The Misunderstood Relationship between Dopeness and Originality
I think people get it really twisted. I see a lot of folks on twitter tweeting at their favorite artists who ask to hear something fresh like "hey check this out from my homies and I it's like nothing else out there" and I have the skeptical guy meme look on my face not only because it's not true but because their music is dope enough to stand on the merits that it does have.
I've written about probably 100 Inland Empire hip-hop artists and I think I probably become a fan of 65-75% of the stuff I write about but I would only call maybe a dozen artists the kind of artist that "sounds like nothing else out". And for a lot of artists I thought that was the point? A lot of the I.E.'s dopest meticulously craft work that sounds like a more Inland, barsier version of what's on the radio and what gets played on major media and they succeed wildly. But that's not breaking ground or busting out with a sound like "nothing else" and that is okay. All art does not have to do all things.
In fact, when I think about the most original I.E. artists they're not the ones I listen to the most or my faves though a good number of those artists produced high-quality polished if experimental works. I say that to say - being dope is a challenge enough, not everything you do is original and not every original creation you make will be dope!
This doesn't mean I'm lying when I've called people's works original on this website and others: I hear people come up with original concepts within a familiar musical style all the time. I hear people come with original styles within a pre-established genre all the time. That's like Snoop Dogg who brought a whole personality and unique voice and rapping-sound to a pre-established west coast rap boom-bap milieu - there's nothing wrong with that kind of originality and a lot folks I've written about certainly have that.
So to sum up: originality is not necessarily dopeness and dopeness is not necessarily originality. Many works may be one or the other, few are both, and it is all okay - that's part of what's beautiful about art: the freedom. If I ever call something out for not being original, I'm not saying that it's not dope. I think it's dope when someone is just good at the blues, or jazz guitar, or boom-bap, or trap. It's fine to just be dope at some shit that is familiar but it's also dope when people are breaking ground but maybe be open to the idea that truly new experimental shit is not going to sound as groovy, polished and vibey as it may become when people become practitioners of it as an established thing: the humility of not being original, of paying dues to an older path, is necessary on the road to making something original accessible to the people.
Yes sometimes people make stuff that is both original and dope, people like OutKast and Konami Homi, but that's rare. Most dopeness and originality won't coalesce so easily, so dually. Art needs room to breathe and in my view accuracy and understanding terms as to help set expectations for oneself and genres more realistically helps allow it to.
Tristan "Tanjint Wiggy" Acker is a staff writer for Zus Entertainment, a Jooseboxx and Untapped Hip-Hop contributor, and member of the Inland Empire, California based nerdculture hip-hop group the West Coast Avengers