Scotty Atl on SPIN Magazine:: Decoding Hip-Hop’s Retro Impulse

Recently SPIN Magazine posted an article on their site about Hip Hop… past, present, & future. Along with talking about artists such as Nas, Common, and Big Krit, they mentioned ya boi Scotty Atl. Check out the article below to see what was said::

In Simon Reynolds’ latest tome Retromania, a sprawling response to why everything new sounds like everything old, hip-hop is often used to challenge all the music dorks who are hopelessly caught up in the past. The first time this happens is when Reynolds, frustrated with what he calls “time-warp cultists,” observes, “fans of hot jazz and rural blues have no time for ‘Dirty South’ hip-hop styles like crunk and New Orleans bounce.” About a hundred pages later, while talking to rockabilly fanatic Miriam Linna, Reynolds connects the rowdy impulses in obscure, juvenile-delinquent rock to the “vast quantities of cheaply produced rap on shoestring independent labels.” Linna rather defensively explains that “it’s really not the same thing,” even though, you know, it totally is.

But hip-hop isn’t immune to the kind of stagnant, pitch-perfect recreation of days gone by that Reynolds loathes. Last weekend, the Rock The Bells tour kicked off in Los Angeles, and, as usual, the bill consists of acts hitting the 20-year nostalgia cycle (Nas, Cypress Hill, Black Moon, Mobb Deep), performing their classic albums in full, along with some contemporary acts who sound a lot like they’re from the early ’90s (Big K.R.I.T., Blu, Roc Marciano). What immediately sticks out about the lineup is the way that it muddles history, conflating different eras of hip-hop. Acts like Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Black Star, and Common, all associated with the “conscious” scene of the later ’90s, are also included. To complicate matters even further, Common’s latest single, “Ghetto Dreams,” features Nas and conjures up the uncouth aggression of boom-bap from the late ’80s and early ’90s.

What connects these acts―besides some crossover in demographics―is contrived, though simple: It’s all rap that doesn’t have much to do with right now. And then it gets even messier, though; Common will be performing 2005’s Be–an excellent album, sure, but known as his late-career renaissance record. That means you’ve got a rapper whose debut, Can I Borrow A Dollar?, came out in 1992, and whose career really popped off with a series of increasingly experimental albums from 1994-2000, performing his mid-2000s back-to-basics return. The problem with Rock The Bells’ retro is that it doesn’t even create a coherent dialogue with the past.

This simplification of the past makes a hip-hop history doc like Michael Rapaport’s Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest even more significant. Rapaport disrupts nostalgia via the Q-Tip vs. Phife narrative, suggesting that while Tribe’s complex humanity opened doors for future generations, it also defined a creative moment that could never be rivaled, and clearly screwed up the lives of those involved. That’s the kind of grounded, analytical retro that Reynolds might support.

Two recent, New York-influenced records from hip-hop provincials attempt to evoke that same bittersweet feeling: Oddisee’s Rock Creek Park, a mostly instrumental album based on dusty soul samples and dedicated to the park of the Washington, D.C. producer’s youth, merges rap history with deeply personal memories; The Sender, by North Carolina rapper Median, bounces from soul-beat traditionalism to a forward-thinking electronic sound. Both Oddisee and Median are knowingly caught between past and present, but they sound quite comfortable there, with very little to prove and no contrived canon to uphold. It’s refreshing.

Similarly, two actively retro southern mixtapes dropped this month: Big K.R.I.T.’s The Last King 2 and Summer Dreams from Atlanta newcomer Scotty and producer DJ Burn One. K.R.I.T. once again makes musical connections between gritty, Pete Rock-inspired soul sampling and the “country rap tunes” of UGK’s Pimp C, but “Happy Birthday Hip-Hop,” a collaboration with Yelawolf finds both MCs rattling off their disparate influences, in a seeming attempt to pay tribute to them and, perhaps, shake them off for good — just in time for major-label debuts this fall. Summer Dreams is straight-up raw, street rap, but Scotty finds a place in there for his personal narrative — the minor victories and big-time problems of his milieu — while Burn One knocks out smoky tunes that slyly update the country-rap sound via unconventional elements from IDM, disco, and reggae.

Southern hip-hop, in general, incorporates nostalgia more naturally. In part, that’s because the region is still strangely marginalized―it’s telling that K.R.I.T. and Freddie Gibbs are playing Rock The Bells, but none of their original Dirty South influences are. But it’s also because the region’s sound never abandoned its early practitioners. In a sense, all southern hip-hop is “retro” because many of the innovators are still around, jumping on new songs and comfortably mixing it up with the new generation, creating a continuum of varied, interconnected styles.

All that said, this month’s most fascinating rap release is The BigTyme Way a collection of hazy, early-90s UGK rarities―most notably, songs from 1992’s Banned EP and some mindblowing DJ Screw remixes. The BigTyme Way not only exposes the core of the sounds that guys like K.R.I.T. and Burn One repeatedly tweak, but it also predates some of the heady, “hauntological” electronic music (Ariel Pink, Oneohtrix Point Never, Burial) that Reynolds celebrates as good retro in Retromania.

UGK’s gleefully offensive “Pregnant Pussy” might freak out Tyler, the Creator, and Pimp C’s moaning space-disco synths, which he mixes with classic, late-’80s rap drums, could make John Maus weep. Add a hook that’s a tour de force of James Blake-ean vocal manipulation (it jumps from a slurred chant to a high-pitched yammer) and “Pregnant Pussy,” a dirty, goofy-ass rap song, starts to sound positively avant-garde. Leaning even further in that boundary-pushing direction is DJ Screw’s “Something Good” remix. Along with J. Dilla, Screw has become a key influence on woozy electronica, but this unprecedented, masterful mash-up of his chopped-and-screwed version of “Something Good” with Art Of Noise’s “Moments In Love” completely one-ups all the Tumblr-era collagists currently clogging SoundCloud. At least it seems that way to me.

Maybe I’m just feeling nostalgic.


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