People love nostalgia. Especially if you are over the age of thirty. The things of yesteryear always seem to be better than things of the current year. Whether it be sports, cartoons, movies, food, fashion, or relationships, many of us are beholden to the past (even though psychologists say that living in the past can lead to depression, but we won’t go there right now). Another area where nostalgia loves to manifest itself is music, specifically Hip-Hop. It has been twenty-four years since Pac died, twenty-three years since Biggie died, seventeen years since Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was released, and fourteen years since OutKast put out an album. Yet, they still have high amounts of cultural capital today. Even though it is usually better to keep moving forward, Hip-Hop should dig into the bag of nostalgia once more and bring back Child Rebel Soldier.
Sometimes abbreviated to CRS, Child Rebel Soldier was a Hip-Hop supergroup consisting of Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, and Pharrell Williams. Their debut was a song on Kanye’s 2007 mixtape Can’t Tell Me Nothing, which served as a prelude to his album Graduation, called “Us Placers”. The instant cult classic, featuring samples from Thom Yorke’s “The Eraser”, talks about the pleasures and pitfalls of fame, as Lupe Fiasco opens with, “Lifestyles of the rich and famous/Bought a big house and a whole lot of Ranges/A fresh new couch and a whole of trainers/A closet full of clothes and some brand new dangers”. The trio would only release two more songs, a remix of N.E.R.D.’s 2008 single “Everyone Nose” and the funky yet addictive “Don’t Stop” in 2010. The group was confirmed defunct in 2013.
In hindsight, there were a few big factors that might have led to the group’s demise. The biggest was the label situation of the three talents. Kanye was signed under Def Jam, Lupe was with Atlantic, and Pharrell was under Interscope. Dealing with three prestigious record labels of that size and influence, issues like contracts, promotion, marketing, production budgets, and distribution had to have played a role in not releasing an album. Also, one could imagine that there was bureaucracy, inflated egos, and red tape in the way. On the music side of things, three geniuses, all in their primes, might have bumped heads on many different issues while crafting songs. Each artist with their own vision, own process, own taste in production. There may have been many unfinished skeletons of songs that met at a creative impasse.
Time heals many scars, however. Each musician is now in a different place in their career. Kanye is still a music juggernaut, but he also has businesses to run and a family to raise. Lupe is still making music as well, with his most recent effort being Drogas Wave in 2018, but the spotlight has shifted over to younger and trendier musicians. Pharrell is still producing but is also dabbling in television and other philanthropic ventures. The egos that may have been present in previous years might have softened, allowing for more music to be created. In addition, the music landscape has changed. Independence has become the new norm, as artists can put out music while completely bypassing the major record labels. The bureaucracy and industry politics that could have halted previous CRS projects are no longer obstacles.
Moreover, in today’s societal climate, there needs to be more discourse of intellect and intelligence. For far too long, Hip-Hop has become a safe haven for disposable quotes and lyrics that all coincide with one linear theme. Anyone who dares to color outside the lines risks being crucified over hot lava by Hip-Hop cancel culture. CRS could potentially change that. Kanye, Lupe and Pharrell have never been afraid to speak their piece, regardless of the backlash. Ye had to deal with the negative press of his MAGA support for years, Lupe was once pulled off stage for reciting anti-Obama rhetoric, and Pharrell found himself neck-deep in controversy surrounding his role in Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” and various political statements. Their music over the years has always been thought-provokingly mind-bending, willing to challenge conventional thinking with clever and articulate lyricism. Lupe Fiasco’s song titled “Hip-Hop Saved My Life” came during a time when Hip-Hop was coming under heavy attack from mainstream media critics blaming the genre for increased crime and violence. Also, consider that two of these three names are far too supplanted in pop culture to be canceled, and Lupe has a niche of extremely loyal followers who might push back against his critics.
Production in Hip-Hop has stagnated. Many of today’s chart-topping songs have similar drum patterns, basslines, and are overall carbon copies of one another. A project with Kanye West and Pharrell leading the way will have a vastly different sound than anything else in the Hip-Hop marketplace. The vibe crafted on the Kanye West and Kid Cudi joint venture Kids See Ghosts highlights this point.
The return of Child Rebel Soldier would be the adrenaline shot that both Hip-Hop and society need right now.