Another year, another array plaudits doled out by one journalism’s most longstanding institutions. Initially published in March 1923, TIME Magazine is viewed as a flagship title that has remained on the pulse culture and societal issues at a point in history when many print’s stalwarts have begun to diminish in relevancy. Compiled since 2004, the “TIME 100” is the publication’s way to place the magnifying glass on both prominent and more unsung heroes that are propelling the world forward. Constructed Pioneers, Leaders, Artists, Titans & Icons, it may be a yearly ritual that is prone to hyperbolic sentimentality in its celebrity-penned bios for each entry but it is no less a worthwhile exercise that celebrates those that are impacting the world in meaningful ways. Its admirable intentions notwithstanding, there appears to have been a severe oversight when it comes to this year’s selection process.
Despite its hard-earned status as the leading genre this era, TIME opted to forego the realm hip-hop, when its every innovation is heeded by the pop culture paradigm at large. Since its inception, the TIME 100’s relationship with the culture has remained tenuous at best. Much like The Grammys, there’s been a lingering perception that TIME may take the time to acknowledge hip-hop out obligation but are reluctant to delve underneath the deceptive veneer the pop charts in order to pinpoint who and what is truly effecting change in the genre. From 2004 to this year’s jarring oversight, the hip-hop artists that have been honoured in the list are as follows: Jay-Z (x2), Kanye West (x2), Outkast (2004), Kendrick Lamar (2016), Nicki Minaj (2016), Daddy Yankee (2006), Pharrell (2014), Chance The Rapper (2017), Donald Glover (2017) and last year’s sole recipient in Cardi B. If you extend this to allies and alumni hip-hop, these ranks are embellished by John Legend, Rihanna (x2), Frank Ocean, Miguel and record producer Rick Rubin, bringing us to a grand total 18 out a possible 1500.
Jay-Z and Kanye West at TIDAL Launch event, 2015 – Jamie McCarthy/Getty s
Given hip-hop’s unimpeded rise to the top the music industry’s prit-based and artistic hierarchies in that time, this paltry number appears to be inconsistent with the genre’s lty vantage point in the world. To clarify, no one is claiming that this is derived from racial bias as that would’ve led to a wider reproach and left an indelible stain on their reputation long ago. As opposed to being the product a prejudice based on creed or colour, what this dismissiveness towards hip-hop points towards is a structural snobbery that seeks to keep it on the fringes as a lowbrow form entertainment and undercuts its innumerable contributions to the world. Although its criterion is relatively obtuse and fluid, one the clearer descriptions what makes someone eligible for inclusion in the list comes courtesy Richard Stengel. Speaking in 2007, the former managing editor laid out what they were seeking to celebrate with a refreshing transparency:
“What we look for is people whose ideas, whose example, whose talent, whose discoveries transform the world we live in. Influence is less about the hard power force than the st power ideas and example.”
Taken directly from a former editor, it appears there’s been a grave oversight if this manifesto bears any resemblance to the governing principles and qualifiers that are in place today. Rather than talk in broad terms about hip-hop’s eligibility, it seems high time to spotlight those that have had it so unblinkingly snatched away from them by the powers that be at TIME. As to what barometer will be employed to determine who’d be worthy for the list, the baseline will be a quote taken directly from their own sermon that praised Jay-Z as their second ever hip-hop honouree:
“Like all his music, it encompassed the passion and spirit a new generation artists who were not going to be held down. Today Jay-Z stands centerstage with the penetrating sustainability a living legend.”
If this is what it takes to be receiving the glowing praise TIME Magazine, then look no further than the following artists that haven’t just cemented their own legacies over the past 12 months but have acted as exemplars innovation for future generations.
Kendrick Lamar performing at Lollapalooza Buenos Aires, 2019 – Santiago Bluguermann/Getty s
For starters, one omission that registers as particularly unfathomable is that Kendrick Lamar. Setting aside his Oscar nomination and globe-spanning presence, Top Dawg Entertainment’s leading light quite literally made history last year by netting hip-hop’s first Pulitzer prize. Awarded for his deeply philosophical work on DAMN., Kendrick’s glass ceiling-shattering achievement not only attests to the “st power ideas” but quite literally reappraised the limit on hip-hop’s acclaim in educational and artistic circles. Contentious as he may be among hip-hop heads, it’s unlikely that any rational thinker would take umbrage with Drake making his debut appearance on this list. While 2018 was a tumultuous period for Drake, the fairly tepid response that Scorpion received from critics and the fall-out from the Pusha T beef did little to deter his successes for the year. For one thing, Scorpion marked the second time that he attained the biggest album in a 12-month span and played a crucial role in the Toronto MC smashing The Beatles’ record for most top 10 singles in a year. Unmatched since the Fab Four’s meteoric rise in the mid-60s, Drake had exceeded their achievement by netting 12 by October last year.
When you combine all his artistic pursuits, it’s hard to reconcile with Donald Glover– A.K.A Childish Gambino– finding himself on the sidelines. “This Is America” perfectly encapsulated the dizzying uncertainty modern times, and was a beacon for discussion, op-eds and thinkpieces across the net. The second season Atlanta solidified its reputation as one the most subversive and vital TV shows the modern era. In conjunction with his appearance as Han Solo and that triumphant Coachella set, he could’ve been a shoo-in.
Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino performing at Rihanna’s Diamond Ball, 2018 – Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty s
Beyond these clear-cut examples, the ranks could be easily bolstered by a litany artists that have taken massive strides forward and asserted themselves like never before. Since its release in August 2018, few songs were as completely inescapable as Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode.” Regarded as Astroworld’s commercial crowning glory, it was just one component in Travis’ most prosperous year to date. Culminating in his heralded Astroworld Festival in Houston and a divisive Superbowl performance, it’s hard to, realistically, put forth the concept that 2019 honouree Khalid had more a seismic effect on culture than Travis. Meanwhile in North Carolina, the shaman Dreamville that is J. Cole was a constant source discussion throughout 2019. Teamed with breakout albums from his proteges J.I.D and Bas, 2018’s cautionary-tale laden K.O.D added a conceptual suite to his storied discography whilst his features spree had the world on tenterhooks as we awaited each new masterclass in whetting the audience’s appetite. To top it all f, 2018 marked the year that Wondaland’s queen Janelle Monae went from a cult phenomenon to a bonafide icon. Led by the invigorating hybrid sound Dirty Computer, her ode to sexual liberation, inclusivity and self-love left a craterous dent in the musical landscape and will go down as a classic album in years to come.
Whether a product apathy or disdain, TIME’s dismissal hip-hop hints towards a fundamental disconnect with the world’s most important cultural force. While the disproportionate representation has gone unnoticed in previous years, it was never going to fly under the radar at a time where hip-hop is more omniscient and broadly applicable than ever. By belying its influential status, TIME has depicted a perennial force in music and popular culture at large as though it exists within a cordoned-f backroad or quarantined zone. Dismaying as it may be, hip-hop’s fans and artists can find its solace in the fact that its road to dominance has never required the approval any institution or tastemaker and that’s what makes it so irrepressibly innovative.