Tag Archives: Zilla Rocca

The Best Hip-Hop on Bandcamp: November 2018

best hip hop

Before we all dive headfirst into official end-of-year mode, let’s take a moment to spotlight November’s essential batch of new hip-hop on Bandcamp. It’s a collection that showcases the vibrancy of Philadelphia’s Wrecking Crew collective, reminds us of the enduring power of Queensbridge thug rap, and furthers the legacy of the late, great James Yancey.

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The Best Hip-Hop on Bandcamp: August 2018

Hip Hop

This month’s selection of crucial new rap releases include a Queensbridge icon who helped pave the way for Nas, a psychedelic project reminiscent of the Dungeon Family’s experimental production style, and crime rhymes kicked by one of Roc Marciano’s closest associates. We also catch up with the latest innovative offerings from Armand Hammer and milo.

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A Guide To The Wrecking Crew’s Progressive Throwback Sound


Career Crooks photo by Bob Sweeney

Zilla Rocca’s career is a juggling act. A rapper, producer, author, and the uncredited creator of the term “noir rap,” the South Philadelphia native has parlayed his love of dramatic black-and-white film into a rich catalog of raw boom-bap that he creates with a group of collaborators known as the Wrecking Crew. Rocca and producer Small Professor also make up the group Career Crooks, which takes its name from a 1999 Jay-Z track titled “So Ghetto.”

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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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