2013: Rap's reverse golden era?

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Life offers little in the way of constants, outside the big ones like death and taxes, but among them is that you can always easily find someone willing to argue that we are currently living through what is undoubtedly the lowest moment in the history of rap music so far. It's particularly easy to find them right now—though rap's been going through a genre-wide period of artistic flowering whose only precedent might be rock 'n' roll, post-Summer of Love—because of Chief Keef. His milder critics are content to criticize him for lowering the standards for rap lyricism and promoting an unabashedly violent image, while the most severe accuse him of playing a minstrel-like role trading in the worst stereotypes about rappers (and, by extension, about black Americans), and essentially selling out his culture for a lucrative major label deal. (In this respect he joins a long line of rappers running from Flavor Flav to Soulja Boy.)

The logical extension of the latter opinion is that the popularity of artists like Keef comes from them tapping into America's reserves of barely sublimated racism. But while America's concepts about race really are tied up with hip-hop in all sorts of deep and twisted ways, I don't think it's enough to get a song on the pop charts alone.

"Love Sosa" is the first Chief Keef song to make it onto the Hot 100 without help from a roster of famous guest rappers. Currently it's at number 56, up from 70, where it charted last week. The reason it's doing so well is the hook on the chorus that will wedge itself into your head for days at a time if you're not careful. It's fantastically simplistic and addictive, and for some reason it reminds me of Jad Fair from Half Japanese. Keef's lyrics are, as usual, brutally ugly on paper and strangely compelling when he raps them, but Young Chop's beat—boasting some Miami Vice-worthy tom fills—more than makes up for it.

Down at number 77 is a rapper raw enough to make Chief Keef look like Kendrick Lamar in comparison. Trinidad James has only been rapping for a couple of months, but his song "All Gold Everything" went viral a few weeks ago and now he's signed to Def Jam, who's rereleased the single and engaged its promotional arm quickly enough that they didn't lose any momentum in the transition. Seeing the major-label system finally figuring out how to work with the Internet instead of against it is as fascinating as it is frightening. The steps between rank amateur memedom and the trappings of a legitimate artistic career are being removed at a brisk pace, and the future probably holds a lot of Trinidad Jameses. Hip-hop's doomsayers should have no shortage of things to complain about for a while.

Miles Raymer writes about what's on the charts on Tuesday.

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