We could all use a little bit of comforting. Rap albums, we can all agree, are often our beacons of solace. But what is it exactly about hip-hop that makes it such a soothing genre? We posed the question to Managing Editor Donna-Claire Chesman and Senior Writer Yoh.
Their conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
yoh [3:51 PM]
Good afternoon to you my dear friend and First Lady. How is Thursday treating you?
donnacwrites [3:52 PM]
Thursday is good, a lot of work out of the way and ready for the weekend. It's my father's birthday so I'm excited to see him.
I wanted to talk to you today about how rap music brings us comfort. In the wake of everything, we could all use a little bit of peace in our lives. So I guess the operative question is: What rap albums bring you comfort, and how?
For me, I always think of 6LACK's East Atlanta Love Letter. Everything about the record is soothing, and it feels as if I am in the car with 6LACK, and he is playing the album for me as we drive around quietly taking in the music. Albums are settings and it's our job to assess those settings to the best of our ability as critics. What I gather from the setting on EALL is that love is difficult but peace will find you. It's a very hopeful album; 6LACK doesn't sound as incensed as he did on FREE 6LACK. The album sounds matured. It comforts me because I get this knowing perspective that follows a narrative which ends it: It will be alright. That's how 6LACK comforts me, through his growing maturity.
yoh [4:14 PM]
Happy Birthday to Poppa Chesman. I agree with your sentiments on 6LACK. One of the reasons I initially gravitated toward his music was this wave of calm his voice is able to project. He is a quilt knitted with love that is comforting as a grandmother's hug. For me, Earl Sweatshirt's Some Rap Songs is an escape into a sanctuary of peace. The entire project is an exploration through his inner-thoughts. There's no strain, but walking through the light of clarity. It's very easy to feel lost, uncertain, and hearing someone lyrically dance across the crevices of their mind is soothing in a way. The production, these warm loops, give him a soundtrack without pressure. It's weightless, soulful as if the journey of self-discovery doesn't have to be a dark and dreary prison. Earl reminds me to exhale.
Do you remember the last time you went to 6LACK for comfort?
donnacwrites [4:18 PM]
Oh my goodness, probably yesterday. 6LACK navigates his emotions with such a deft hand, and as he's said, the "mmm"s are undefeated. There's a wonderful aura of calm to the project, even as he sings of broken relationships, the notes of acceptances shine through and keep the record from becoming overrun. That's the exact lesson I need for myself: Accept things as they are and move on.
Why is it, you think, that we can turn so easily to hip-hop for comfort. Of course, it's because you and I love the genre, but I am speaking to the royal "We." As in, what is it about hip-hop that gives it the propensity to really soothe us.
yoh [4:30 PM]
On "Thugger's Interlude," 6LACK says, "Trying to keep myself from going under, I been listening to Young Thugger." Effortlessly, he conveys how it feels to fight against sinking and how he looks to rap to help him from whatever may be causing his spirit to crumble. That's what hip-hop offers—artists who are the arms that lift us up when we feel gravity pushing us under.
There are so many options when it comes to rap music, but there's a common thread of humanity in hip-hop. Rappers or artists who are hip-hop adjacent, at their best, give us something real, authentic, so it's natural to cherish their truth in the midst of facing our own. I don't go into any other genre expecting the honesty I hope to find when I press play on a rap album. Only in the naked truth can we see ourselves. If music genres made up the Garden of Eden, hip-hop would be fruit from the tree of knowledge.
donnacwrites [4:34 PM]
Hip-hop feels like the only genre where humanity is an expected feature of the music, one that is as paramount as catchiness. That's not to say other genre's don't boast honesty, but if you do not come with your most honest bars, you will be left behind. The comforting thing about rap music is how each and every truth can be celebrated. It's the least alienating genre of music. There is a flavor for everyone to find themselves and take pride in who they are, and take shelter when they have to weather an emotional storm. All of this is because rap privileges the importance of having and owning a voice. In that, we find and grow comfortable with our own voices.
yoh [4:38 PM]
Perfectly said. When it comes to comfort, are you able to experience the same solace that an album will give you through a playlist? Personally, a playlist is fine when craving variety, but a consistent voice makes a difference for me. An entire body of work inspires so many feelings that I find myself appreciating more and more.
donnacwrites [4:40 PM]
Now, Yoh, you know I don't listen to playlists. If the album is a setting, the playlist is more like a pop-up shop. Good fun and a general vibe, but it's not something I can sink into. It's novel, but I can't see a playlist bringing me comfort because I want to take a journey to a place with a single artist, not be thrown from person to person.
yoh [4:45 PM]
That's what I was interested in—how the two differ. We have migrated toward a playlist era, which is nothing more than a compilation tape, and for all their good, in my opinion, aren't able to replace the journey. The playlist is a journey, but it's more like riding the bus, rather than driving toward a destination.