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Published on December 12, 2006 By Sean Conners aka SConn1 In Music
People often argue about who was the 1st rapper or 1st rap song. Most people will acknowledge the Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" as the song that put rap music, which would eventually evolve into what we today call "hip-hop" on the map. Of course, other arguments can be made, and some even go back to guys like Lou Reed, who's "Walk On the Wild Side" is essentially a rap before it's time. Other's have done rythmic "spoken word" songs, but the Sugar Hill Gang and other pioneers like Grandmaster Flash, Dougie Fresh and the group that brought rap into the spotlight, Run DMC are the ones that are much more directly responsible for hip hop being such a major force in music today.

Run DMC really brought rap into the spotlight when they made a great artistic and business decision. They decided to record a hip hop version of the Aerosmith classic, "Walk This Way." But furthermore, they invited the 70's icons, now coming out of long personal struggles with various vices to re-record the song with them. This got the song on MTV, which up until then, barely acknowledged rap music's existence. Walk This Way was a huge hit, despite the grumblings of rock purists who had recently celebrated the death of disco and thought the world safe from rhythmic dance music that didn't feature guitar solos or skinny long haired singers that could hit notes only previously reserved for women and castoration victims.

Run DMC's success on MTV got the network to re-examine it's playlists and policies, written and unwritten. Over the next decade, MTV gave hip-hop music increasing airply and eventually it's own show, "Yo, MTV Raps." That show, while a little silly, introduced hip hop artists to a whole new audience of suburban kids. Groups like the Beastie Boys and others rapped about fighting for one's right to party while busting a move and drinking a funky cold medina. the hits out of rap flowed out in force. Hip Hop artists were now charting where it was once thought impossible for the genre born out in the ghetto.

Still, many "old school" musicians and fans didn't like the airwaves being increasingly dominated by these guys who couldn't play any instrument, didn't sing anything and just talked over some real artists music. Today, hip-hop dominates the majority of music on T.V. and radio. Hip hop artists are amongst the best selling artists on the planet. But indeed, the subject of sampling, which is really at the core of hip hop, was, is and probably will be controversial for some time to come.

What is sampling?

Sampling is a process where an audio engineer or producer takes a small piece, or "sample" of a song. The sample is then repeated and often manipulated to fit over a catchy "beat", which is often digitally generated. this serves as the musical "platform" in which the rapper can then deliver their message.

Is sampling good or bad inherently?

In my opinion, neither. But it is abused. When sampling began, it was pretty clever. It was, essentially, a modern adaptation of "music concrete" (pronounced konkret) which goes back to the 50's and early reel to reel tape machines. Today, with computers, sampling is easy. Maybe too easy. With a computer recording program, some of which can be had for free, anyone can sample. Actually, one's knowledge of computers is more useful than one's knowledge of music in this application. I can, and have, created good hooks in a few minutes using programs like fruity loops and garageband, the former being available online as a free download. With the latter, buy the cheapest MAC and you get a free full blown version of the garageband software which is used by professionals on a daily basis.

Where I thik that "music purists" have been hyperbolic and overreaching when they claim rap is not "real music." Rap and hip hop are "real music" by definition. It has melodies, rhythms and harmonies. It is organized sound. But they do have a point with their distain at the excess and lack of creativity in the style.

Fact is, most sampling is not that clever. The programs like garageband are so sophisticated that they will not allow the user to screw up. A novice can create a professional sounding sample and beat in minutes. From there, most hip hop artists just spew out some cliches, again, controlled by the computer to make everything fit and work. There are some artists that use more creativity in their samples and rapping, but unfortunately, those artists are getting fewer and fewer by the year. Since hip hop is a relatively inexpensive genre of music to create professionally, I believe the record companies do encourage a "quantity over quality " posture and encourage the watering down and dilution of the style. Like most things, money talks. It is a better business move to throw out as much as possible and see what sticks rather than really let a select group of really talented producers and artists create and develop. But hip-hop is hardly the only style that has that going on.

