"It’s the vigour and invention of the first third of the Noughties that makes the last five years of rap look stalled and sapped, not old-skool days so remote only grey-hairs remember them. By any sensible metric, rap has slipped hugely from where it was when this decade began. It’s not dominating the pop charts anymore, and neither is it irrigating the mainstream with new beats, styles, and slanguage. It’s not producing major album-length statements, give or take an 808s & Heartbreak (revealingly, not rapped but sung). It’s not even coming up with compelling new personalities. The last, by my reckoning, were Lil Wayne (whose debut was released in 1999) and Kanye West (who debuted in early 2004). West has turned out to be a mixed blessing, while Wayne spread his brilliance thin across innumerable mixtapes, plus 2008’s uneven Tha Carter III. Some swear by TI and Young Jeezy as charismatic artists, but neither came up with a MC persona we’ve not seen before. And, for these last three or four years, rap has been a desperately unmemorable procession of cookie-cutter ballers – Jim Jones, Gucci Mane, Yung Doc, Soulja Boy, Lil Boosie, Gummi Bares – whose lyrics trudge a hedonic treadmill of bling and booty, punctuated by the occasional inane dance-craze. Even the sound of rap – always its saving grace in the absence of political engagement or MC-as-poet depth – deteriorated in the second half of this decade. The odd angles and eerie spaces in productions by Mannie Fresh or Mr Collipark were flattened out, replaced by portentous digi-synth fanfares and lumbering beats, a brittle bass-less blare that seemed pre-degraded to 128kbps to cut through better via YouTube and mobile phone ("ringtone rap", some called it), rendered all the more cheapo-sounding and plastic non-fantastic by the endless Auto-Tune fad."