In the age of money, fame, technology, and flashing lights, many young Americans are trying to make it big as musicians. Whether you’re in a rock band, a jazz band, pop group, or going solo, everybody wants their music to be heard and appreciated. We all wanna be famous. The life of a star is a desirable and envious one. You get to do what you love, make lots of money, and be cheered on by hundreds of thousands of adoring fans (if you’re good). But beyond the riches and fame that come with being a musician are many struggles. One of these struggles is rising above the thousands of people who are trying to do the same thing as you.
Nowadays, if you have an Apple computer and some basic recording equipment, you can produce your own music anywhere. Producing music and making music has become easier with the help of technology. Hundreds of people in America are looking to make it big in the music industry. Teens start a band one day in their parents’ garage and continue to pursue their band in hopes of striking a deal with a record company one day. Guys and girls with wonderful voices are encouraged to go on shows like American Idol and the X Factor to get their voice heard and to become a star. But one faction of music that seems to be overflowing with potential is hip-hop. In my eyes, the actual act of rapping isn’t that difficult. Any kid with decent skill can pick up a mic and sound good. There are no real vocals for the most part. You no longer have to necessarily sound “good” as long as your beats and flow are appealing to society’s ignorance and bliss. But with all these different people putting out mixtapes and trying to get noticed, it’s becoming harder for them to get actual deals. There’s just too many of them. Talent is getting shrouded. So the question becomes, how do we discern the trash from the quality?
In this post I’m going to be talking about three guys, two black and one white, that have had significant influences on the mixtape world in these past few years. Those guys are Big Sean, J. Cole, and Mac Miller. Datpiff.com, the official mixtape website, has hosted each one of their mixtapes. These guys put their hearts and soul into these free tapes just for the public to enjoy and to hopefully get some real recognition. They racked up tons of downloads and listens. Yet, at the same time, garbage like Gucci Mane, Waka Flocka Flame, and Soulja Boy were all signed and living the life. The rap game is an unforgiving one, but these three guys stuck it out and continued doing what they loved to do. Finally, all three of these outstanding rappers were given what they deserved—a record deal. It shook the rap world in unbelievably positive ways when these underdogs of rap finally got what they dreamed of. In a way, this fact about them is what makes them so great. They know what it’s like to be pushed around and knocked down. They know how hard it is out there and some of these rappers today think “life is a beach” or have “choppas in the car”, meanwhile “life is not that easy” (Mac Miller).
In 2011, all three of these guys released their first ever albums to be sold in stores and on the Internet for all to buy and listen to. Big Sean was the first with his album entitled “Finally Famous” that came out in late June. His album name wasn’t that creative considering he had a few mixtapes with the same name. However, it was fitting. He was finally famous, after all. I didn’t hear about Big Sean until around February or March of 2011 when my friend made me listen to his mixtape Finally Famous: Vol. 3. At the time, I wasn’t really feeling it. I kind of brushed it off and continued to listen to my man Wiz Khalifa. But when my best friend and his friends started telling me about how good he was, I decided to go on datpiff.com and give this guy another shot. After one whole listen, I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. His song ‘Supa Dupa Lemonade’ goes to the beat from Gucci Mane’s ‘Lemonade’ and is totally nuts. He absolutely killed it. After listening to that, I went on iTunes and listened to “Finally Famous”. I only downloaded the really popular ones like “I Do It”, “Marvin & Chardonnay”, and “My Last”. I really liked those songs; they were catchy and sounded great. It wasn’t until a week or so ago that I actually downloaded the rest of the album. I was surprised at how good it was. He had some nice guests on his album like Lupe Fiasco, The-Dream, Wiz Khalifa, Chiddy Bang, Chris Brown, Kanye West, and Roscoe Dash. It was an excellent assortment and made for a great sounding record. Big Sean has this lazy-sounding kind of swagger that is instantly contagious to most. His mixtapes were good but he really went balls to walls with his first album; bangin out good beats one after another. Although most of his songs involve women and partying, Sean does manage to implement some real songs in there like “Celebrity”, “Livin This Life”, and “Don’t Wait for Me” which have real life lyrics that mean something. Usually I don’t like the party songs, but Big Sean knows how to mix up money, weed, and hoes with witty rhymes and legit shit. Even though “Dance (A$$)” is just about women and nice butts, I can’t help but dance to it. This album exceeded my expectations and, with time, might become one of my favorite rap albums of all time.
