How important is the art of lyricism within Modern Day Rap and Hip Hop Culture? It is an on-going debate between Hip Hop Old Skool Purists (Old Heads), the Trap Generation (the large portion of millennials indulging in trap over other subgenres of rap), the Neoclassical New Skool Heads (millennials with a deep appreciation and commitment in upholding the tenets and underlining principles established by those of the Old Skool), individuals in a mixture of these groups in different spectrums of the debate, and those who simply do not care and wish to have fun.
You may ask, “Well, what’s the big debate about?” As with the struggle of Yin and Yang, the balance between thoughtful lyrical content in accordance with good “turn-up” energy has always been a struggle within the evolution of Rap and Hip Hop Culture. Which one takes more precedence? Sometimes I want to discuss spiritual existentialist concepts of how Jesus still walks with me and how I want to talk to God, but scared because we haven’t spoken in so long. Other times I want to be in the club behind a bodacious melanated queen getting my soul snatched as she makes a brother wanna spend his cash, yeah, his last, yeah. And at rare times, I’ll be blessed enough to get the best of both worlds, such as gathering in community with my brothers and sisters in an area in which we holler to the top of our lungs how we all CC’ed every girl that we see’d around town while a soulful instrumental blazes in the background. In the debate of lyricism in Hip Hop, of course no one wants to hear brainless rhymes all day over addictive instrumentals, but also, no one also wants to be bored to death in the club or lively social settings. The intricacy of this balance is not just a Hip Hop occurrence but an overarching music discussion in general.
Today in Hip Hop, the various factions debate over whether lyrical rap, the prominent component of rap culture years ago, is dying over the emergence of half-baked, mediocre, and embarrassingly lackluster modern lyricism. Modern technological developments have made it more feasible than ever for rappers and producers to spark their careers, and it is a mixture of mass good and bad content entering the Hip Hop atmosphere. You have the mumble rappers, the trap rappers, the Xanax zombies, the lyricists, the hit makers, the rap-pop stars, the rap rockstars, neoclassical purists of the culture, and more. Each region has multiple champions in the polarized spectrums. You have the members of Top Dawg Entertainment in the West. You have Future, 21 Savage, Gucci Mane, 2 Chainz, Migos and more with a modern rule in the New Age Hip Hop Mecca of Atlanta. Rap figures like Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Yachty are scrapping the rulebook for what is conceived as true Hip Hop and are making millions for themselves, paving the way for innovation and changes in the genre. What of the DMV (DC-Maryland-Virginia) area? The capital of the nation? As the debate exasperates more and more by the years, and the factions wage war, why isn’t a certain, nationally prominent, highly lyrical rapper from this region not being discussed as much? Discussion on this individual alone illuminates much about the modern debate on lyricism. Thus, today, we will discuss the case of King Los of Baltimore.
Have you heard whispers of this rapper throughout the past few years?: Lupe Fiasco’s favorite. Canibus’ lost disciple. The “Kendrick Lamar of Baltimore.” The type of warrior Nas prophesied of in “One Mic.” The second coming of Big L. The reincarnated lyrical fury of Big Pun. King Los’ metaphors, wordplay and freestyles are on a superhuman level. He is a master of close to all speed variations and brands of flow from chopper style, 90s flow, modern trap flow, aggressive flow, and more. King Los is also a master of the Word Wizard style of rap, an extremely rare and dexterous rap style mixing homonyms, purposeful manipulation of assonants and consonants, wordplay and high level vocabulary within both short and long streams of fluent rhymes. He has even collaborated on songs with the likes of Chris Brown, Wiz Khalifa, Rick Ross, Pusha T, Yo Gotti, Jeremih, Lola Monroe, Mario, Kid Ink, Royce the 5’9, Fantasia, Twista, Rick Ross, Diddy, Ludacris, Tank, Cassidy, Juicy J, Raheem Devaughn, DMX, Phil Ade and more. He has not only constructed his artistry in a way to paint the story of his life, but also to illuminate the issues of his city. So who is he and where did he come from?