My other beef with hip hop is the implication that all these songs that someone created and often had a hit with, are somehow "improved" by taking a hook and repeating it. The genre inherently implies that these songs really aren't good enough and needed to be enhanced and modified and have a guy or gal rant about how great or hot they are rather than the orig. lyric. I can see how musicians resent this, and some of that resentment is appropriate.

Of course, before the 20th century, the practice of "borrowing" another's work and improving it was common. Artists like Mozart often used other's works as springboards for their pieces. It was considered a compliment if someone took your melody and such and used it to create a new piece. Folk songs were often an evolutionary result of songs being passed along, changed and modified. Plagarism wasn't an issue until royalties came into the picture with the publishing industry.

So if Mozart could steal another composer's work and make it his own, why can't Snoop Dog?

Well, he can. Today, he must pay a license fee and/or pay a royalty to commercially release a song, but they certainly can. But i'll leave it to history to compare who did it better. Personally, I like some of the sampling done, and think it is highly creative and artistic. Most of it is just lame these days. Rappers used to put some correlation between the song being sampled and the rap. today, you hear samples that have nothing to do with the subject of the rap. And like I said before, merely lifting a sample and putting it over a beat, all of which is controlled by a computer, is easy. Maybe you can't put a multitude of monkeys in a room with typewriters and randomly eventually get the equivelent of Shakespere's works, but I am convinced you could take a bunch of computer savvy non-musicians with zero musical talent and eventually get a bunch of hip hop hit contenders in a very short time with a mini MAC.

As many genres have proven, if you don't evolve, you die, at least temporarily till someone "revives" the genre 20 years later. Ansd that will eventually happen with hip hop. Not only has the genre gotten uncreative in it's approach to the framework of the tunes, the raps themselves have become 2 dimensional and over -repetitive. It seems that in the last 10 years, everyone who is a hip hop star is a self described bad ass, ex crack dealer, who made a fortune slingin rock. They can kick the crap out of anyone and furthermore, enjoy shooting people. They promote a lifestyle that doesn't exist and like any ponzi scheme, eventually the fraud comes to light. Fact is, most hip-hop badasses are just pimp wannabees and clever marketers of the bogus lifestyle. There are exceptions, and drug gangs have produced several stars over the years like Ice T, a real gang banger with the wounds to prove it.

Hip Hop did evolve nicely from the Sugar Hill Gang thru the late 90's when Dre, Chuck D and others moved hip hop from a simple "2 turntables and a microphone" genre to a more complex genre that incorpoated more form and structure. Computers and their capabilities were quickly able to mimic what they had done on their own to where anyone can put together professionally sounding tunes. Today, hip hop needs a new innovator if it is to survive or at leat thrive. Don't let today's popularity confuse you into thinking that Hip Hop can't die or fade in popularity. Disco was huge in 78, it was dead early in the 80's. Metal evolved from the late 60's to the monster it was in the 80's, only to have it go back underground by the 90's due to lack of creativity and a glut of frizzy haired pretty boys with cliche songs and not much new to offer their audience.

What will happen in the future? Who knows. But I do contend that hip hop needs a serious kick in the ass and something new on the horizon if it is to continue it's domination of the charts and airwaves.


Comments
on Dec 12, 2006
Thanks for writing this. You've drawn a pleasantly objective line between art and entertainment; a distinction not many have the facility (or maybe the will) to make. That's a fairly short commentary for the depth of your article, but I'm a man of few words. Thanks twice.
on Dec 12, 2006
thanks alot man. i do like to think that i have a good sense of balance and understanding between the business side of music and the artistic side. i've seen it from both, and appreciate both. tho, i am an artist at heart and in a perfect world, art would rule exclusively. but reality isn't that way. the business side isn't quite as sinister as some would believe most of the time, but it is fiercely competitive always and uber greedy sometimes. i think one has to have a general understanding of that side at least to survive in music, liking that side isn't necessary tho.

i'll be talking more on the subject down the road...i think i'm gonna do something on either metal or country next.
on Dec 12, 2006
ugh...i edited out some typos and most of the article disappeared...i think i got it all back now tho,,,my apologies...enjoy:)
on Dec 12, 2006
Imo, the only way "artist" applies to rap/hip-hop people is that they are scam artists. They've convinced a lot of people who wouldn't know music from mucus that what they produce is music.

