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Sci-Fi Goes Hi-Fi: 10 Artists' Foray into Hip-Hop Futurism

Imran Khan originally published in Pop Matters.

23 Oct 2018

A host of artists have carved out a niche in the interplanetary margins that now rest in hip-hop culture. Some call it an expansion on Afrofuturist philosophies; others simply a long-time propensity for the science-fiction genre.

Science-fiction and rock music have been intersecting genres for more than a few decades now. At least since David Bowie emerged with the story of Ziggy, with its Prog-applications and some well-placed glitter, the imaginations of audiences have been captured by the growing sagas and myths that have grown out of popular culture. Hip-hop (at least in its earlier conception) has been fairly practical for most of its life; a simple and earnest retelling of life in the city. But as hip-hop is a music that relies heavily on recycling older ideas and transforming them into newer, culture-defining shapes, it isn't too difficult to see how artists might seek influences outside the playbook in order to regenerate the music

Arguably, it may have been Afrika Bambaataa who introduced, into his hip-hop, an extraterrestrial dynamic that, in certain ways, espoused a few ideologies to come from the Zulu Nation, a collective of rappers and poets that were high up on the politics of deciding and designing urban life during the late '70s. Since then, a host of artists have carved out a niche in the interplanetary margins that now rest in hip-hop culture. Some call it an expansion on Afrofuturist philosophies that were developed and expressed nearly a century back. Others are simply content to call it a long-time propensity for the science-fiction genre. What follows are just ten hip-hop artists whose works have been shaped in some form or another by the works of science-fiction.

Mike Ladd – Welcome to the Afterfuture (1999)

It wasn't until Mike Ladd's sophomore release that heads began to turn. A great departure from his debut, Easy Listening 4 Armageddon (which favours downtempo grooves of chilled funk), Welcome to the Afterfuture navigates a stark and unforgiving world of sound that favours very little colour, save for the black, white and grey of a nearly deserted urban city. Afterfuture's beats are cold and geometric, often a distorted backdrop for Ladd's alternating languid and bellowing Dada-speak. If the complex lyricism of the rapper's verse is too dense for listeners to pick out the various sci-fi references, then the song titles are dead giveaways: "5000 Miles West of the Future", "Planet 10", "Bladerunners", "To the Moon's Contractor", "Red Eye to Jupiter ", Wipe Out On the Wave of Armageddon", and the title-track.

With Afterfuture, Ladd creates a hip-hop landscape of futurist design, with beats that bang with industrial rhythms and atmospheres that drone like some mysterious aircraft hovering in the sky. The album is heralded as a classic of underground hip-hop and remains Ladd's most favourite effort from his solo outings.

Sci-Fi Influences

Sound-wise, Welcome the Afterfuture seems to source from the futuristic cityscapes of Fritz Lang's 1927 sci-fi classic Metropolis. Full of geometric patterns and shapes, Lang's film about an automaton-ruled city most likely served as inspiration for Ladd's cold and steely grooves; Afterfuture's beats bang and clank like the metal gears of industrial machinery grinding away.

The rapper's previous scholarly pursuits (in English literature and poetry) may have led him to such works like Paul Theroux's O-Zone (the author's lone sci-fi novel), about a walled-in wasteland in which lurks mysterious entities. Other sci-fi references on the album may also be from the works by Spider Robinson, whose novel Night of Power is a searing and nerve-jangling story of a futuristic race war – a theme Ladd explores on Afterfuture's closing track, "Feb. 4 '99 (For All Those Killed by Cops)".

See the rest of the top ten which includes Shabbaz Palaces, Cannibal Ox and Anti-Pop Consortium at Pop Matters here: https://www.popmatters.com/10-hip-hopartists-foray-into-sci-fi-2612415792.html?rebelltitem=16#rebelltitem16