It’s already been a breakthrough year for hip-hop. From Canada to Chile, to California and South Dakota, rappers have changed the fabric of the genre. To the early release of To Pimp A Butterfly to the tours of Lakota and Chilean-French rappers, hip-hop has never looked this way before.
Kendrick Lamar broke Pandora’s box when To Pimp a Butterfly dropped a week before its initial release date on iTunes and Spotify a week. Dubbed “The Great American Hip-Hop Album,” the Compton native brought a kaleidoscope of genres such as jazz, funk and soul. But, the album is incredibly profound, dissecting the essence of black America and dropping lyrics such as “you hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture” in “The Blacker the Berry.”
In the album, Lamar plunges into a whirlpool of dark intimate experiences, his conscience spitting at him about his failures. It is a tragic novel of self-analysis, a package of raw human denial, arrogance, sorrow and sins. Lamar broke the nauseating formula of mainstream rap and brought forth an abstract presentation of a person’s complex journey into the limelight.
Favorite tracks: “King Kunta,” “Hood Politics”
Humble the Poet
The Toronto-bred Punjabi MC has crossed another accomplishment off his list: performing at this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. The former schoolteacher weaves jaw-dropping wisdom into his rhymes, his charisma and straightforward approach to certain emotions and situations, raises his audience into another level of awareness. What do you expect from a guy who already wrote a book?
Being in the hip-hop game since 2008, Kanwer Singh, a.k.a “Humble the Poet,” owes most of his success to social media such as YouTube. His song “#Leh” with Canadian comedian Superwoman, reached 5 million views in just two months after his release. He also posts frequent videos on certain topics and themes, such as “The Importance of an Apology.”
“I got ten years to fill a stadium but only ten minutes to fill your cranium,” Singh says at the start of every video. Well, he is definitely on his way.
Favorite tracks: “Baagi Music,” “Polished Bullsh*t”
Fearless, unbroken and defiant, the award-winning Sicangu Lakota rapper has overcome adversity in order to rise in the industry. Performing at the “Harvest the Hope” last year, a concert protesting the Keystone XL oil pipeline which featured a line-up of distinguished artists such as Neil Young and Willie Nelson, on top of touring universities around the U.S., the 25-year-old has made a name for himself. Along with other indigenous artists, MTV showcased him in an episode of “Rebel Music: Native America.” There, he expressed the reality of being a Native American today, facing extreme poverty and prejudice.
But as much as he does in the spotlight, he is doing massive work behind the scenes as well, such as being a presenter at a Basketball Against Alcohol and Drugs workshop at the Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center in Oregon. He has become a prominent name and influence for youth across the nation. His first album is in the works and the release date is yet to be determined.
Favorite Tracks: “AbOriginal,” “Hoka”
Who was that artist with a long fishtail braid, colorful tattoos, a flowing white dress, rapping and singing in Spanish about “decolonization” and “finding a silenced history” at the 57th Grammy Premiere Ceremony? That was Ana Tijoux and the song was “Vengo,” which is also the name of her successful third album which dropped last year.
The Chilean-French MC is a veteran of the rap world – a part of many groups until finally going solo in the late 90’s. Her vigor and determination is electrifying. She writes verses about the mammoth waves of corruption present in Latin America, especially in Chile where students are protesting the education system (check out “Shock”) and, vividly paints the struggles of being a woman and the injustice done to indigenous people across the continent.
She channels unwavering strength and an urgency to her listeners, creating empathy and opening their minds. Her current tour has received positive reviews. Fortunately, she is bringing her power and art to the Black Cat in D.C. April 15. Check it.
Favorite tracks: “Todo lo Sólido Se Desvanece en el Aire,” “Somos Sur”