Carlos Coleman, born March 23rd, 1982, is from Baltimore City, MD. He began writing literature and poetry as a 16-year old Baltimore youth in high school after his father, a local basketball coach, was shot and killed when he was 16. He would hone his now lauded freestyling skills in high school lunch cyphers at 17 and entered into the Baltimore Battle Rap scene at 18, building his initial brand. In 2005, at 23 years old, he signed to Bad Boy Records through a local Baltimore Record Label named Bloc Incorporated. However, in short, because of a legal issue, they disbanded and Los lost his deal in 2008 as a result. This fallout, family drama, and more did not stop the hungry Baltimore emcee on his journey to becoming one of the greatest.
For the next several years, under the name “SwaggaBoyLos”, then simply switching “Los”, the Baltimore emcee was uncompromising with his lyricism, inhumanely adept freestyling skills, and hustle as he built a buzz both nationally and internationally with seven mixtapes. His critically acclaimed mixtape The Crown Ain’t Safe, hosted by DJ Ill Will and DJ Drama, was released in December of 2011, with star studded features on the mixtape that proved very beneficial for the growth of his career. He was even nominated for XXL’s Freshman List for 2012, although he did not make the cut for reasons discussed later. Regardless, Diddy signed Los to Bad Boy Records in 2012 again due to Los’ growth, ambition and strides. Through the rest of 2012 and 2013, under the new name King Los, Los continued supplying his fanbase with strong freestyles across the nation on prominent radio stations, experimental singles and released freestyles, and his Becoming King mixtape under Bad Boy Records featuring more prominent superstars of that time than The Crown Ain’t Safe. In 2014, Los announced his departure from Bad Boy and Interscope because of issues with lack of attention from Interscope, and decided it was better to go independent once more. He then released Zero Gravity 2, performed a legendary and nationally acclaimed freestyle on Sway in the Morning, and signed with RCA Records in 2014 to further his career. After releasing his successful commercial and most recent project to date, God, Money, War, in June of 2015, King Los continued his regular pattern of appearances and freestyles, but began to show signs of slowing down after his tour, most likely to take care of his young son.
These accolades seem notable, correct? Especially considering King Los’ story and how habitually difficult it is for Baltimore rappers specifically to reach a high level of fame and acclaim. Considering his lyrical ability and dexterity, ambition, depth of notable features, network, and platform, it would seem highly likely that he would receive as much attention and prestige as other leading rap superstars of the New Skool Era. However, King Los has not met this threshold of superstardom despite all of his talent and accomplishments, with reasons that highly illuminate the main tenets of the debate of New Skool lyricism.
As ludicrous as it sounds, one’s lyricism can alienate them from certain spaces and audiences. New York rap with its lyricism and sound, is sometimes not received well in Southern spaces such as Atlanta, and vice versa. Furthermore, the atmosphere of rap has shifted in the manner where individuals do not necessarily want to hear intricate lyrics and complex themes over a simple beat. As banal and as tired of a narrative as this sounds, many listeners of Rap and Hip Hop in the contemporary area would rather have fun than hear a message. It was an inherent issue of balance, even with Old Skool artists, as Jay-Z and Tupac would talk about how they had to “dumb down” their lyrics in order to appeal more to their audiences and sell more. It is not being intellectually condescending to the masses to say things like what Jay-Z and Tupac said. Although this message may be reminiscent of the tired “you have to be at a certain level of intelligence to understand _____’s music” narrative, the fake-deep statement does have some validity to it. A gap of appreciation for varied spectrums of lyricism in a demographic can limit how well that artist is received; case and point being King Los in this situation.
Yes, there are many individuals in Baltimore that support the hometown hero and have done so for years. However, one would only have to listen to a few King Los songs at any point in his career and compare it to the average sound of modern Baltimore Rap coming out of his own city. Because of who he is, Los does not sound close to anything like his other Baltimore Rap peers. As popular as he is, Los’ uniqueness alienates him in a sense from the general sound and general song interests of his own city’s population. Artists like Kodak Black, 21 Savage, Joey Bada$$, and Meek Mill have mastered the sound of their own regions. This is not to say that if a rapper does not adhere to the sound of their home region, that they will not reach success. However, it is a very real occurrence that can happen in regards to lyricism, and King Los’ greatest attributes have become his Achilles’ heel in his hometown giving him the push he needs that other prominent rap artists in his era have.
