Did you hear that vinyl records are making a comeback? You should have. For the past several years, that very conceit has been the focus of an endless string of trend pieces. But in case you missed those: CD sales are at an all-time low while vinyl sales, however meager, are back on the rise. Fans young and old are revisiting the once out-of-fashion format for the tangibility, the large-form artwork, the perceived superiority in sound quality and the collectability. Even big-box retailers are lining their inventory with a handful of actual records. But while hipsters and nostalgists are eager to hop on the LP bandwagon, the hip-hop community has been curiously quiet within this revival.
Courtesy of artist
Rapper Gucci Mane. Courtesy of artist
Which is odd, given how closely the genre has been linked to vinyl culture over the years. It was hip-hop that kept the record stores open during the lean years of the format. DJs bought up 12-inches and producers hit the crates for samples. But these were utilitarian ventures, not investments in cool capital. You needed vinyl to scratch, and many of the rare groove records that built the genre's foundation had not yet made the transfer to CD. Now that technology has pushed both crafts into the digital age, hip-hop has little practical interest in vinyl. Where DJs once got white-labels, they're now delivered the latest hits via email. Producers scour blogs and file-sharing services in search of the perfect beat.
Appropriately, the production of new hip-hop vinyl has nearly slowed to a halt, even amid soaring demand for overpriced hyper-limited Animal Collective collector's editions and overpriced reissues of Beatles albums. A few of the larger, artsy independent labels — Stones Throw, Rhymesayers — still press albums to vinyl, but most majors and smaller labels have abandoned the format. Here are a few great hip-hop records that did come out on wax this year, and a few more that we wish would have.