After a tragedy like 9-11 it seems most of the things that people recall from that day are the mundane things; what they ate that morning, what the weather was, etc. In the subsequent days, weeks and months after it’s those simple things that people find comfort; it reminds them of the normality that they fear might never return. For some music served as a time stamp; a document to that strange time in American history.
9-11 served as the release date for one of the most popular hip-hop records of all time, Jay-Z’s Blueprint. In it Jay-Z and future collaborator (and professional rant-ologist) Kanye West combined a collection of razor sharp raps built around sped up soul samples. The samples were recognizable but off because of the change of speed; it serves as an allegory of what the city felt like at the time. Jay-Z’s infamous battle rap call to arms, “The Takeover”, re-ignited his then enemy’s stagnant rap career. It also served as a back to basics New York City hip-hop record at a time where Atlanta was quietly stealing its “Home of Hip-Hop” mantle.
Another album from that time that took a new life of it’s own was System of a Down’s Toxicity. The LA band had a decent sized nu-metal hit with its first self titled album off the back of an angsty hard rock-metal rager called “Sugar”. Their Rick Rubin follow-up was much more weirder; they traded in cliché’ed metal chugs for acoustic guitars, traded in primal screams for dual harmonies, and absolutely batshit insane song structure heavily influenced by Middle Eastern music. Musically it was a two-hour progressive rock album crammed into 40 minutes of punk insanity.
Lyrically they evolved their political view to encompass overpopulation, the prison industrial complex, drug abuse, and other complex topics. Basically it was some heavy deep shit in a time where we were all dealing with some heavy deep shit. In their subsequent records of the ‘00’s they went even harder in with the politics (sliding in a gap left by an on hiatus Rage Against the Machine) directly attacking the wars that spawned from the attacks (even teaming up with activist Michael Moore for a video). But the sad sounding guitar riff that served as a backdrop for lyrics like, “The Toxicity of our city, our city” along with a first single that had lyrics like “trust in my self righteous suicide” (which caused the record to be pulled from some radio stations, remember those?) seemed prescient for having dropped a week before the attack.
If Jay-Z’s Blueprint served as one of the last big records from the classic New York hip hop sound, Dipset was a glimpse at it’s future. Formed by former Harlem World associate and future filmmaker Cam’ron, they showed how to stay relevant by keeping the trademark New York bravado while borrowing other regional hip-hop influences; one can’t help but think a young A$AP Rocky had to have been taking notes. An entertainingly eccentric group of Harlem rappers they borrowed “America, Fuck Yeah” idolatry (their icon was a bald eagle in full red white and blue colors) and gangsterized 9-11 imagery which would almost be offensive if it wasn’t done with a well meaning intention of New Yorker pride.
“Yo, yo I speak pain, I spit power, talk courage, breathe flowers Follow me thru the debris of these towers, the rain, the sleet, the street showers” – Juelz Santana
Dipset’s juxtaposition of lyrics mourning the city that was while keeping their on wax thuggery business as usual symbolizes the feeling of most of the New Yorkers at the time. Never forget, but don’t let the memories stop you from living life large even if it involved an excessive amount of pink.