Category: Black Hippy

SXSW 2011: Bootlegging, blog-rap, the Cool Kids and Black Hippies: The Nah Right/Smoking Section showcase

164693.CA.0317.sxsw.11.JM When I interviewed Chuck D recently, he pinned rap's ails on the demise of the group. And certainly with album sales declining and egos still ballooning, much of the last decade featured few legitimate new outfits.

But things started to change when the Cool Kids, who played the Nah Right/Smoking Section showcase on Thursday afternoon, emerged in 2007. Sporting a retro 808 fetish and a fashion aesthetic straight out of '88, the duo of Chuck Inglish and Mikey Rocks were two of the first rappers to rise to fame in the blog era.

Though four years later they still haven't sold an LP in stores, they've managed to be massively influential and cake off of live shows to the point where they can afford all the vintage Air Jordans they want. The stark minimalism of Inglish's beats and Rock's teenage swag raps established a template for the jerkin' movement, but it also won them the respect of top-rung MCss (Freddie Gibbs and Inglish comprise 2/3 of new group "Pulled Over By The Cops"). 

So the Cool Kids performance was part nod to the lane they helped build, part a chance to see their brand of Windy City cool freeze up humid Austin. And they didn't disappoint, delivering a confident, hyper-smooth set of their best material culled from the last four years. In fact, if there was a problem, it was that nothing could chill the scorching, overcrowded room, still shocked by the set that preceded them.

If you don't know Black Hippy yet, you will. At least if you pay attention to rap. Sometime in the last year, a quartet of heretofore solo artists -- Kendrick Lamar (formerly K. Dot), Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Warner Bros. refugee Jay Rock -- decided to consolidate and form like Voltron. The decision was the wisest one they could've made. Granted, Lamar has built a rep as one of Los Angeles' best rappers, an honor confirmed by Dr. Dre's decision to reportedly include him on the mythologically delayed "Detox." But his best work may come in union with his fellow hippies.

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Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q form quasi-supergroup Black Hippy

A generation ago, the members of Black Hippy would've all probably gotten started in a group. After all, from Ice Cube to MC Eiht, Dr. Dre to W.C., many '90s West Coast legends honed their skills by bouncing ideas and rhymes off of others. Even Snoop Dogg got his start with Nate Dogg and Warren G in the short-lived 213.

But like most of their generation, Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q, who are Black Hippy, have blazed solo trails to various degrees of success. All of them are regularly and rightly cited among Los Angeles' top underground rappers, but none has seen much in the way of a commercial breakthrough -- though Warner Bros.-signed Jay Rock has dropped several singles that have circled the margins.

Black Hippy represents a consolidation of the members of the Top Dawg Entertainment crew, and it's a wise decision. Unlike many hastily formed groups, the members boast the sort of hard-earned chemistry that comes from having rapped together for a long time. Effortlessly and playfully trading off every eight bars, the video for "Zip That Chop That" depicts them in their element: smoking blunts, riding bikes and rambling around downtown Los Angeles.

The different vocal tones and styles keep things lively, and former G-Unit in-house producer Tha Bizness delivers a gently knocking and righteously understated beat that complements the group well. Though it remains unclear exactly what is hippie-like about smoking blunts and listening to Biggie adjacent to the Los Angeles Theatre, "Zip That Chop That" is one of the most effective advertisements for the power of the hip-hop group. It captures four talented rappers, who occasionally float rudderless solo, and harnesses them into something focused and worthy of the rewind button -- or a  half-dozen YouTube replays.

And now we wait for the album, or at least the mixtape.

-- Jeff Weiss

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