Despite what people might say, rap music has more than one frequency.
It is not just boom bap, nor is it rat-a-tat-tat of gun spray. That’s there, no question.
It is a landscape to celebrate your hood, your gang, your style and your name. But there are various levels of engagement that have evolved in the genre. There are the socially conscious emcees that have shaped the rap genius of Kendrick Lamar. There are the politically focused rappers that stand in the lineage of Chuck D and Dead Prez. But then you also have those emotional artists that pour out their hearts in ballads echoing the historic lineage of LL Cool J’s “I Need Love.” Do we need more of them? Is the Hip-Hop community due for a classic rap ballad, amidst all the high-energy joints pumping through your radio? Absolutely. Just check the history.
One example of the many times that speak to a sensitive side of rap comes from the Academy- Award winning Common.
Almost two decades ago, Common laced the ladies with a dedication in the sweet serenade, “The Light.” On his 2000 album, Like Water for Chocolate, he showed the millennium that what manhood looked like over a dope sample and track. Producer Jay Dee as essential to the groove as Common is as a lyricist, think about all the babies rocking to Hip-Hop now that were conceived off this one.
There have been others between then and now. But one that makes us take note is Kendrick Lamar. Recently, songs like “Love” featuring Zacari has softened the tone of trap and mumble rap music. This joint, complete with banging drums and a snare cracking in the back, reminds you that even the most explosive of emcees can connect with his most romantic side. But that was 2017.
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Earlier this year, while a pure Hip-Hop song, it has all the vibe of one rap ballad. Teyana Taylor stepped into 2019 with her much needed offering. Her smokey vocals beckon the ache of LaTonya and Nicki who were in desperate search of lyrics to put in context how she feels about her man. But not just a desperate plea for attention, this song has girth. She recruited Ghostface Killah, Method Man and Raekwon to give brothers a voice, making this song one of the top rap ballads ever… without shorty even trying.
But every rap ballad doesn’t have to be a tale of undying love and insatiable sex… does it?
Where are the soul songs about love lost or regret? Hood joints that have a bop, with a dash of real urban love- with a narrative that Tondalaya and Rasheed can clearly relate to? Where is the 2019 “Song Cry?”
Perhaps, Newark native Tsu Surf is answering the call.
In his new song (one that is bubbling all over), “What Changed” featuring Cascio, you hear a love sick Surf riding the beat like a seasoned emcee and pouring out all the insecurities associated with fame, females and the fatality of a relationship that once was believed to be teflon. Contrary to Lamar’s “Love,” this song projects vulnerability. The question posed from someone that can’t change their position, but still wants one level of commitment from the object of his desire. Reflection and imagination is all that the protagonist in the song has to define his relationship, and he is still left with questions.
Beautifully written… even between his efforts to say he ain’t trying to check for this “bird” that he can’t give a “ring”to (shout out to The Eagles), he still can’t deny how he feels.
Hood poetry at its best.
So the answer…
Does Hip-Hop due for a classic rap ballad? Absolutely. It is as in need of a classic rap ballad, as it is in need of lyrical integrity, heart and substance. And that is for one reason… ONE BIG ASS REASON…
Those who love the culture are whole people with a myriad of feelings and emotions. Let the music reflect how diverse we are as a community, and let the show that hard rocks actually have hearts.