Radiohead is Slick Hip-Hop

Ight y’all so check it out. DXCEGAME finessed it. Tonight, Chunghwa and I are hopping on a Greyhound to Indio, CA with a tent and without money to spend three days having type two fun at Coachella. We’re very excited. This is a fantastic year for hip-hop and its representation in mass music culture, and with all the trouble that brings, it’s dope. It’s good for the genre, it’s good for American pop music, and as our beloved culture religion commands more of global media’s attention, more young people of color (YPOC, pronounced why pock) need to cover it. We gotta be on our Allstate shit, gotta lay the real good hands on it.

The stars seemed to align for me. This is my first year living in California, my first legit opportunity to go to Coachella. I’ve been into the festival the same way every broke person that likes Pitchfork on Facebook is; I peep the lineup, either think it’s cool or drink haterade like I just dropped a triple double with no assists, and then watch the cool performances on the livestream. I remember watching Dre and Snoop’s dope set that was ruined by that dystopic ass Pac-o-gram. I remember watching the Drake set that Madonna had to insert her racist velociraptor ass into. I still have wet dreams about Kanye’s unrivaled performance art tour-de-force in 2011 (can we talk about the Céline blouse?!). I would think things like damn, Coachella seems cool, then continue to eat Hot Cheetos and Internet gang bang. And now here I am, nineteen with a chip the size of my forehead on my shoulder.

I’m going to Coachella to consume and write about the hip-hop. The festival did a great job curating acts that well reflect the poignancy and diversity of black music sounds in contemporary music. They’ve got Travis Scott, young superstar fresh off of a career year, sort of like rap’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. They have established trap legends Future and Gucci Mane, and momentum filled young guns Nav and Uzi. They’ve got grime with Stormzy and Skepta and R&B torchbearers NAO and Sampha. They even, briefly, had Beyoncé. I had to fold, and I’m very glad I did. But, as excited I am to bask in the melanated glow of popular music’s new guard, the act that I really and truly pop this pussy for is Radiohead.

I know I’m not special for being a Radiohead stan. It’s one of the most normie things about me, and that’s saying something, I’m OD normcore. But if Thom Yorke say get em, then I got em, and that’s that. Radiohead entered my life at the same time as Kanye West, the year of our Yeezus 2007. While I had been aware of Ye’s dopeness for much longer, ‘07 was the first year I (read: my parents and iTunes gift cards) started purchasing music, and thus the beginning of my discovery of my own tastes. My first album was Kanye’s Graduation (the clean version ofc). My second was Radiohead’s In Rainbows. I was ten years old and the dichotomy I still wrestle with hit me: I’m dope, but I’m really fucking sad.

From then on, I consumed a metric fuck ton of Kanye and RH. I was a yout, so my consumption of music was based on my very limited purchasing power, and most of my money went to Kanye albums. Because of this, I could only pick up RH in snippets —Chicago’s Q101 and Sirius alt-rock stations mostly— and every new song was an immersive experience. I was totally unfamiliar with white people that made distinctly white sounding music that was so impactful.

Once the Obama years came around and I got acne, I learned how to pirate music had more money and could buy more music, and I quickly downloaded RH’s entire discography. As I defeated my pubescent identity issues and read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I became more and more fixated on black music genres, but Radiohead stayed close to my heart. The older I got, the more their meditations on isolation and dystopia meant to me. While I loved the ways Erykah Badu, Gil Scott-Heron and Kanye especially spoke to my burgeoning sense of blackness, I appreciated how RH’s expansive sounds complemented the intersectionality of my being and tastes.

For me, Radiohead is hip-hop. No, they do not make hip-hop music. But, they pushed the boundaries of Brit-pop and rock music. They embraced electronic music and the drum machines I learned to love from rap. They utilized the experimental song structures I was introduced to by Ye and Frank Ocean. Radiohead brought a totally foreign twist to the established features of black music that I fucked with heavy.

The spasmodic electronic drums on 15 Step would have slipped perfectly into 808s & Heartbreak. The segmented epic that is Paranoid Android captivates ears the same way Runaway and Blood on The Leaves does. Radiohead came with the innovation, unpredictability, and poetics that hallmark the hip-hop I love.

There’s this really intriguing Reddit thread I saw last year after untitled, unmastered came out that compares Kendrick and RH’s career trajectory, paralleling Overly Dedicated through untitled with The Bends through Amnesiac. While the only true similarity is that both artists are transcendently dope, it was a pretty apt comparison. For me, hip-hop is about organized chaos and modernization of ancestral sounds. Hip-hop is jazz’s finest child; a diamond formed from pressurized raw creative energy. Radiohead is the force (meme) they are now because of their implementation of jazz, blues, house and countless other black-music sounds into a rock foundation. While the output is not hip-hop, it represents the platform hip-hop stands on. Radiohead refuses to be packaged in a convenient box, and if that ain’t hip-hop, so be it. But it damn sure is for me.

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