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Name: Adam Bernard
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About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Skaters - Hip-Hop’s New Saviors
Friday, July 21, 2006

Last weekend I received a mailing from Koch records that had some truly classic music, re-releases of Murder Was The Case and The Doggfather and a compilation of Dr. Dre’s best songs from his Death Row years titled Chronicles. I was speaking with my old college roommate about the mailing, I get anywhere in the neighborhood of half a dozen to a dozen during any given week, but I hadn’t been this excited about one in a while. I told him what I had received and he hit me with a comment that I think pretty much covers how my generation views the current Hip-Hop landscape, “yeah, back when I liked the mainstream.” Yes, that’s right, mainstream Hip-Hop wasn’t always wack, and thanks to one segment of the Hip-Hop community that has pretty much stayed consistently true to what they like no matter what the rest of the world says, mainstream Hip-Hop might very well be great again in the near future. You can leave your gold teeth on your dresser, it’s time to throw some Vans on because Hip-Hop is about to be run by the skaters and things are going to be vastly better for it.

Skate culture has always had an interesting relationship with Hip-Hop. The same way there are a certain group of Hip-Hop fans that are skaters, and those fans are sometimes sectioned off, labeled so as not to get them confused with other Hip-Hop fans, and then ignored by the majority of the artists creating music, those same fans are also oftentimes roped off in skating communities as not all skaters love Hip-Hop, in fact if I were to put money on it I’d bet they’d be in the minority. I’ve always been pretty cool with the tastes of the skater Hip-Hop heads, they don’t have a blueprint for what they like, but once they find an artist or a group that interests them they latch on and the fandom is hardcore. Atmosphere and the rest of the Rhymesayers roster are huge in the skate community and I can also remember a GZA show that was packed with people whose preferred mode of transportation involved ball bearings rather than shiny rims. The good news with the GZA show was that BB Kings was packed wall to wall for it. The bad news was that at the time the skater fan base wasn’t big enough to have GZA, or any Wu members, topping any charts. The skaters, however, have picked up the mic and things are about to change.

The most obvious skater rap song is Lupe Fiasco’s "Kick Push," which first infiltrated college radio airwaves about four months ago and has now made its way onto mainstream radio. The hook makes it obvious as to where Fiasco’s inspiration comes from and if his Kiss The Sky mix-CD is any indication of what’s to come I have very good feelings about what we’ll be hearing from this MC in 2006 and beyond.

Lupe Fiasco is a prime example of an MC who is good, but may not be able to make a full impact on his own. He’s a new artist and new artists rarely become king in a day. This is where Pharrell comes in. As many people know Pharrell is close to skate culture, even taking the nickname Skateboard P. A few years ago I thought Pharrell was going to die of overexposure. He was everywhere. You couldn’t go two seconds without hearing one of his beats or seeing him cameo in a video. He chilled for a little while, though, took some time to relax, became more selective when it came to who he was working with, and now he’s hitting listeners with his first solo effort, In My Mind, and the album could single handedly change mainstream radio.

In My Mind is a collection of songs that show that even though Pharrell may not be the best MC in the world his creative vision, his ability to mesh underground Hip-Hop concepts with decidedly pop concepts, and his innate ability to know what people are going to vibe to, make this album a potential monster. Some of the beats on In My Mind are just waiting for a dope underground MC to rip over them, while others, like "Can I Have It Like That," "Keep It Playa" and "Raspy Shit," are club ready songs. "Raspy Shit" also features Pharrell giving listeners a taste of braggadocio that rivals the great LL Cool J: "the way you huggin on me it's a problem / fuck you tryna end up in the gossip column?"

The songs that are of most interest to pop fans will be the handful of tracks that sound like they were meant for Michael Jackson to sing, but altered just enough to let everyone know they’re most definitely Pharrell joints. The 80’s inspired "Young Girl," which features Jay-Z, is followed by "I Really Like You," "Take It Off," "Stay With Me," "Baby" and "Number One." All of these are songs one could easily envision Michael singing, but because Pharrell is doing them they’re Hip-Hop and a welcome change from the both the slowed down non-flows of the likes of Yung Joc and the manic riot music of Lil’ Jon.

Pharrell’s album is going to airplay, it’s too dope not to. Add to that the airplay that Lupe Fiasco is going to get and the skaters have a powerful one – two punch coming the mainstream’s way. It’s a punch many of us have been waiting for and will welcome with open arms because if Pharrell and Fiasco start to take over the airwaves it might be enough to generate the eventual changing of the guard of mainstream Hip-Hop. It’s a lot of pressure to put on the shoulders of two very skinny men, but pressure can lead to acceleration. Do you know what else can lead to acceleration? A little kick push, and Pharrell and Fiasco know all about that.

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