As hip-hop continues to fracture into factions and subcategories along long-existing generational and regional fault lines and newer, more hazily-defined delineations, it becomes increasingly more difficult to determine: Just what is hip-hop, anyway? The genre, in some respects, sounds nothing like the revolutionary music of the ’80s and ’90s, yet in the the 2010s is no less groundbreaking, innovative, original, and rebellious. Still, for an outsider looking in — or even for an insider looking around at all the changes and new figures cropping up that have changed rap’s musical landscape over the last three decades — it can be a chore to make sense of it all.
Fortunately, documentarian Sacha Jenkins, creative director of Mass Appeal magazine and co-founder of Ego Trip, has just the remedy. His Netflix show, Rapture, co-produced with Mass Appeal founder Peter Bittenbender and Ben Selkow, just released its first complete season detailing the lives and music of some of rap’s currently prominent figures. From veterans like Nas and T.I. to newcomers like Logic, Dave East, and Rapsody, the show documents some of rap’s most popular acts. While the first season touches on some of hip-hop’s mainstream heavyweights, Jenkins has ambitious plans for the future of Rapture, expanding its scope to include international stars like the UK’s Skepta and fast-rising internet sensations such as Tekashi 69.
As a huge fan of both Jenkins’ prior work with Ego Trip (ego trip’s Book of Rap, ego trip’s Big Book of Racism, The (White) Rapper Show, and Miss Rap Supreme) and Rapture (including most of the rappers profiled in the first season), I was honored to interview the legendary writer, director, musician, and historian about the inspiration behind the show, its plans for the future, and using the stories presented in its eight episodes to hopefully bridge the gaps between hip-hop’s new and old schools. Over the course of our conversation, he imparted wisdom that went way beyond just the music, style, and language of hip-hop, delving into just what it is that has made the genre and culture such an enduring, global phenomenon.
One of the things that has been a sort of constant topic of conversation amongst my circle is: where are all of the LA rappers?
Yeah, there’s no beef with Los Angeles — it was just scheduling and availability, and in today’s world, artists have their own platform, their own Instagram, their own Twitter, and everything else. So when you’re approaching folks and you’re saying, ‘Hey we’re doing this great show. I know you’ve never seen it before, it’s on Netflix, and we’re not paying you anything,’ it’s challenging because while we’re not paying them anything, they’ve got other stuff they’ve got to do.
So, I’ve got a lot of love for the west coast, and it was not a conscious decision to not include them. It just so happened that scheduling and various other things made it so it didn’t work out this go round. If there’s a second season, I would imagine people might feel like, ‘Okay, we know what this show is, they’ve proven themselves, I think it’s cool, they want to participate in it.’
Absolutely, I don’t mean to suggest you didn’t have love for the West Coast! That was something that kept coming up with my circle because we’re in LA.
So, while we’re on those subject of those platforms, how do you feel about how the game has changed so much since the Ego Trip days when artists had to kind of rely on print and publications to get their stuff out? Now they can just communicate directly to the fans. What are some of the benefits and what do you think are some of the drawbacks?