation a run for their money, they are just a sample of a broader paradigm shift. Ransom broke the sound barrier on his bar-heavy project, Heavy Is The Head. Veterans are celebrated live on Verzuz, igniting in us a sense of nostalgia and connection when it's needed the most. Even Russ, a guy who doesn’t necessarily need a cosign to achieve a successful release, enlisted some of the most intimidating lyricists alive on his latest project, Chomp 2. Perhaps he has grasped an understanding that the rest of the world is beginning to stumble upon:
We owe a considerable amount of respect to our pioneers. Not only for creating the blueprint upon which the careers of so many successful artists are built but also for showing us how much more there is to become. Our legends have given us timeless music... and they're just getting started.
Legends Never Die
The only thing better than being there for the birth of the world's greatest genre is being around to see how gracefully it is aging. And although Hip Hop continues to shapeshift over the years, it is not the “young man’s game” we once knew it to be. It’s for this reason that longevity will always trump virality. But in order for the lifecycle of our legends to continue to grow, it is imperative that they are given their due praise. If the past couple of years has shown us anything, it's that they deserve it.