In many criticisms as to why King Los has not “blown up” like he should, many of the critiques point to a main part of the debate on New Skool lyricism. Many who offer insight as to why King Los has not received the fame he has with his platform and skills habitually state that King Los cannot write a hook (chorus) to save his life. Many of King Los’ longtime fans point to this criticism as well. The superficial harsh reality is: you can be one of the greatest freestylers in rap history, be associated with some of the greatest modern acts, have one of the highest levels of refined lyricism, and out-rap over 99% of your local, national and international peers. However, if you as a rap artist do not have the memorable single tracks and hooks to go along with these skills, sometimes there are only certain echelons that you can reach. Childish Gambino, in his song “Bronchitis”, recounted a small story in which he showed his rhyme book to some associates. From his perspective and theirs, he sarcastically raps “They kinda shook… ‘It’s not a hook.’ “ The Yin and the Yang is hard to balance, but both sides must work together for the whole. Although a problem for King Los, this is a main reason as to why the most lauded New Skool lyricists of the era do not sometimes get the love they deserve for their brilliant, meticulously crafted rhymes that rival those of their deified predecessors. One does not have to compromise their lyricism, but rather adapt songwriting beyond just marvelously crafted verses; the difference between Kendrick Lamar and Big Sean vs. Earl Sweatshirt and Lupe Fiasco in regards to platforms and more seamlessly blending the Yin and Yang.
In spite of this dialogue, all of these impediments that allude to the larger conversations concerning modern lyrical rap in the New Skool Era do not take away one bit from the fact that King Los is an extraordinary rapper with a great legacy and great promise for the future. In reality, like most rap artists today, on both the larger and smaller platforms, all King Los needs is capitalization of all available resources in his arsenal and revamping of stratagems. Just one big break with a popular artist as either having them as a feature, or being a feature with a memorable hook, can propel him. His lyricism would not be compromised and will take care of the rest (i.e “If I Ruled the World” by Nas and Lauryn Hill). Although it may seem minuscule, focusing on the strength of his hometown area’s support can bring King Los to where he needs to be. There truly is no place like home, especially when they can drive sales, a healthy fanbase, constant radio airplay and genuine loyalty other than every other part of the world. (Eyes on y’all, Baltimore and DMV.)
Lastly, like other lyrical rappers of the New Skool, King Los needs a revamped team that helps him capitalize on every type of his artistry. Honestly, if marketed correctly after, he could have been at a higher position than where he is now. His first Sway in the Morning Freestyle that raised eyebrows all around the world should have been used to his team’s advantage for additional marketing immediately after for all projects, not just Zero Gravity 2. Kendrick Lamar cosigning King Los’ “Control” freestyle, as the best response to the controversial “Control” track (2013) out of every other rapper in the world, could have possibly been turned into talks of a collaboration track with Kendrick. A harder effort by his team could have been made to make the rumored rap battle between King Los, Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco, Daylyt and others; a reality that would have showcased how King Los measures up to the titans. He needs a team committed to him not just seeing him make them records and money, but exposing him and his rare, captivating rap talents to as many individuals as possible.
“Balance is good,” the King raps on his project God Money War; a lesson the entire New Skool needs to take to make a more balanced, fun and intellectually satisfying modern rap atmosphere as possible.
I believe in the King. You should as well.
