written by Sasha Frere-Jones
Weighing in early on what academics call “periodization” is a dicey proposition. If you try to locate the moment of a major paradigm shift, in the moment, perhaps by calling your album “Hip Hop Is Dead,” as Nas did in 2006, you’re slipping into weatherman territory. Will it rain tomorrow? Will another great rap album pop up? The life spans of genres and art forms are best perceived from the distance of ten or twenty years, if not more. With that in mind, I still suspect that Nas—along with a thousand bloggers—was not fretting needlessly.
If I had to pick a year for hip-hop’s demise, though, I would choose 2009, not 2006. Jay-Z’s new album, “The Blueprint 3,” and some self-released mixtapes by Freddie Gibbs are demonstrating, in almost opposite ways, that hip-hop is no longer the avant-garde, or even the timekeeper, for pop music. Hip-hop has relinquished the controls and splintered into a variety of forms. The top spot is not a particularly safe perch, and every vital genre eventually finds shelter lower down, with an organic audience, or moves horizontally into combination with other, sturdier forms. Disco, it turns out, is always a good default move.
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