By, Wendy Day from Rap Coalition
Amongst my generation (folks who are in their 40s and 50s), there’s a fondness for hip hop from the 90s. It’s the era where many hip hop fans and enthusiasts came of age and grew into adulthood (someone who is 41 today, was 20 in 1994 when Nas’ Illmatic dropped), and the music of the 90s was the soundtrack to our lives. It’s when the major things in our lives happened–we graduated high school, we found love, we discovered great sex, we moved out of our parents’ homes, we began careers, we struggled, we had kids of our own, we graduated from college, we traveled the world, we started our lives, etc. It was a time of firsts, growth, independence, and success in our young lives. The music that was playing at the time is anchored to those experiences. When we hear a song we loved in the 90s, it takes up back to those days and feelings. Plus it doesn’t hurt that the music then was about skill–great beats and rhymes mattered! And lastly, it’s the era in time when rap music went from being seen as a fad or niche, to a proven entity of a multi-billion dollar business that took rap mainstream.
There’s a whole group of fans and new rappers from New York who fit into this current nostalgia boom of love of everything 90s hip hop–the quest for those beats and rhymes. Emcees like Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, and Big Sean have sold millions of songs showing prolific talent in a industry rife with club music, trap songs, and southern stylings that focus on melodic production instead of lyrical wordplay. This generation has DJs that carry the torch for “real hip hop” with DJs like Enuff, Big Kap, etc, while the #1 radio station in the world, New York’s own HOT 97, has hosts and DJs devoted to lyricists like Rosenberg and (the former staffer) Ebren. MTV’s most famous host today is a hip hop head who came to prominence in the 90s with The Wake Up Show, a syndicated radio show that focused on the most talented lyricists in existence.
This era, the “keeping it real” era, was about skills and authenticity. Artists had something to say in their rhymes. The soundtrack of their lives that they were rapping about became the soundtracks to our lives as we listened. The catch 22 is that to be seen as authentic, the artist must be from that era. It would be challenging today to be a 20 year old rapper with a 90s style without eyebrows raising. I’m guessing this is the main reason that artists like Your Old Droog aren’t superstars, but have a decent following locally in New York even with all the press he received as “is it Nas or isn’t it?”
Enter Poepan, the Prolific Penn. I met Poepan in the early 90s when he was half of the duo The Kemelions, signed to Island Records. Their album released with little to no promotions in an era when marketing and promotion were everything. Rap Coalition negotiated their release from the label and the group broke apart not long after. The stress of a bad record deal is sometimes insurmountable for the artists involved. In fact, almost always. The frustration for me, was that The Kemelions were amazing. To this day, they made one of my favorite albums of all time. As an added bonus, Poepan was the person who introduced me to Master P in the early 90s which led to me helping No Limit with their Priority deal–Poe’s cousin was running No Limit back then.
Today, Poepan dropped a mixtape called THE WINDS OF CHANGE on DatPiff (http://www.datpiff.com/PoePan-The-Winds-Of-Change-mixtape.690357.html) that is like a trip back to the 90s but with current references, from an artist who was there and has truly lived his life in Hip Hop. The mixtape has no breaks in between songs (like back in the day), he’s rapping over beats that move him even though they belong to other rappers (like back in the day), and it’s hosted by his (and my) favorite deejay, DJ Enuff (like back in the day). He made this mixtape because he had to. He’s not trying to be a famous rapper, and he’s not trying to pimp hip hop for a check. He made this because it was in him and he needed to get it out (like back in the day). Poepan is not my client and I have no stake in his project. I so rarely mention projects that I like–the last article I wrote about something I personally enjoyed was a book–Dancing With The Devil, and that was 7 years ago. I tend to focus on the business side and leave the creative opinions to others far more qualified than me.
While I don’t approve of any new artist making music that sounds like throwbacks from the 90s (just ask my client from the northeast), I absolutely love this mixtape and the throwback quality that it possesses. Poepan has been a rapper for most of his life. He embodies hip hop. And imagine my surprise when I got to the end of the mixtape and heard a huge shout out from Poepan and DJ Enuff (blush)! But that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing this because Poepan still molds words like clay and chooses beats that mean something to him. He did it the way it was done in the early 90s to remind us all of when lyrical prowess mattered. There are no consigns from more famous rappers, there’s no coordinating video on WorldStar, no R&B star singing on the hook, no superstar producers supplying beats, and he’s not putting it up on iTunes or checking SoundScan for sales. It’s hip hop for the love of hip hop. The only thing missing is the pop of the cassette tape…