In 2017, hip-hop evolved in many weird, wacky, fun, experimental, and dope ways over the course of the year. But we’re still figuring out and speculating how that would affect the direction of the culture and the genre in 2018. One thing I didn’t really get to address though, was how the form itself was changing, and how that means we have to find new ways of talking about hip-hop, as well as expanding not just the lexicon of the form, but its attributes as well.
For instance, we can’t just consider a good rapper to be “someone who raps like Nas in 1991” in 2018. We just can’t. To do so would be a disservice to dozens of up-and-coming, young artists who are taking the genre in hand and bending it into an astonishing array of new shapes and sounds. But if we must expand our definitions, we can’t just apply the expansions to newer artists, because anyone should be able to play by the new rules. And the one artist who truly benefits from this expansion is someone who’s made it a point never to play by any discernible rules but her own in the first place.
Under the old rules, Rihanna might never be considered one of the most intriguing, interesting, fun, and, dare I say, best rappers in the game. In 2018, (almost) anything goes, and Rihanna has found herself at the forefront of a new wave of MCs. The game is changing, and Rih Rih is, unexpectedly, one of the leaders of the new school. Though she didn’t put out a record in 2017, across five key tracks she revealed her own moves toward the center of rap, or, perhaps, moving rap itself to center around her. If she’s good enough to trade bars with your favorite MC, she’s good enough to be your favorite MC.