by Marcus K. Dowling
As a native Washingtonian, it’s rather amazing to know that this time has finally come. What time? Rap is the new go-go, the Nation’s Capital is on an incredible pop-rap hot streak, and the future is now. However, in that being the case, a few things need to be assessed and realized in order for DC rap to reach the next level wherein Washington follows Atlanta, St. Louis, San Francisco and other stylistically notable and commercially dominant American regions to the top of the game.
1. Bounce beat is king.
You want a hot pop single right now, there’s no better solution than to fall in love with hi-hats and 80s and trap your way to glory. Thankfully, third generation go-go’s ‘bounce beat’ style and three producers influenced by the concept provide an invaluable answer to that issue.
Once unified as Best Kept Secret, Craig B and Juju as well as Tone P have made massive strides for the arguably cacophonous, percussive and break-driven sound. Schoolboy Q and A$AP Rocky’s “Hands on the Wheel” was a massive 2012 success, and catapulted the rotund Seattle emcee as well as the Harlem hypebeast to increased renown. As far as Tone P? Wale’s “Bait” is easily one of the most underrated “should-have-been” mainstream album singles in some time. Does it sound too “urreah?” Of course. But when you hear the bounce beat recalling claps on French Montana’s gargantuan 2012 smash “Pop That,” you can’t help but believe that the ode to urban DC style could have easily been THE one to take the city to unprecedented heights.
Another bounce beat-driven, hook filled, peak-hour club killer on Wale’s next and most eagerly anticipated mainstream album? A recipe for complete success.
2. We’re not this, we’re not that, we just are. Yes, we’re similar, but we must be unique.
DC’s rap community is largely split into two sects. There’s a population of emcees driven at the core by mid-90s New York, Philadelphia and California driven backpacker idealism, and as well, a side driven by Scarface, Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, TI, David Banner and a legion of southern rappers driven by a tireless work ethic and a hustler’s spirit. These are unassailable tremendous archetypes by which to build sustainable success as an emcee they lack the ability to create instantaneous and iconic appeal, the building blocks of rap dominance that defies convention.
If looking at marketable and globally respected urban stars that have broken from the DC area during rap’s lifetime, they all share the fact that they embodied, as the Nation’s Capital physically does, the space between all areas. As an example, Trouble Funk and Chuck Brown, though go-go legends, are often discussed and sampled throughout the culture. This largely occurs because of their ability to blend, funk, soul, gospel and rap together, which, ultimately creates DC as an aurally palatable other that is similar yet ENTIRELY different than everyone else. Adhering to that notion – a desire to dare to be great, then dare to be unforgettable – is important for the region’s stars to come.
3. Each one, teach one.
Kendrick Lamar, Drake and J. Cole aren’t winning by themselves. Being smart enough to surround themselves with veteran talents like Dr. Dre and Jay-Z, as well as learning from their wisdom has undoubtedly taken their careers to the next level. DC, though? A different story entirely. There’s a generation of literal children who have come up without the dream of wanting to be the lead talker for Backyard Band, but to instead have their own clothing line like Weezy F. Baby. Getting to that point, especially from an underdeveloped pop mainstream market is difficult. However, DC does have literally two generations of emcees who have seen, touch, tasted and ever so slightly touched the hem of success’ garment, but have not found continued excellence at the top. In these men and women finding talents, mentoring and judiciously blessing them with the tools of the trade (with which so many of our local performers are so incredibly blessed) is key.
In looking at the success of Wale and Fat Trel in both being in play on the mainstream and blogosphere respectively, DC finally has entrenched roots in the machine that defines 21st century mainstream success. In order for this movement to continue, the area itself must discover the ability to follow the above guidelines, and focus on the goal. The city’s energy is different. Up is down ad left is right. Finally, the following is true regarding rap and DC: The place is here. The time is now.