With 2012 already in the hip-hop books, 2013 is overflowing with promise. While fans are holding out for brand-new LPs from veterans like Jay-Z, Eminem and 50 Cent, developing cultural storylines draw interesting parallels to another key year in hip-hop history: 1993.
Fans love to hear the story again and again. With Dr. Dre setting up California's rap reign a year earlier with his classic LP The Chronic, the Death Row crew cemented things in November '93 with Snoop Dogg's spotless debut Doggystyle. During that same month, New York, desperately searching for sonic relevance as the burgeoning birthplace of hip-hop, got a shot in the arm with the release of Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). It wasn't until Nas and the Notorious B.I.G. released their respective 1994 debuts that the Big Apple would regain its respect, but the Wu certainly helped set the stage.
To suggest that 2013's rap climate has come full circle 20 years later is silly. For one, the 15-year long hold that the South has had on the game has permanently influenced the way that rap music is made on both coasts, and all spots in between. Sales also aren't what they once were either, so forget the SoundScan data, but there are some things to ponder.
Kendrick Lamar, like Snoop Dogg 20 years earlier, emerged from the Dr. Dre school of MC'ing and now currently stands as Cali's marquee spitter. Not only that, his 2012 debut good kid, m.A.A.d city is a cinematic coming-of-age story not dissimilar to the Hughes Brothers cult classic film "Menace II Society." In May "Menace" will celebrate its 20-year anniversary and with K-Dot working a good kid short-film, making the connection isn't a far-fetched notion.
Just as New York was searching for a foothold in 1993, the city could use a 2013 savior — though rap (and the NY music scene) will surely beat on without one. No doubt, Harlem native A$AP Rocky emerges as a primary candidate; even if he has been downplaying the notion since he broke through in 2011 with his Live.Love.A$AP mixtape. Actually, Rocky's chief musical influences come from Houston's lean-induced culture and Cleveland's Midwest bounce. That's not to say Rock, who will be releasing his major label debut Long.Live.A$AP on January 15, doesn't have any NY DNA. His A$AP Mob is undeniably reminiscent of the Wu-Tang Clan.
The Mob's sheer size is one similarity. On Live.Love.A$AP's back cover, nine members posed wearing masks in a photo concept similar to the iconic Enter the Wu album art. Also Rocky's penchant for draping his teeth in gold is a stark reminder of the shiny fangs that Clan members Method Man, RZA and Ol' Dirty Bastard regularly sported.
French Montana is another NY notable with a chance to put the city on his back when he drops his debut Excuse My French in March. But like A$AP, French's musical muses are more southern than Big Apple. Yet there is a real rap renaissance in NYC. Joey Bada$$ and his Pro Era crew's newly released PEEP: The aPROcalypsehas garnered critical praise thanks to its 1990 NY sonic sensibilities and artists like Action Bronson, Mr. MFN eXquire, Troy Ave. and 360 continually pay homage to the heralded five-borough sound.
The fact is: by the time we close the calendar on 2013, the next 12 months will have produced its own unique storylines because rap has changed over the past two decades. It's difficult to ignore recurring hip-hop themes that have surfaced 20 years later, but let's just sit and watch how things play out.