I hate New York’s subway system. Sure, it’s one of the world’s most intricate underground transportation systems, but let’s be real—it’s kind of awful. A congested, hot, uncomfortable, antithesis of personal space confine that shuttles a collage of pissed off faces from one city underground port to another. No matter the trip, it normally sucks: we always seem to catch it in the nick of time, just to squeeze our bodies through a thicket of commuters, as we avoid sexually assaulting strangers/getting sexually assaulted; we see the “train departs in 0 minutes” sign and race down the steps just to see the train off to its following destination; we get to the platform too soon and have to wait 15-minutes for the next train when we were supposed to be somewhere five-minutes ago. No matter the trip, it normally sucks.
While simultaneously training to beat Usain Bolt in the 100-meter sprint and trying to get from 94th and Park to Penn Station in under 28-minutes, I arrived at the 96th and Lexington 6 train, out of breath, uncomfortably sweaty—despite it being January—pissed off, and cursing New York’s name. Thankfully though, I was greeted by a sardine box of a subway car, with just enough room to squeeze my body, suitcase, and backpack in like I was trying to beat the last Tetris level. As one hand clutched the germ-riddled subway pole, my other hand fished in my pocket of gum wrappers and receipts to find my headphones: my one saving grace amidst the strange man breathing down the nape of my neck.
Looking like I was in a heated Twister match, I managed to plug my headphones into a dying iPhone—salvation. I typed in the combination of characters to access one of my favorite songs: Black Hippy’s “Vice City.” Almost instantly, a calming presence consumed my body. I exhaled; my shoulders sunk to comfort; the man breathing down my neck redirected his smelly, warm oral jet stream towards another victim; I told myself, “Chill, it’s all good homie.”
And I was right: it was all good, homie. Kendrick, Q, Jay, and Ab-Soul sat me down, each of them sternly looked me in the eye, with a hand on my shoulder, and used their “Vice City” features to relieve my stress. “Big money, big booty bitches / Man, that shit gon’ be death of me.” Phew, I could feel my fist start to unclench, and the bead of sweat hugging my temple begin to dry. As “Vice City” continued, Jay Rock rapped my favorite bars: “Just cracked me a new bitch / Bust a new nut on her nigga's jersey / My bitch get off at 9 o’clock / So I had to shake her 'round 7:30,” further relaxing my angst. I exhaled, poorly rapped along, managed to crack a smile, and even chuckled thinking about how crazy and stupid I must’ve looked for those frantic 17-minutes of sprinting on the streets, avoiding people like tackling dummies, and audibly freaking out on the subway (“FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!”). Kendrick, Q, Jay and Soul slapped me out of my panicked state.
Sitting in the NJ Transit waiting area (yes, I missed the train), I played “Vice City” again, once more, and then a third time. Partly because they were the brown bag that housed my excessive, anxiety driven breathing; but also because I just love hearing those four guys on a track together—their unique identities foil one another: Kendrick’s realistic, socially conscious lyricism is rounded out by Ab-Soul’s very psychedelic, spiritual story-telling; ScHoolboy Q’s Crip stories are balanced by Jay Rock’s blood dripping ones. Tracks like “Vice City” demonstrate their ability to operate within a confined space, without stepping on each other’s toes. It proves why they’re one of Hip Hop’s best and brightest groups. It also begs the question, “Why haven’t they put out a collaborative album yet?” To properly address that, let’s first dissect their past.
The group formed under their record label, Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), in 2009 after they inked their respective TDE deals (Kendrick and Jay signed in ’05; Soul in ’07; Q in ’09). Their first collaborative track precedes the group’s technical formation, through ScHoolboy Q’s song, “Try Me,” off his 2008 mixtape, Schoolboy Turned Hustla—a raw cut foreshadowing the group’s, and individual’s, current domination.
Ab-Soul showed that he doesn’t need to adhere to conventional rhyming guidelines—a characteristic he employs today; Jay Rock rapped in his deep tone while paying homage to his roots, which he proudly discusses currently (90059 was a complete tribute to his hometown); Q talked about his street credentials, like toting 40 Glocks and Semi-Autos—cornerstones that always find their way into his present work; Kendrick’s lyricsm then eclipses most MCs’ today. Oh, and TDE co-president, Terrence “Punch” Henderson, drops the track’s closing verse. “Try Me” is like a rap yearbook: a representation of potential, doused in awkwardness and prematurity—they all appear as less finely tuned versions of themselves.