TOP 10 ESSENTIAL TRACKS:
- “Bar Mitzvah” (Zero Gravity 2)
- “War” Feat. Marsha Ambrosius (God, Money, War)
- “Vintage Rolls Royce Interior” (The Crown Ain’t Safe)
- “Welcome to Swaggsville Intro” (Welcome to Swaggsville)
- “Amazing” Freestyle (Welcome to Swaggsville)
- “Poundcake” Freestyle (Zero Gravity 2)
- “Angel (Dirty Money)” Freestyle (Zero Gravity)
- “King” feat. Mark Battles and Diddy (God, Money, War)
- “Sky Is the Limit” feat. Fantasia (Becoming King)
- “Creator” feat. JS (Zero Gravity II)
Other Essential Tracks (No Particular Order):
- “Don’t Get In My Way” feat. Royce Da 5’9 & Shanica Knowles (Zero Gravity 2)
- “Everybody Ain’t Kings” feat. Kobe & Devin Cruise (Zero Gravity 2)
- “Play Too Rough” (Zero Gravity 2)
- “Control” Freestyle (Zero Gravity 2)
- “Me Too” feat. Kid Ink and Jeremih (Zero Gravity 2)
- “We Ain’t the Same” feat. Twista and Tank (Becoming King)
- “Like Me” feat. Juicy J (Becoming King)
- “Nightmares of Being Broke” feat. Raheem Devaughn (Becoming King)
- “Make You Fly” feat. Jazze Pha (The Crown Ain’t Safe)
- “Money Loud” (The Crown Ain’t Safe)
- “Biggest Fan” feat. Kid and Sean Hayz (The Crown Ain’t Safe)
- “Shine” Feat. Phil Ade (The Crown Ain’t Safe)
- “6 Foot 7 Foot” Freestyle (The Louis Vuitton Gift Pack)
- “Monster” Freestyle (The Louis Vuitton Gift Pack)
- “U Be Killin’ Em” Freestyle (The Louis Vuitton Gift Pack)
- “Romans Revenge” Freestyle
- “Super High” Freestyle
- “Turnt Up” Freestyle (Zero Gravity)
- “Ice Cream Paint Job” Freestyle (Zero Gravity)
- “Put You On the Game” (Zero Gravity)
- “Black Blood” feat. Isaiah Rashad (God, Money, War)
- “Confidence” feat. Chrishan the Prince (God, Money, War)
- “Passes? I’m my hood? N**** h***no, Benz on the arm, you can call that an elbow/Get it? I said Benz on the arm, Meaning what you push depends on the strength of your arm/And at the same time, your elbow bends on your arm, But I’m really in a Bent, with the arm/And I’ve got it bullet proof, so really I’ve got the whole bent armed, Same color as baking soda with the old bent arm” (“Don’t Get In My Way” Feat. Royce Da 5’9 from Zero Gravity 2)
- “That’s why they tell me keep my circle small, And I tell them that it all radius” (“Play Too Rough” from Zero Gravity 2)
- “You playing the victim n****, I’m saying the vicious scriptures/You n*****s is in denial like you bathe in Egyptian rivers” (“Control Freestyle” from Zero Gravity 2)
- “Speaking of Dark Knight, I know some jokers that scheme/Cuz I done blew up somethin’ sick like the openin’ scene…I got that Edgar Allen Poe flow, bars like a bear trap/Shakespeare’s only rebuttal would be a head scratch…Nobody even seems this deep, I got n****s stayin’ awoke to put my dreams to sleep” (“Poundcake Freestyle” from Zero Gravity 2)
- “N****s on that ‘be alike’ shit, Guess they copy, paste us cause we the right clique” (“Poundcake Freestyle” from Zero Gravity 2)
- “I’m the best by a far, ain’t a large debate, I got fish so big to fry, I’m using Jaws as bait” (“Bar Mitzvah” from Zero Gravity 2)
- “And its f****d up dog, when the fellas that stepped with ya/Don’t want you to ball, like Cinderella’s step sisters” (“Masterpiece” from The Crown Ain’t Safe)
- “Carnivores hide from me, predators is prey/The earth is my chessboard, Where my competitors get played…Design lines of a genius, but them guidelines dropped/Cuz my curriculum starts right where Einsteins stopped” (“Vintage Rolls Royce Interior” from The Crown Ain’t Safe)
- “Take a second to recognize what level I am on/2nd Place is only good when you buying homes.” (“Romans Revenge Freestyle)
- “My flow ain’t a critical dispute/I push myself so hard , It could be considered physical abuse” (“Angel Dirty Money Freestyle” from Zero Gravity)
- “Cause it’s a war going on outside on the corner, It’s a war on your TV screen every morning/ Not the war with the bombs and the helicopters swarming, But the war for your soul, that’s what everyone’s ignoring.” (“War” from God Money War)