If there’s something that is thrown around in the hip-hop community more than Rihanna, it’s the term “classic.” Donning an album with the “classic” label is the ultimate high ground. The hip-hop equivalent to the Hall of Fame. Though, unlike say the NBA Hall of Fame, hip-hop lacks a proper screening process and platform. Instead, there’s just a widely accepted list of albums (Illmatic, Reasonable Doubt, 36 Chambers, Straight Outta Compton, blah, blah, etc.) Nonetheless, I am not here to debate contentiously on why hip-hop should have a proper HOF (though, it definitely should.) Just here to take a swing at the timeless question; what dons an album the glorious “classic” label?
Well, first we must debunk the term “instant classic.” There is no such and don’t let people tell you otherwise. Shaq didn’t retire and get inducted the same year. Hell, he’s STILL not inducted. Yet, flashback to last year when Kendrick released “To Pimp a Butterfly.” People hadn’t even passed “Wesley’s Theory” and were yelling classic. I don’t only mean Kendrick dick-riders, but people prominent in the hip-hop media, then again same thing. Was the album incredible? Yes. Was it blown out of proportion by music media? Definitely. It might be on its way on the first ballot, but let the project breathe before we go around blessing it a classic. Let’s establish a 5-year rule for the sake of argument. The test of time is one that rarely fails. Therefore, in 2020 you can ask President West if it’s deemed a classic. Now with this logic, which projects would be eligible this year? Well, if you think of 2011 it’s kind of like dejavu. The two biggest albums were by Drake and Kanye with “Take Care” and “Watch the Throne”, respectively. Both, mixed reviewed much like “TLOP” and “Views.” And a low-key critically acclaimed Kendrick tape (surprise, surprise.) 2011 also birthed “Undun” by The Roots which is a strong contender despite being often overlooked. Now, you’re probably thinking, “TAKE CARE?!” Yes, “Take Care.” Self-proclaimed “hip-hop heads” will disagree, but the album must appeal, at least minimally, to the general public. The success the album had is almost unmatched. Did it spark a new breed of internet hype beast? It supremely did. But, nonetheless Drake’s sophomore commercial album is the closest project he’s released worthy of “classic” status. It had the summer banging and admittedly has me, still, to this day drunk dialing my exes. Music doesn’t always need to carry a heavy political charge or deep lyrical content. At the end of the day its entertainment as much as it is an art form. Allen Iverson never won a ring in his life, but he undoubtedly deserves to be in the HOF. He was simply just fun to watch. As are certain albums and shouldn’t be ruled out of “classic” status contenders.
Now let me put on my Millennial hat to address a reoccurrence in not only hip-hop, but virtually everything. We as a generation often disown the music of our time. We look to the 90’s and fantasize and hold their music to the highest of standards. Just take to social media and see for yourself. Spewing everything from “I was born in the wrong generation” to “Rap is nothing like it used to be.” First of all, you’ve only been listening to music for 10 years and understanding it for 5. The pretentiousness of statements like that is why others look down on modern hip-hop. Now, I’m not asking to justify for the Lil Uzi Verts of the game, but we have big time players to go toe-to-toe with those who came before. Who’s to say Kendrick isn’t the Tupac of this generation? If anything he’s more grounded than Pac’s radical self ever was. Cornrow Kenny tackles actual problems affecting the world and modern society not just a load of conspiracies theories. This generation also witnessed the rise of arguably one of the greatest artists of all time, Kanye West. A producer turned rapper from a town that was almost irrelevant in hip-hop. The man gave us 3 classic albums (the three vary on who you ask) and has his production plastered all over more classics. He introduces the “polo and a backpack” fashion into the rap game to later continue to innovate fashion throughout the decade following. The visuals and art work which tie in beautifully with the theme and lyrical content of “MBDTF” along with his production and team make the album a masterpiece. Yet, if we hold him up with the likes of, let’s say Biggie, we are shunned from society. Not to take anything from the Big Poppa himself, but the man only had 2 albums (if you consider “Born Again” an album, stop reading this.) Nonetheless, if I have to be an antagonistic voice in this debate, I will. Hip-hop is not dead. We will decide the new-age classics, fuck them old cats they already had their say. “Modern classics” like “Get Rich or Die Tryin’,” “College Dropout,” “Be,” and “Madvillainy” just to name a few are inarguable.
A classic album will define an era. It will travel you to a period of time and bring back feelings and emotions. Music-evoked nostalgia if you will. They will make you feel an old girlfriend’s touch. They will shoot you back to long nights out with your past friends just bumping the tracks in the whip looking for some shit to get into. Most albums slip through the cracks regardless of how “good they were.” It’s the few that captivate the vibe and essence of a particular era that will be deemed classics. “All that other bullshit is here today and gone tomorrow.”