Of the nearly 200 albums released in the Triangle this year, hip-hop artists issued fewer than a dozen, and that's being charitable. Rather, they seemed to spend much of 2009 begging their fans to anticipate new mixtapes—hot, new unauthorized joints that stood mostly no chance of galvanizing any scene here.
It's an instructive number because it's an indication of how mundane and uninspiring Triangle hip-hop has become. Some critics and artists offer excuses about how the mixtape has become a convenient replacement for LPs—instead of the headaches and expenses of putting out a product with a barcode, we'll put out a cheap CD-R in a cheap jewel case, or just make a Web site. Yeah, great idea: If that was working, perhaps there'd be a local hip-hop release the Triangle actually cared about this year. Do you remember one?
Forget all of the yesteryear chatter about the Triangle as the Southeastern "mecca" of hip-hop. It's not. True, the Triangle used to be a place where you couldn't go a week without hearing word of a not-to-be-missed local show or agreeing with someone on Franklin Street about the super potential of some neighborhood emcee. But the days of area open mics, beat battles, freestyle competitions and shows consisting of local acts disappeared a couple of years ago. This year, nearly the only way to catch an up-and-coming local act was to watch them open up for a well-known national act. If it weren't for big-named hip-hop acts stopping in Triangle venues this year, I would have seen, at most, five concerts during the last 12 months.
Just because the year was lacking in local hip-hop shows, though, doesn't mean there wasn't music being made. The talent is here, I think, and the rappers walked like zombies among us. It's just a matter of now putting it all to use. Coincidentally, the future of a resurgence might rest with a pair of ex-bandmates who, earlier this decade, gave us a national voice anyway—Little Brother's 9th Wonder and Phonte Coleman.
Operating out of N.C. Central University, Grammy winner 9th Wonder has cultivated a homegrown talent pool with his Jamla/ The Academy record labels. But his growing roster of young acts (Thee Tom Hardy, Big Remo, GQ, Rapsody, Actual Proof, M-1 Platoon, etc.) have yet to release a proper album or set any real release date. 9th Wonder's posse could have a lot to do with making Triangle hip-hop vibrant again. But if they're to do that, and I think they might, it's going to require some actual release dates and some gigs in local clubs—you know, chances for us to get to hear them.
Coleman has more to do with the now: Nominated for a Grammy two weeks ago for the second LP by The Foreign Exchange, Leave It All Behind, he'll release his highly anticipated solo debut some time in 2010. Coleman's rap career has shown that he's fairly reliable about delivering on his release-date promises, and this one should bring some energy and attention.
Still, it's 2009: Should we still be waiting on Little Brother and its offshoots to give us a hip-hop life? Probably not, but who else can rise?
Raleigh's Kooley High managed to pack venues all year, based on a grassroots campaign that very much resembled the frenzy that once surrounded the Justus League and Little Brother. Despite several mixtapes from the band and its members, though, and a documentary about its struggles, Kooley High still hasn't released an album.
But Pierce Freelon's live hip-hop outfit, The Beast, did, attracting some weighty attention (including a favorable review here), but their debut is hamstrung by Freelon's show-and-tell café didactics. Producer Apple Juice Kid's collaboration with Camp Lo's Geechie Suede as Freebass 808 wasn't exactly your traditional boom-bap panty raid, but it was the most interesting hip-hop release of the year in these parts. It took the loud and creative high road, rather than the boring treadmill on which other Triangle hip-hop wasted away all year. Not surprisingly, many resident hip-hop heads paid it little attention, because very few other area hip-hop artists co-signed it and helped introduce the project to the Triangle's veteran scenesters. And before long, unless something changes, that's all we'll have left left—anonymous, veteran scenesters.