Why does hip-hop need Swizz Beatz’s new album?
Several reasons, but the most urgent is that our narrative must change. Hip-hop remains the greatest voice and mirror for the disenfranchised. Living African-American is more insane than ever. In many ways, it’s disturbingly consistent. There is too much governmental subterfuge and black body hunting in the hood for hip-hop to be this high off of the irrelevant. This is why, on his latest opus, the man born Kaseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean chose to exclude the pop mammoths he often records with (Bono, Jay-Z), instead letting the People’s Champs smack awake a demographic doped up on fake news and social media mirages. He titled his opus Poison because his people have made a daily diet out of the unhealthy––the unreal.
Real would certainly not be an apt adjective to identify this year in black music. Summer 2018 hip-hop, especially, was egregiously self-absorbed. Drake remained in his feelings, Nicki Minaj couldn’t get out of her own way, and most of the new R&B acts can’t see past the mirror or person they’re facing. Similar to earlier this decade, when the south’s “lean” wave chanted through Atlanta’s music, many of the year’s releases hit nationwide speakers with forged pill prescriptions. We are currently living in the age of “Opioid Rap.” The problem is, other than Jay and Bey, the elders in general haven’t stepped in to change the channel and remind the young, scared and medicated that they are both heard and of value. Instead, Kanye West remained a bipolar moth to his own fame.
In fact, Kanye’s towering presence oppressed us so much (our choice, obvi) that many forgot his finest work this year arrived in May. Pusha T’s Daytona was impeccable; it’s been a minute since Ye’ gave us a consecutive seven tracks of soul food. But after a blitz of overblown G.O.O.D releases and tabloid distractions, the best of the bunch got eclipsed. So what does Swizz do? He makes Daytona’s eighth song and puts it on his album; gives Push some callous upright bass play and encourages him to rub America’s nose in its own piss. (“Can’t raise a savage and deny the rabies”). EGHCK, indeed.
This album’s greatest gift may be redemption. Not predominantly for West, but specifically, and most importantly, for his collaboration with Nas. It’s the prerogative of Esco stans and creatures of the moment to disagree, but any objective fan with respectable rap taste is aware that, on Nasir, Esco sounded more geriatric than illmatic. There’s good news, though: On Poison’s “Echo,” the Half-Man Half-Amazing sidesteps a deciduous fate and rises like a Phoenix Sun from the free-throw line. No bulls**t––Queensbridge’s King backstrokes through waves of melodic instrumentation for three––that’s right, three––cinematic verses that will scrunch faces and inspire palm emojis with brilliance like “Been an observatory of murder stories since I was a shorty.” It trumps every song on Nasir. Credited to Mr. Dean, the focus can stray away from divorce court and custody blame games and return to the legacy of a scribe who once bragged about socking Jesus and breathing with a sniper’s breathe.