Tag Archives: Red Pill

A Walk Through The Avant-Garde World of ‘Art Rap’ Music


Illustrations by Daiana Ruiz

Coined by Chicago native Open Mike Eagle in the early aughts, “art rap” was originally a reactionary phrase, one that responded directly to the subgenre of “art rock” and implied that the standard set of sonic or lyrical conventions did not apply. On another level, it was a way to distinguish his music from the music that fell under broad and nebulous labels like “hip-hop” and “underground rap,” which are sometimes embraced by rappers and listeners who believe that anything that doesn’t explicitly champion “real hip-hop” is, well, you know—the opposite.

“Having studied the history of American pop music and black music, it’s appalling where we are now,” Eagle told L.A. Weekly in 2010. “That’s why I wanted to give my music another term, something to differentiate itself from the pack. You can’t call everything ‘hip-hop.’ I was listening to rock music, and it struck me that a lot of the rock I liked was called ‘art rock.’ I started wondering why they had a genre where they can do whatever the fuck they want to do, and rappers are scorned if they don’t have enough machismo.”

Today, art rap is even a tag on this website. To sum it up (albeit reductively), art rap is avant-garde rap music that is antithetical to terrestrial radio station playlists. (That’s not always the case—records by artists like Kendrick Lamar certainly push the boundaries of rap.) More broadly, the subgenre has some identifying characteristics, including but not limited to: left field, forward-thinking production, unconventional song structures and cadences, songs written from the perspective of fictional characters, explicit and protracted engagement with social and political issues, and absurdist metaphors and similes.

From the description above, it should be clear that labeling a song/album “art rap” does not mean that it’s only that. Nor are any of those characteristics necessarily new. The list of art rap forebears is long, spanning from west coast jazz-rap progenitors Freestyle Fellowship to one-time Def Jukies like El-P, Aesop Rock, and Cannibal Ox. The list below features 12 rappers whose output—either recent or career-long—meets some of the above criteria. Most, if not all of them, have worked with at least one other rapper on the list in some capacity. This overlap was not intentional, but its existence affirms the artists’ aesthetic kinship, the reality that art rap has always been and will continue to flourish.

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The Best New Hip-Hop on Bandcamp


This month’s crucial hip-hop picks include indie rap veterans who are embracing their years in the game, video game fiends paying tribute to the late, great Frank White, and a rapper who at one time had the whole Internet convinced he was actually an alias of Nas. In a break from the normal U.S.-based selection, we also take a detour to Auckland, New Zealand where a whole bunch of rap cats are mustering up their own brand of creative hip-hop.
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Red Pill’s “Instinctive Drowning” Takes a Visceral Look at Depression

Red Pill
Red Pill. Photo by Ron Jude
“I want my friends to be happy, my generation to be happy.”—Red Pill

Like comedian Louis C.K., who he samples in his 2015 song “Rum & Coke,” lyricist Red Pill is fond of cracking sharp jokes about his own desperate existence. “I’m sick of looking at that coffee table, covered in these past dues,” he raps, “and writing about that coffee table covered in those past dues.” He’s describing his apartment, in the middle of a supposedly safe neighborhood, where his girlfriend still got carjacked. His own twinkling production adds a lush romanticism, softening the blows.

“Gin & Tonic,” from his new album Instinctive Drowning, is a spiritual sequel to “Rum & Coke.” Both are similar in scope, but on “Gin & Tonic,” Red Pill—born Christopher Orrick—realizes that even he’s tired of complaining. “All I want is to be happy in this life I got,” he sings on the hook.

“I think it’s more powerful in a way,” Orrick tells us. “It’s just two different ways of approaching the same topic. But I wanted to try to change my perspective on it and dig a little deeper. Get rid of the humor. Stripping it really down to what it is.”

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The Middle Class Heart of Ugly Heroes

Ugly Heroes
photo by Jeremy Deputat

“We don’t have an agenda. Our branding is the fact that we’re quality people who give a shit about our environments. We’re responsible, decent folks.”—Verbal Kent, Ugly Heroes

At its best, hip-hop is a voice for the voiceless. It’s not about the wealth you’ve acquired, or the amount of liquor you consumed at the club. It’s an expression of real concerns, and the best rappers expose personal struggles as a way to help listeners cope with their own stress. Over the past three years, that’s what MCs Verbal Kent and Red Pill have done in their work with producer Apollo Brown as Ugly Heroes. They create grassroots rap that speaks to everyday people on the grind—those living check to check, working several jobs to keep food on the table.

The group feels more cohesive since their 2013 LP and their self-titled EP a year later. Its members still celebrate the hustle, but unlike their previous work, the forthcoming Everything in Between also places value on the little things that make life so grand. “I think the vibe is a bit more introspective,” Red Pill tells Bandcamp. “I think it’s more about family. It’s more about appreciating what you have versus being upset at what you don’t, and knowing that the people around us are the ones who make us whole.”

Ahead of the album’s release, we spoke with Red Pill and Verbal Kent about its creation, why they live the reality they rap about, and presidential candidate Donald Trump. Because, of course.

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