An unassuming soul, it was a delight to discover that he was also partial to the art of spoken rhyme. Like myself, Arj wades in the conscious end of the hip-hop pool but also has well articulated views on 90s West Coast rap that belies his character. He is kinda like Charles Grodin in 'Midnight Run' come to think of it.
So as a result we have been swapping discs (remember them?) and chatting further about why we like certain artists and albums. The thing that resonates most of all with hip-hop for me is 'the swagger'. From the time they drop their first single, rap artists are full of confidence which most other genres don't seem to naturally have. The term 'earnest' is virtually unknown in hip-hop circles.
Which inexplicably brings me to Kanye West.
Casual listeners to Yeezy will be forgiven for thinking that Mr West is simply a mouthpiece for boasting and for broadsides at anyone who wins an award he was nominated for. But dig deeper and Kanye is one of the very few of his peers that is willing to bare his soul. This was most evident on his debut album The College Dropout. Sure there was bravado up the wazoo but there were some moments where he dropped his guard a little. Often on the same track.
'All Falls Down' was my entry point to this album and seven years on I still have it on high rotation. The last line in particular spoke to me as a slightly directionless twentysomething:
"We all self conscious I'm just the first to admit it."
As I have mentioned previously, one of the aims of my current writing project is to steer away from the thick slabs of earnestness that weighed down my earlier attempts at fiction. But as Kanye has demonstrated, a little openness on the odd occasion has the ability to keep things grounded.
Write with confidence but with an awareness of what is going on around you.
That's not a bad thing to aim for.