Hip hop music is inherently intertextual, arguably more so than any other genre. Regardless of whether you agree with that statement or not, it’s impossible not to note the (often hyper) referential nature of the genre. This is especially true in 2012, what with the effective end of regionalism and the all seeing/knowing powers of the internet. Nostalgia is a huge part of hip hop’s intertextual nature and is omnipresent in contemporary hip hop lyrics and production. Revivalism is the extreme of nostalgia and has become especially prevalent over the past few years. Andrew Noz touches on the issue here, discussing the worth of artists like Joey Bada$$ and Spaceghostpurp who directly nod to a bygone era, mid to late 90’s New York for Bada$$ and 90’s Memphis for the Purrp. Noz points to the fact that the aforementioned artists are using nostalgia as a blueprint (as opposed to a reference point), discrediting the lesser-known artists of the scene they are supposedly “reviving” and enclosing themselves within a pre-ordained sound.
I like Joey Bada$$ and Spaceghostpurrp. They’re talented MCs and are certainly ones to watch as they progress beyond their formative rap years. Noz does have a point though. Is Bada$$ going to turn out anything close to Lord Finesse or Pete Rock in his prime? Will Purrp ever touch Mystic Stylez? Probably not. So what’s the point? If they begin to use their respective nostalgias as a focal point then all power to them, but otherwise, they’ll become footnotes (at best) in the annals of rap history.
Which brings me to Tommy Kruise, Montreal resident and Three 6 Mafia enthusiast. Kruise has slowly inserted himself into the Montreal production elite over the past several months, getting play from the likes of Lunice and Jacques Greene and yesterday marked the release of his first official EP, titled Memphis Confidential Vol. 1. The 7-track instrumental tape is obviously directly inspired by Memphis, even more so than Purrp’s music. The fact that Kruise is based in a relative hip hop backwater makes the overt nature of the inspiration even more curious. From the mouth of Kruise himself:
STRAIGHT MEMPHIS BUCK GANGSTA BEATS FOR THE STONERS. WANTED TO PAY TRIBUTE TO THE ONES THAT REALLY DID IT. SHOUTS OUT DJ PAUL, JUICY, PROJECT PAT AND THE WHOLE MEMPHIS COMMUNITY I BEEN HELLA SMOKED OUT TO ALL THIS SHIT.
The concept of a tribute tape isn’t new or anything, but it again begs the question: what’s the point?
Taking a step back for a moment, Memphis Confidential Vol. 1 is a fun, replay-worthy tape that approximates the DJ Paul/Juicy J sound to a T. Kruise obviously reveres the triple six and “Got Me Fucked Up” and “War Hammers” would fit perfectly in the Three 6 Mafia canon. The EP will be in my proverbial Coupe de Ville for quite some time and will probably make me revisit some Gangsta Boo and Playa Fly classics. All good things, and again, there’s something to be said for approximating a sound really, really well.
But would you rather listen to overt revivalism or the real thing? Some might not differentiate between the real thing and an approximation, but I see the contemporary version through a far more critical lens. Kruise would probably say that the EP is a sign of respect to Memphis legends, but is it really going to illuminate anything about the scene or make anyone dig for lesser-known MCs? I can’t answer that question, but I would guess no. Anyways, Memphis Confidential Vol. 1 is what it is, an impressive approximation of a classic sound that fits comfortably into an existing blueprint. Kruise clearly has the chops to make it as a hip hop producer and will probably be getting some beeper rings soon. Blueprint or focal point, I highly recommend this tape.