A while back we gave a bird’s eye view on an overlooked period in hip-hop history: the Blog Era. A special time filled with unique characters, consistent output and great music overall, this period in hip-hop marked the turning tide towards enhanced artistic liberty with an independent attitude. Despite its contributions to the modern climate of the culture, the Blog Era continues to be overlooked when compared to the other iconic eras in hip-hop, whether it be the Golden Age or the Mixtape Era.
In efforts to help cement its legacy on the culture, we will look at several projects that stemmed from the mixtape which helped lay the foundation for modern day hip-hop artists to succeed without a middleman setting barriers.
Lupe Fiasco, Fahrenheit 1/15 Part II: Revenge of the Nerds (2006)
One of the earliest mixtapes that helped setup the carefree nature of the latter Blog Era, Lupe’s assortment of verses over then-popular instrumentals changed the game in a major way. While the mixtape grind was a hard one to avoid, artists required a special “it factor” to be able to stand out in an ocean of unpolished mixtapes. For a while, many believed that defining aspect to be linked with street credibility, but Lupe’s obscure approach to rhyming flipped the industry on its head, placing the power in the artist’s individuality.
Looking further inwards, Lupe’s rhyming patterns and content were drastically different from the heavily street-influenced contents in the mainstream but managed to hit the same pivots as these street savvy rappers. This laid the blueprint for many blog era trail blazers to get their art across in the same manner, opening up a lane for rappers who could expand into different pockets artistically. An overall underrated gem in the blog archives.
Lil Wayne, Dedication 2 (2006)
Lil Wayne’s mixtape run has gone down as one of the most iconic moments in hip-hop history. Whether you’re a fan of the former Cash Money titan or not, you can’t deny the impact that the Dedication series had on the culture. While the first installment of the DJ Drama-hosted series warmed Weezy up right before album season, it was the second installment that set the streets on fire as listeners everywhere flocked to every blog available to try and download this masterpiece.
Dedication 2 was one of the first mixtapes that blew up with the help of established internet sources constantly sharing Weezy’s remixes to various instrumentals. It also helped raise the bar in terms of lyrical ability, testing the wits and flows of wordsmiths everywhere. Where Tha Carter series began to mold Weezy’s updated approach to his lyricism, the Dedication series (this tape in particular) displayed Weezy mastering his craft. Truly an amazing sight to witness in real time.
Kid Cudi, A Kid Named Cudi (2008)
Kid Cudi’s 2008 mixtapes marked the shift in tone and sound in the culture. As we transitioned away from the rugged street-edged instrumentals that ruled the early 2000’s, the latter half of the decade saw a mix of triumphant horns and radio-friendly melodies mesh to make up what would be the mainstream sound for some time to come. Enter Scott Mescudi, a Cleveland native who managed to mingle his way onto Kanye West’s radar thru this CD. The clash of dreary vocals and alternative instrumentals crept all throughout the record, enough to establish itself as Cudi’s proper sound.
This mixtape branched hip-hop outside of the traditional soul and jazz sampled influences and dove into the deep end of different influences from rock to indie. With the help of Kanye West, this sound was able to gain increased traction as A Kid Named Cudi helped lay the blueprint for West’s fourth album, 808’s & Heartbreaks. Soon after, artists everywhere would continue building upon the progressive foundation laid by Cudi as we continue to see new ideas flourish in the modern day hip-hop scene.
Drake, So Far Gone (2009)
Respectfully speaking, So Far Gone was a glitch. For Drake to switch lanes from being an actor to taking on the journey of becoming an artist is one that many thought would be impossible. Taking the chance to pursue another form of media while active in another scene tends to hurt an artist’s image during the transition, but So Far Gone was the defining crux that Drake needed to prove he could survive in the industry. In addition, the blend between his sharp rapping and soppy singing was a style that not many were too fond of; but to see this mixtape gain so much attention upon release foreshadowed the shift that would occur in the culture over the next few years.
The release of So Far Gone would see many artists incorporating the rap and R&B fused blueprint that Drake laid throughout the project, so much so that it began to define the sound of an entire region. Since then, we’ve seen Drake traverse the different realms of mainstream hip-hop, reaching momentous heights off of a “mixtape that sounded like an album.” While many have followed tail, none have been able to replicate the legacy this tape has created.
Currensy & Wiz Khalifa, How Fly (2009)
The dynamic duo of two smoked-out partners made a classic out of their love for weed and music, molding a style that would have an endless influence on the upcoming generation. Ask any blog era participants about Curren$y or Wiz Khalifa and you’re bound to hear a long explanation on what Jet Life and Taylor Gang meant to a whole age group. The two swashbuckling stoners meshed perfectly on this record, exhibiting a high-level chemistry out of a purely-bonded friendship.
What Wiz and Curren$y were able to achieve on this project was second to none. In a time where labels were heavily involved with artistic output, Wiz and Curren$y were able to turn the table and put the power back into the artistry by doing it their way. Both artists were able to come together and uplift each other’s movements while reverting the focus back to making timeless music.