Ab-Soul’s current wordplay is far more complex than his 2008 self’s; Jay can effectively discuss more diverse topics than his younger counterpart; Q expands upon his early work by examining similar subject matter through a much deeper, more seasoned lens; does anyone argue against Kendrick’s current number-one lyrical spot?; Punch found out he contributes better as a businessman than rapper (although he still finds time to spit). Through consistent output, refined skills, and increased collaborations, Black Hippy members have found their individual lanes, which translate into polished group cuts.
Over the years, Black Hippy has accrued a fairly decent sample size: fourteen total tracks scattered amongst their solo work. As the years have passed, each member has retreated to hone their individual crafts in their respective settings. I’m picturing the Hip Hop Kill Bill: the Black Hippy members defeating adversaries along a quest to master their skills that culminates in conquering the ultimate boss; they’ve each fought admirably, evidenced by their consistent, and great, output.
Look at 2016 for instance: everyone but Jay Rock (including everyone at TDE, not just Black Hippy) has put out an album this year: Kendrick’s Untitled, Unmastered; Q’s Blank Face LP; Ab-Soul’s DWTW. You know what they all have in common? They’re dope. Very dope. This group of four lyrically inclined, intelligent individuals have all experienced solo musical victories; they’ve beheaded the final Hip Hop Kill Bill boss, suggesting it’s time for a group project.
Black Hippy’s most recent track, “THat Part (Remix),” is one of the group’s best collaborations to date. A remix of Q’s “THat Part” featuring Kanye West off Blank Face LP, this song continues the original version’s braggadocio, and demonstrates their individual ability to shine while complementing one another. It brings their potential on "Try Me" to fruition. When I hear these four murder a track together, I immediately picture Silicon Valley’s Erlic Bachman walking into the VC meetings and throwing his nuts on the table. Well, after releasing the “THat Part (Remix),” Q, Kendrick, Soul and Jay all walked into Hip Hop’s headquarters, slapped their nuts on the boss’ table, and said, “Yeah, we know. We’re the shit.” Their training is complete; they're ready to release a group album. Unfortunately, they didn’t create this remix as an album precursor or with the fans’ ears in mind—they did it at at the request of TDE’s CEO, Anthony “Top” Tiffith.
In a DJ Booth interview, ScHoolboy told them, "We don't like rapping with each other no more.That's pretty old now, for us…We love each other.” I get it. They’ve been consistently collaborating for about nine-years, and they’ve all watched their individual value skyrocket. It pains me to say this, but apparently the four of them only made the “THat Part (Remix)” as a favor to Top. Q has the utmost respect for TDE’s CEO, given their longstanding relationship, explained here in the same DJ Booth interview:
“He let me live and sleep on his couch, let me walk in on his refrigerator, take food out his kids mouth. I watched his kids grow up. So it's like it's deeper than rap music. It's almost like my pops. It's like he tells me something, I might not agree with every single thing he tells me to do or every single thing he say, but out of respect for what he done for me, it's hard for me to say no or put up a big argument about it.”
You know what that means, right? Get Top on the phone! If any man can incentivize Hip Hop’s four headless horseman to drop a joint project, it’s the man who released Kendrick’s Untitled, Unmastered album (unreleased To Pimp A Butterfly songs) after LeBron called him out in a tweet. If Top deems a Black Hippy project necessary, then most likely, the members will heed his suggestion.
So we fans have a few options: (1) relentlessly tweet at Top, begging him to force a Black Hippy album; (2) relentlessly tweet at LeBron, encouraging him to get Top’s attention; (3) hope that Q, Kenny, Soul, and Jay realize how incredible a Black Hippy album would be, and prioritize the listeners’ values over their own. The latter option is the best, albeit the most selfish, because if they produced this album on their own accord, it would result in an organic, passionate product. It would result in greatness.
There’s a massive Hip Hop group void. Wu Tang isn’t dropping anymore; Tribe just said goodbye to an illustrious career; Fugees are done; The Lox are clutching onto an extinct sound. We need Black Hippy to join forces, to set the precedent. Groups used to be a Hip Hop staple, whereas now they’re viewed as a hindrance to solo careers. Hip Hop groups represent individuals collaborating toward the greater good of an overarching entity; to produce something greater than themselves—true teamwork.
Black Hippy’s posse cuts are still fresh, and are consistently in my music rotation, but I know the day will come when “Vice City” or “THat Part (Remix)” will sound stale—it’s inevitable. The songs that once comforted me will transform into a loud reminder of what could have been. I’m scared that I’ll be on another jam-packed subway, and Black Hippy’s calming presence won’t be there to soothe me—it’ll be like someone having a panic attack without their Xanax.
Kendrick, ScHoolboy, Jay, Ab-Soul: please don’t deprive a kid of his medication.