Exploring The Beauty of Change Within Underground Hip-Hop

Music is simply something we as listeners respond to. Like a BDSM Fuck factory, to artists, it’s a sonic proving grounds of domination, experimentation, and release. As a listener, tuning in to the radio, or listening to a superstar’s release does wonders when it comes to being entertained.  These are radio artists who want hits, so they make songs that satisfy the compulsive need for immediate, repeatable, ubiquitous satisfaction. These artists aiming to hit the charts are mechanically sound to listen to and will be pleasant to hear at first glance, but there’s a part of being human that allows you to be content, and then there’s a part within all of us, especially those of us that are young, that want more.
Those curiosities drive us to check beneath the surface, and watching the massive amounts of change happening beneath the surface provides evidence for what’s above ground. Sure you can experience the mainstream artist develop and change as a person through their music just as much as an underground artist, but the quality will still be there. The production will still be present and of high standards. Look into the context of it. They have the money, the manpower, and the experience to execute at a brilliant capacity. To the underground artist, it’s a totally different world. There’s more hunger, and with the freedom that being in the underground affords, the potential for magnitudes of development and change is infinite. Where mainstream artists are beholden to trends to get airplay, the underground is free to explore and pave new paths. Because of this natural examination of the unknown and what could be and what couldn’t be, there’s beauty and depth in exploring the underground of hip-hop, if you can find it.



Being mainstream doesn’t necessarily mean artists are incapable of exploring. Flying Lotus is an electronically charged hip-hop instrumentalist where his music is inherently explorative. Guessing where ever he chooses to go next, the intuition within every album is apparent upon the ambient, anxiety-spurring introductions. Tracing the musical development from 2008’s Los Angeles to 2014’s You’re Dead! reveals a gorgeous journey.

With professional progression and daring, yet calculated leaps, this is the sort of development that you would expect from a top-tier artist. However, this is an artist that thrives off of experimentation. While explorative, his experimentation wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t in pursuit of a defined goal while still remaining within the confines of a common trend. Being considered mainstream doesn’t come without its flaws. Because of such a wide berth of possible exposure, it’s important to note that any move you do make needs to be careful and calculated.

This is not the development seen in the underground.



Within the underground, change has the absolute potential of being horrifying, abrupt, arbitrary, and astoundingly wonderful. Some of these artists don’t have high-end studios and professional advisors. The underground is where it’s common, accepted, sometimes even expected, for artists to have just their minds and a MacBook, maybe also a drum machine. Take Defcee & Moses or Seneca B, for example. Thanks to a hyper-active sampled piano backed by lyrics that follow the same nooks and crannies of the melody, listening to Defcee’s “Don’t Stop” ft. Bonnie is a track that’s mapped out well within the first fifty seconds. Despite the masterful quality so far, the lyricism behind the hook:

“Everybody smooth
whether you wine or dine or lookin’ for one-night-screws.
If you tryna mack, I ain’t mad at all.
Do you, then head out the back door.”

is where a vibing track becomes disagreeable and sonically rushed. The young naivety and beauty of amateur lyricism and instrumentals still show hints of professional quality, but this aspect also proves to be inherently beautiful as the listener gets to experience the ride and watch the progress unfold. Their studio is their bathroom or their living room. Hell, a studio to the underground artist is their home. Their professional advisors consist of other starving artists, moms(probably not but shouts out to moms), and friends. Sometimes, these artists evolve past the production within their homes.

Rising From it

A relatively recent example would be Earl Sweatshirt. Back in 2008 through 2010 when Earl was Sly Tendencies, he would drop bars like:

“Sly’s been first, man
Y’all forever last I’m forever everlastin’
Mashing on the gas bypassing all the has-beens
In that sense I’m that shit in that scents
Inhale it, breathe it, embrace it”

Earl was pretty damn young yet very talented, rapping with a grotesque essence of viciousness and eloquence. Even if the lyricism is on point, the production quality is piss poor and sounds like it was recorded in the same well John Bonham recorded “When the Levee Breaks,” except in a shitty way. After coming back from being exiled to military school, Earl jumped into the professional rings, working with Columbia records to release his debut studio album Doris, and two years following, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. Seven years passed for him to reach this point. Within these seven years, the evolution of his music is starkly visible.  From 2008 to 2010 Earl Sweatshirt had a different mindset. When Earl was young his lyricism bled violence and cut with fantastic wordplay. Fast forward to his recent studio albums, and the dynamics within his music differ vastly in comparison. These days, Earl provides more depth and heaviness within his lyricism. When he was young, Earl’s lyricism provided visual, superficial darkness. Nowadays it’s more of tapping less into an illustration he paints, and more of an illustration on who he is.

Although more professional sounding, the messages he evokes now still make you understand that within his life he’s missing something. This is classic Earl. It’s different from when he was young, reckless, ignorant, hungry, and driven, but an essence of what Earl was, still remains.
The ramen-driven pursuit of undying hunger translates through their birth and experiencing the muddy transformation within itself is congruent through their music. You’re watching a person, an artist, portray themselves as a canvas emulating and provoking emotion whether they know it or not. And like watching a niece or nephew start from Legos and develop to pursue engineering is, to simply put it, beautiful.

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