J. Cole, The Warm Up (2009)
Though his official debut came much later since his first appearance on the scene, Cole’s contributions to this era were still major. The Come Up immediately propelled Cole into the eyes of the mainstream, dubbing the Carolina spitter as a force to be reckoned with. Though Cole had his problems with the label’s forceful power trip, the foundation he built on this tape allowed him to gain a close-knit following that would help him succeed without major radio play.
Cole’s compilation of loose tracks and fierce freestyles forced all up-and-coming artists to push their pen further in each avenue. From emceeing to storytelling, Cole proved he could do it all at a high level all throughout this tape. While its impact wasn’t one that was displayed upon arrival, Cole played the long-term game with The Come Up, fully shifting how blog era success translated onto billboard placements.
Wale, More About Nothing (2010)
While many dub Cole as one of the first to delve deep in his writing, it was really Wale who came out the game unknowingly laying the foundation for a new generation of introspective writers. All media antics aside, many forget that Wale was one the blog era’s golden child, serving as an unofficial successor to inward-looking emcee’s such as Lupe and Kanye. Shortly after his debut onto the scene, many followed tail as the DMV native began to set trends and create anthems; but his enigmatic flair and nonchalant cleverness helped him rise above the ranks, slowly becoming a household name over time.
With a sharp wit and a knack for fashion and style, Wale’s More About Nothing bridged the vogue namedrops with eclectic pop culture references, all while managing to squeeze in some intimate moments. Though he endured what the industry would consider a “flop”, Wale never lost his touch, managing to bounce back and transcend further than what his previous deal should have promised.
Wiz Khalifa, Kush & Orange Juice (2010)
Everything about Kush & OJ represents the Blog Era at a high degree. From the fly GQ-inspired cover to the effortlessly laxed production largely provided by Sledgren and Cardo, Wiz’s Kush & OJ was a titan in the blog culture. Similar to Drake’s So Far Gone, everyone remembers where they were when they first caught wind of this project. The internet went up in a frenzy as listeners everywhere simultaneously indulged in the hazy wonders this project holds. To this day, we see remnants of this project’s influence present throughout all avenues of hip-hop music.
Though it wasn’t the first mixtape to reach all corners of the internet, Kush & OJ was one of the most defining projects from this time period. The hypnotic sound of the lush production mixed with Wiz’s mellow vocals took listeners through a cloudy experience, seeing a new wave unfold before their eyes. The music that was delivered was on a whole new level, but its the memories created that made this tape an immediate fan favorite.
Kendrick Lamar, Section 80 (2011)
Before we get into this pick, its worthy to note that Section 80 is considered to be Kendrick’s debut album, but lacked the push to treat it as so, hence why may confuse it as a mixtape. Once Kendrick hit the scene, the way in which artist’s approached their projects changed drastically. What Kendrick began on his 2010 breakthrough tape, Overly Dedicated, was mastered on his follow-up breakthrough project, Section 80. Prior to the release of this project, it seemed as if the culture was struggling to find the one artist with that “it” factor. Contenders came and went, with the closest being two candidates, Drake and J. Cole; but the way in which Kendrick would execute his audio-visual concepts would enhance the standards of the game and tip the scale in favor of the TDE movement.
From the compact schemes to the jazzy production, Kendrick was resurrecting a unique feeling back into the genre. Where many would give their all on mixtapes, Kendrick amplified his ambition, proving that he wanted to be the best in his class more than anybody. The then-rare sense of competition combined with a distinctive approach to concept and record ideas would inspire many to get dead serious about their craft while putting their money where their mouth is, lyrically speaking.
A$AP Rocky, LIVE.LOVE.A$AP (2011)
With nothing but a few singles to his name, A$AP Rocky and the rest of the A$AP Mob came on the scene scorching, simultaneously turning both fashion and music on their heads. When LIVE.LOVE.A$AP hit the internet, you would’ve thought everyone had ties to the underground as they immediately attached to the drowsy sound of the the tape’s production. It was also the first time we had heard artists completely blend different regional sounds to create a whole new scene.
While many slammed it for being too far off from the traditional New York style, this tape helped knock down regional barriers and open the doors for artists to embrace outside influences. From Houston to Memphis, Rocky touched all areas of the map, proving you don’t have to be tied down to one sole sound. To this day, people still mention this tape in high regards, elevating from cult classic status to decade defining music over time.
Chief Keef, Back from the Dead (2012)
The world really hasn’t been the same since Chief Keef first released “I Don’t Like”, giving hip-hop its first taste of drill music. A raw and unfiltered look into the streets of Chicago took the industry by storm, forever changing the course of the music since the release of this tape. The abrasive production and repetitious hooks birthed a new wave of street anthems, placing the center of attention towards the sinister energy of the track. A complete change of pace from the manufactured sound of the mainstream, Chief Keef singlehandedly influenced the way up and coming artists would structure their records in efforts to blow up.
With millions of views and a Kanye co-sign on deck, Chief Keef was able to bring the high-energy nature of Chicago drill to the mainstream. The forerunner to his debut studio album would have the world engaged in its new discovery, so much so that it would serve as the dominant form of hip-hop in the mainstream for years to come. Whether you find yourself debating if it’s so-called “real hip-hop”, you can’t deny the drastic influence this tape has had on the culture.