Where I thik that "music purists" have been hyperbolic and overreaching when they claim rap is not "real music." Rap and hip hop are "real music" by definition. It has melodies, rhythms and harmonies.


Ok, yeah, it has rhythms, but where are the melodies and harmonies? The "singers" don't sing. They speak.

Maybe I just can't hear them over the bass that they all think has to be turned up so loudly that it drowns out everything else.

Maybe that's why so many of them go around shooting people. The bass has affected their nervous systems.

Music has come full circle. It started with people banging out primitve rhythms and now they're doing the same thing.
on Dec 13, 2006
I have been known, while standing on stage and asked "Hey play some rap" to reply "Sorry...I only (w)rap at Christmas time"

As far as the definition of music, it is unfortunately a subjective thing. The word 'music' has its roots in Greek. Originally an adjective to describe things that were aesthetically pleasing, things that were "of the muses" were described as muse-like, i.e. muse-ic. The muses, of course, were those daughters of Zeus that inspired artistic form in us poor mortals.

So to describe rap as muse-like is a stretch for me, and Iconoclast as well, I take it. But is IS subjective...one man's meat is another man's poison.
on Dec 13, 2006
Sean,

Nicely done. This is not the kind of article I would usually read (I'm bored; only two PC's to work on; one's as done as I can make it and the other's running scans), but it's quite an informative piece.

And, LW, shame on you for not giving it up to "Subterranean Homesick Blues"

(walks off, singing:

"Mama's in the basement,
Mixin' up the medicine,
I'm on the pavement,
Thinkin' 'bout the government...."
on Dec 13, 2006
Ok, yeah, it has rhythms, but where are the melodies and harmonies? The "singers" don't sing. They speak.


You haven't listened to much rap, have you? Lots of rap songs have melodies and harmonies, especially the lighter stuff. Australian rap in particular makes extensive use of harmonies and, if not outright sung melodies, melodic samples. Middle Eastern rap does the same thing, and then of course there's Indonesian rap, which really seems to be an excuse to speak fast whilst singing conventionally.

EDIT: I forgot to mention French hiphop. Anyone who says they don't like hiphop should listen to some of the rap coming out of France these days. It's awesome and it's nothing at all like gangsta rap.
on Dec 13, 2006
Ok, yeah, it has rhythms, but where are the melodies and harmonies? The "singers" don't sing. They speak

ok,,,technically speaking...even if someone speaks in monotone (voice does not change pitch) that is a melody. it might be a boring one (subjectively speaking) but it is a melody. now most rappers don't rap in monotone, and likewise, the pitches of their voice make a melody. also, there can be a musical melody as well.

harmony...the melody over the sample creates a harmony. also, many hip hop choruses have harmonies in them.

by MOST people's loose definition, almost all music has these 3 elements. the amount that they have of each can vary. would the people who doubt rap having these 3 elements judge other styles as fairly?

a solo vocal piece would have no harmony at 1st glance. but one could make the theoretical argument that the vocalist is harmonizing with the air. or it could be said that they are harmonizing within a certain key or framework. whatever the rationalization or judgement, i think few would argue that doing a solo rendition of "mercedes benz" would not qualify as a piece of music. of course, the other widely used definition of music, "organized sound" would qualify it and rap music as well.