Next up we have J. Cole, a man who differs from Big Sean but is similar in the field of popularity. Out of all these three rappers, J. Cole is the “realest”, so to speak. He raps from the heart and goes back to what hip-hop is really about: telling a story. I’ll be honest; I never really got into J. Cole in the mixtape days. When my friends would mention him, I’d listen to a song or two but that was about it. I liked some of the songs from his Work Out mixtape but, at the time, I didn’t realize how good his upcoming album was going to be. On September 23rd, “Cole World: A Sideline Story” was released. There was a big buzz on facebook about it so I, being the open-minded listener I am, downloaded it. I started listening to it and it just entranced me. The whole album was a story. Each song was a different little anecdote about something. His topics range from women to money, dreams, God, confidence, and “Daddy’s Little Girl”. I found this really diverse and interesting as well as touching and heartfelt. It isn’t often that you find rappers expressing their appreciation and love for God. But anyway, J. Cole’s album was a job well done. The guy is an extremely talented lyricist, rapper, and storyteller. Even though I kind of prefer Mac and Sean’s flow and style to J. Cole, I couldn’t deny the fact that this album was epic. It received over 8,000 five star ranks on iTunes; an unbelievable feat. My favorite songs by him are “Work Out” and “Who Dat”. I have 11 out the 18 songs on the album on my iPod. Some more intimate songs are “God’s Gift” and “Breakdown”. J Cole is an underrated guy who will definitely start to see more success in his future.
Last, but not least, is my favorite rapper—Mac Miller. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Malcolm McCormick started rapping at the early age of 6. He came out with his first mixtape, My Mackin Ain’t Easy, when he was 16 and hasn’t stopped recording since. The one thing that really separates Mac from the hip-hop culture is the fact that he’s a 19-year-old Jewish white boy with his own type of swag. He doesn’t wear his pants below his ass, rap without a shirt on, or wear oversized shirts and chains. He’s known for his massive collection of snapbacks, Nikes….and weed. But then again, every rapper smokes weed. Within these past few years, Mac Miller has released five big mixtapes. They are (in order) The Jukebox: Prelude to Class, The High Life, K.I.D.S., Best Day Ever, and I Love Life, Thank You. All of them are immensely popular, most of which is K.I.D.S. “K.I.D.S” stands for “Kickin Incredibly Dope Shit” and that’s exactly what he did with that mixtape. It was dope as hell. I usually like to go against society and have a different favorite. But K.I.D.S. might be my favorite mixtape by Mac Miller. It’s so chill and swaggerific. “Nikes On My Feet” gets you bobbing your head on a crisp, chill night. “The Spins” is a great song for the day after a party. “All I Want Is You” shows Mac’s sensitive side. “Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza” just makes you wanna consume exactly what is in the name of the song, light up a bong and have a nice night with a couple of dudes. Out of all these artists, Mac has probably put the most effort into these mixtapes. Next to Chris Webby, he is the king of mixtapes. A few of his mixtape songs even came out on iTunes because they were so good. Mac has a huge fan-base, so when he announced his deal with Rostrum Records, the crowd went nuts. His album, Blue Slide Park, wasto be released November 8, 2011 and every one was hyped. A month prior to the album, he released his mixtape I Love Life, Thank You, which, in my point of view, wasn’t such a smart idea. Some of the songs were actually really good and I felt like they could’ve been used on Blue Slide Park. But when Blue Slide Park actually came out, I rushed out, got it, listened to it, and wasn’t that impressed. Everyone hyped his album up to be something amazing; like some rap masterpiece. But it wasn’t. It was slow and unoriginal at times. The first half of his album was good but the second half just dragged. He went entirely solo on the album; no guest appearances. One of his songs had a ‘ska’ feel to it and I almost barfed when I heard the abomination entitled “Up All Night”. I was like “What is going on?!” I kind of got depressed after that because my man Mac kind of let me down. He finally got a deal…and this is what he came out with? Not his best work at all. On the flip side, I feel like Mac has more in store for us. He won’t be like that kid that loves college.
After analyzing all of these rookie albums, I came to an ultimate verdict. My favorite was Finally Famous, then Cole World, and then Blue Slide Park. It was funny how that worked out, considering Mac is my favorite out of all of them. But the music doesn’t like and I tell it how it is. There’s some people that hate Mac Miller in general and I think that’s stupid. You can dislike him, but you can’t deny the fact that he’s a gifted rapper. His flow is nice too. Give credit where credit is due. But, anyway, this writing is totally opinion based; feel free to disagree. I just wanted to express my thoughts on the cluttered hip-hop game and official albums of these three recent hits in rap.