Comedian Rahul Kohli talked us through his top five hip-hop artists ahead of his show Newcastle Brown Tales to the Stand on Monday 6th February.
Easily the greatest living rapper currently, and assuming he doesn’t get addicted to crack, and spend the next few years releasing albums with samples from Hansen, while singing R&B over the top, likely to be arguably the greatest of all time. I grew out of hip-hop for a while. Around 12/13/14 years old, the sound I grew up on: the pianos, the g-funk vibe, was being phased out in favour of a more electronic synth like sound which I wasn’t used to. But more importantly the whole conscious aspect of rap that I fell in love with upon hearing 2Pac – Changes had been nowhere to be seen for a while. Even in the late 2000’s when I was still into me hip-hop, names like 50 Cent and Ja Rule could hardly be said to be the height of the thinking man’s rap. I had heard Immortal Technique – Dance With The Devil, but at the tender age of 13, I didn’t know where to look to find more of that music, or if I was ready to hear more of his stuff. During the heyday of YMCMB I really fell out of it, started listening to indie music like the View, the Twang and Regina Spektor and shit. I was wearing skinny jeans, reading NME and all that, before eventually losing my passion for music entirely as I hit the 17/18 mark. Around 21/22, I’m heading back to my friends on the tube after a gig in London, and a friend we’ll call the Ent Whistler, so as not to accidentally snitch on him, had side-loaded a bunch of hip-hop music onto my iPod, and I had it in a playlist I had on shuffle, and Black Boys Fly came on, and I near lost my mind. Some of the best conscious rap I’d ever heard, and the whole idea of being jealous of his peers and friends who’d made it out the hood, was something I felt I could really relate to. I mean I’m far more privileged than a kid growing up in Compton, don’t get me wrong, but when you’re starting out as a comedian, and shit’s not going as fast as you like, and you’re unsure if you’ve made a wrong decision, and you see some of your friends gaining success you would like, that fear and insecurity of your own career can turn into jealousy and envy of someone else’s very quickly. It’s something Eminem talks about on Recovery. Since then, everything I’ve heard from him is just unbelievable. Section 80 flawless. Good Kid M.A.A.D City: Flawless, To Pimp a Butterfly, and the beauty in the latter two album is they are so layered, so complex, but still accessible for so many. It’s conscious and can be played at a party. Nothing more insane than hearing a bunch of kids going wild to Swimming Pools in the Club which is actually about how alcoholism is dangerous! Since that song hit me, I’ve fell in love with hip hop all over again, from Kendrick to Killer Mike to Drake to Lil Yachty. Any mixtape on datpiff I’m downloading.
The most gifted technical rapper of all time. He had to be. No white man coulda done what he done without being a cut above the rest. A rapper upon which my childhood was built. The Marshall Mathers LP was the first cassette I ever had on my Walkman. I stole it off my brother. The Real Slim Shady, and Whatever You Say I Am are two of the first music videos I ever saw. That along with South Park and the attitude era of WWE shaped my childhood, and I think turned a generation into being a very anti-PC but libertarian and crude generation. They were almost like the bridge between conservative social values of old, and the manic live and let live of today. It was just so nuts seeing someone come out like him, not being political at all, taking shots at everybody so wittily and rhythmically. That has had somewhat contentious political issues with the rise of the alt right politically, but I’m proud to be part of the ‘I Just Don’t Give a Fuck’ Generation. Everything Eminem has put out, I think is sublime even his self-proclaimed duds: Relapse and Encore. Infinite I didn’t find until like 2014, and I think it may be my favourite mixtape/album ever. I also have a radio interview where he’s freestyling back to back with Biggie, and he cruses Biggie who is a technical mastermind. On top of that, in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, it was just so refreshing to hear a guy not be like ‘YEAH I GOT ALL THE BITCHES, CARS AND DA MONIES’ and just be like ‘I have serious mental issues and want to kill myself.’ It was a breath of fresh air and lead to some of the best artists of today. I personally don’t think there’d be a Kendrick or a Cudi if it wasn’t for Em. Just a phenomenon, and as he says himself ‘There will never be another me, and that I can guarantee, that’s why he remain sucker free.’
I mean MF DOOM as a cover all for all of his work: under madlib, danger mouse etc. etc. etc. Nobody has put out such a wide mixture of work, of varying degrees as both a producer and rapper. This guy blows Kanye out of the water. And the people he’s mentored, and who consider him an influence are some of the best technical rappers to boot of the modern age: Joey Bada$$, Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler the Creator, Bishop Nehru, and he’s affiliated loosely with Wu Tang. 1999 is one of my favourite albums, and Rhymes Like Dimes is a Party anthem which still has bare conscious messages. His whole back story too, as tragic as it is, is nuts and just adds to the romance of this supervillain multi-layered character he’s created. So he wanted to release an album called Black Bastards in the group KMD with his brother. They managed to eventually get that album out there after much fighting with labels. Unfortunately, his brother dies, shortly after, and the record company just let him go, as he’s not valuable any longer as a solo artist. So he goes on, does his own solo thing, wears a Dr Doom mask for all his gigs, keeps changing his name, doesn’t sign to a big label, and rejects celebrity culture and fame. The stories promoters have told me of trying to book him and him just disappearing into thin air personally add to this romance for me, much to the promoters chagrin. The comic book aspect of his work (samples, mask, artwork) also are a massive boon for me as I grew up on these.
Nobody ever quite like them had come before, or will come again. Nobody this openly political, openly this challenging. Like the Rage Against the Machine of hip-hop. Even Kendrick with all of his political albums, it’s via the medium of his own experience, as opposed to just openly challenging the system the way Chuck D did. The fact that he had a crack addict wearing a giant clock shouting indemnities next to him made them all the cooler, and all the more fire.
Currently unsigned, and someone I’d define as the hottest free agent on the market. He just puts out absolute beats, and conscious rap on an intellectual level like you’ve never heard. Like Doom he produces as well as writes near enough everything he puts out (take note some of you sucka MCs), And it is so layered. He just has a hell of a lot of soul. His hit single A N.I.G.G.E.R. which stands for Another Naïve Individual Glorify Greed and Encouraging Racism is just one of the most contentious rap songs ever put out there. It’s brave, passionate and good. He also with his production sticks to his country and Mississippi roots which as a Geordie, I always appreciate when someone doesn’t try to go with the flow set by London/Paris/NY/LA and brings their own style and heritage to them cities. Like Bada$$, he doesn’t have an album I can’t listen to the whole way through.
SPECIAL MENTIONS: First off I have to shout out Atlanta. I can’t believe a single artist from that hip-hop hub never made it in there, but unfortunately it’s a top 5 for a reason. Outkast were so close, but just missed out. Biggie also. If he had lived longer and released like even one more album that was technically as good as his first two, then he’d probably find his way back in here. Also final shout outs to Fetty Wap & Ty Dolla $ign. If I considered them hip-hop artists, they’d be top of this list. I scream out loud to every single one of their songs, but as I’m sure they’ll tell you themselves, they’re more singers, musicians, artists, R & B artists, but you won’t see them turning up to the 313 for a rap battle any time soon!