Even if hip-hop is pissing on the corpse of rock 'n' roll, sometimes things get real quiet right before the storm

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      Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 366 days ago, a pitched pop-culture battle erupted on the webpages of straight.com. Flip back to January 4, and you might remember a story titled "It’s official: hip-hop has now toppled rock ‘n’ roll as the world’s favourite genre."

      That was rooted in stone-cold facts, the piece reporting on a release by American data-measuring institution Nielsen (which is mostly known for its television ratings). Looking back at 2017, the company’s analysts combined streaming service stats and physical album sales to determine that seven of the year’s top 10 artists fell under the umbrella of urban music, the list including Drake, Future, and Kendrick Lamar.

      Anyone expecting that to change in 2018 ended up sorely misguided, not to mention totally delusional. At the beginning of December, behemoth streaming service Spotify released the numbers for its most-played artists of the year, and rap and hip-hop again ruled.

      Landing in the top spot was Drake, who we might as well crown King of the World and Possibly the Universe at this point. And before you go disputing his omnipotence, consider that the house he’s currently building with pocket change in Toronto is making France’s Palace of Versailles look like a Surrey knockdown.

      On his heels were human Pigpen impersonator Post Malone, recently deceased reprobate XXXTentacion, and Colombia’s most popular export since uncut blow, J Balvin.

      It was no wonder that as the year limped to a close, one of the few remaining guitar-band stars on the planet, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, came out and said what think pieces have been arguing all year, namely that the rock ’n’ roll is a genre currently sitting behind the barn down the street from the old folk’s home waiting to be shot. For those able to remember things longer than 6.7 seconds these days (blame the Internet for your lack of anything resembling an attention span)—the 39-year-old’s exact quote in Variety was this:

      “Rock music is nowhere, really. I don’t know where it is. If it’s around, no one’s invited me to the party.”

      And then, just in case the message was missed, the man responsible for such classic earworms as “Moves Like Jagger” continued with “All of the innovation and the incredible things happening in music are in hip-hop. It’s better than everything else. Hip-hop is weird and avant-garde and flawed and real, and that’s why people love it.”

      One’s first reaction to this might be to legitimately ask who the hell Adam Levine is to talk about rock being deader than XXXTentacion. After all, along with those other three guys in Maroon 5, he somehow managed the impossible by making the one-woman freakout known as Cardi B sound boring when she guested on this year’s single “Girls Like You”.

      But at least Levine had the good taste to recognize modern-star power when he hears it—God knows that 2018 would have been a less interesting place without Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar. And he's bang-on when he notes that almost everything that sounds new, thrillingly raw, and revolutionary these days is coming from the world of hip-hop.

      Think Kendrick Lamar condensing his entire life story into three-and-a-half gripping minutes in “Duckworth”. And then just to make sure you were paying attention, hitting the rewind button at the song's end, turning everything into a hip-hop version of Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence .

      Or XXXTentacion managing to make us overlook, well, everything he’s currently roasting chestnuts in hell for with his hyper-distorted “Look At Me!”.

      Or Rico Nasty announcing herself as the baddest motherfucker on the planet with car-wreck bangers like "Guap (LaLaLa)” and “Big Dick Energy". Want to know what pure catharsis sounded like in 2018, especially on those days that made you want rip someone's throat out? Cue up "Smack a Bitch" where, over a grindingly claustrophobic metal-klang backdrop, Nasty takes aim with, "You rap about an Audi too much" (Shut the fuck up)/Because my Audi paid off bitch, hush! (Shut the fuck up)/Why she be yelling so much?/If I see you in the street, bitch your ass is done.”

      Cardi B meanwhile gave us the summer'a most deliriously joyous hit. Incredibly, the greatest thing about "I Like It" wasn't the sepia-oned sample of  Tony Pabón's 1967  boogaloo smash. And it wasn't the way that the rap's most colourful breakout star rolled out the lines "They call me Cardi Bardi, banging body/Spicy mami, hot tamale“ like a grad from the Tony Montana School of English.

      Instead the brilliance of "I Like It" is the way Cardi B planted one foot in a '50s Latin supper club and the other in a Reggaeton coke den. It was somehow authentically retro while brilliantly forward thinking. And it was no wonder rock 'n'roll couldn't compete. 

      Which brings us back to Adam Levine.

      The Maroon 5 frontman wasn't exactly the only philosopher to ruminate on rock’s current irrelevance to anyone under the age of 55. In fact the death pronouncements became something of a cottage industry. There are a lot of web pages to fill every 365 days of a year. And, unfortunately, one-man content provider Kanye West can't act batshit crazy every single waking moment of his existence.

      Is rock dead? Of course not, but it might as well be. The problem is that it's just not as exciting as Travis Scott, Asian Doll, or Saweetie. 

      And that's okay because we've seen this movie before. Flash back to the electronica (yes, that's what it was called) revolution that wiped out guitar bands in the late-‘90s. After three or four years of phat pants, Canadian Tire glowsticks, and warehouse raves, loud and primitive acts like White Stripes, Strokes, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs suddenly seemed fresh and revolutionary. It was no accident that rock ruled the world from 2000 to 2004.

      Rewind a bit further back and synth-pop upstarts such as the Human League, Duran Duran, and Thompson Twins were supposed to make guitars go the way of the player piano in the early ‘80s. Then came the rise of Sunset Strip metal, giving us enduring legends like Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe.

      And let’s not forget punk and new wave put the nail in coke-dusted disco in the late '70s. 

      If all those pop-culture palace revolutions had one thing in common it's that things had gotten real silent on the guitar-band front for a while. 

      The great thing about those fallow periods-including the one we’re in now-is that no one started a band because they wanted to get rich. (If you want to cash in these days, you change your name to Lil' [take your pick], get some facial tattoos, and then start working on your morphine-drip flow.)

      Whenever rock is pronounced dead, a new crop of guitar bands rises up for no other reason than you get a bunch of kids legitimately interested in making outsider art. They don’t write for radio programmers, Spotify subscribers, or whoever is signing the checks at record labels these days, but instead for themselves. And their friends. And whatever other weirdos who, for whatever reason, want something to latch on to than what everyone else at their school, gym, coffee shop, or local basketball court is listening to.

      Rock has got off the mat to reinvent itself countless times in its long and colourful history. And things are legitimately quiet enough now to suggest maybe another resurrection might be on the horizon.

      If so that's okay too because, who gives a shit when you’ve got a shit-hot stereo, a stretch of open highway on a hot summer night, and Cuban Doll’s “Bankrupt”. Crank that shit to 12 and scream along with “Aye, I'm a real bitch I can't fake shit/You a fucking pussy you don't say shit/You just figured it out, bruh, you late bitch/You a broke bitch you ain't got no bands to play with”.

      Even it Adam Levine is wrong, by the time “Bankrupt” gets near the finish line, it’s hard not to think that he’s somehow right.

       

      You can follow Mike Usinger on Twitter.

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