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Hip-hop culture and rap music has been morphing for over 20 years. We have heard Kool G. Rap’s multi-syllabic rhymixxl freshman coverng style influence the metaphor-packed lyrics of the Notorious B.I.G., an idol of swagger-driven lyricist Jay-Z, who mentors the auto-tune aided rapper Kanye West. Hip-hop has established a distinct culture and sound in many regions of the U.S. and beyond, demonstrating the music’s diversity and growth. However, there has recently been controversy over the current state of hip-hop music. The music has become filled with negative lyrics and metaphors that promote violence, emphasize drugs, degrade women, and lack quality or substance. However, the culture of hip-hop music is beginning to change drastically. Several artists are beginning to emerge as an optimistic future for hip-hop music. Ironically, many of these individuals are barely old enough to legally drink alcohol!

In December 2008, XXL Magazine released an issue titled “The 10 Freshman: Hip Hop’s Class of ’09 Attacks”. This issue highlighted ten up-and-coming artists who were bringing a unique sound and swagger to hip-hop culture. Although many of these artists are not signed to major record labels, they have spread their musical talent through mixtapes via the Internet. Some of these artists include Kid Cudi, Charles Hamilton, Wiz Khalifa, and Drake.

“The Freshman 10” XXL Magazine Cover

Kid Cudi – “Up, Up, and Away”

So what makes the “Hip-Hop Class of ‘09” so unique? What distinguishes artists like Kid Cudi and Charles Hamilton from other hip-hop artists, such as Kanye West or Ludacris, is their willingness to incorporate new and rich styles of music into their songs. Many of these artists break conventional rules of rap music and incorporate influences from R&B, Jazz, and Rock styles of music. Many of these artists sample sounds from popular Rock groups or R&B singles and add their own twist to the music. Many of these artists emphasize harmony throughout many of their tracks, bringing somewhat of an Alternative element to compliment their lyrical content. Even techno music has found its way into hip-hop culture. Wiz Khalifa, a 22-year Pittsburgh native, generated a great deal of Billboard attention in 2008 with his techno-inspired singles “Say Yeah” and “Make it Hot”.

Wiz Khalifa – “Say Yeah” Music Video

Many listeners tend to enjoy music by these artists because they feel that they can relate to these artists and the themes in their lyrics, such as college life, spending time with friends, or being in love with someone else. Essentially, many of these artists are typical young adults who wear the same clothing, watch the same television shows, and experience the same lifestyles as most other young hip-hops fans. Just a few years ago, Scott Mescudi, who goes by the stage name Kid Cudi, was a struggling high school dropout from Cleveland, Ohio who moved to New York City to pursue a hip-hop career. Several years and a few mixtapes later, Kid Cudi burst onto this hip-hop scene through his collaborations with Kanye West and Common. Aubrey Graham, better known as Drake, has been able to gain the attention of the hip-hop universe by using his Myspace page and personal blog as a way to spread his sound. Drake, a Toronto-born singer/rapper, caught his first buzz in 2006 when he released a mixtape on his Myspace page and blog. He gained the attention of Lil’ Wayne and recently signed a record deal with the rap superstar over the summer. The 22-year old has gained a large fan-base in such a short period of time that he has been labeled one of the brightest up-and-coming stars.

Drake – “Fear”

Many of these artists do not create songs that emphasize lifestyles filled with cars and women or perpetuate violence because most of them do not represent that culture. However, many of these young artists do have the tendency to accentuate their affinity for marijuana. It is not uncommon to see these artists performing shows on college campuses, malls, parks, nightclubs, or any other readily accessible location for young adults.

The hip-hop music of the “Class of ‘09” will continue to grow as more people become aware of their talent and potential. The future of hip-hop culture is filled with optimism.

Jared Barchus