Imo, the only way "artist" applies to rap/hip-hop people is that they are scam artists. They've convinced a lot of people who wouldn't know music from mucus that what they produce is music.


actually, i've worked with rap and hip hop artists since 1990 and i would totally disagree with you from personal experience. like i said in the article, most of them aren't very good, but most people in most styles fall into that category. unfortunately, like when other styles have been over marketed, some undeserving acts are getting more attention than their work would merit. but on the other hand, we do live in a "whatever the market will bear" society.

i look at some early acts like public enemy and NWA and come away very impressed with how they did things, the results they got and how their music affected people. to borrow someone else's reference to the greek origins of the word "music", it was certainly "muse-like" as it inspired a ton of kids to follow in their footsteps.

one man's meat is another man's poison.

true. and over the years, i have tried to be more objective when looking at various genres, especially ones that i know aren't really written and performed for me. rap would be a prime example of that. it simply isn't written or marketed to my 39 year old, parent of 2, suburban white ass. it's kind of like the hobbies we all indulge in...to people who don't participate in the hobby, the money spent, regardless of the amount, is usually seen a s "ridiculous" to someone who doesn't participate in the hobby. for example, someone who is into video games can justify most of the expenses, whereas someone who hates video games can usually be counted on for comments like "i wouldn't pay 2 cents for one of those damn machines" and the like...

i try to look at styles on their own level, look at it from the perspective of how their fans, or "hobbyists" look at it. simply taking a discounting, negative stance on any genre, in my opinion, shuts any artist out from a world of creativity. whereas i don't listen to alot of hip hop these days on a regular basis on purpose (but i do get to hear it cause it is everywhere it seems) i can't say that i've never been inspired by hip hop or haven't ever gotten some good ideas from that genre.




on Dec 13, 2006
Nicely done. This is not the kind of article I would usually read (I'm bored; only two PC's to work on; one's as done as I can make it and the other's running scans), but it's quite an informative piece.

thanks gideon. i find some of the best articles when i am in those bored states myself, so i can relate.

perhaps i'll be covering some other musical styles and subjects you will be more "into" down the road.
on Dec 13, 2006
I'd like to see any rap person pit their musical talent against any rock, jazz, classical or blues musician.


Just because something is new doesn't automatically mean it's good, or better than what came before it.
on Dec 13, 2006
I'd like to see any rap person pit their musical talent against any rock, jazz, classical or blues musician.


i think you'd be surprised at some. i know some rap artists and producers that are very good players. especially the producers. guys like jay z are very knowledgeable. in the season of the "surreal life" , even the goofy flavor flav in one episode plays a multitude of instruments very competently and even instructs others on what to do with them.

on the other hand, i've also seen 12 year olds that could play the blues like clapton and bb king to a T.

don't worry, icon,,,i get it...you hate rap. and i'm sure nothing i say will change your predjudices. but i can say from personal experience tht you are naively wrong here. there is alot of talent in that world. there's alot of posers too, but that's inherent in any style, esp. one with such mass appeal.

i think you have to look at genres within themselves, not as a "better or worse" comparison with other styles. not only is that method like comparing apples to oranges, but it eventually leads one into an inescapable corner by simply dissing a genre as a whole.

and remember, talent and creativity comes in many forms. it's not all about the "technical" aspects of it. take a song like louie louie. the troggs barely knew how to play, the song itself is about as basic and simple as a song can be...but it was brilliant, and inspired many others to pick up a guitar and begin creating in their own way.

the troggs inspired, or were the "muse" (to borrow from the earlier given greek origin of the word, music) to tons of kids the same way Run DMC and public enemy inspired others to pick up a mic and tell their story in a song.
on Dec 14, 2006
Correction is needed here. A Muse inspired things that are aesthetically pleasing. For the most part people tend to agree that rap is not aesthetically pleasing. It may be pleasing, but aesthetics is not its goal. Just to clarify. That is why so many argue that it isn't muse-ic. I don't really think of it as muse-ic myself - I just don't bash it because I don't like it. Some people like green beans. I hatem.

I do fear what is becoming of music (word used in traditional sense). I went into a Guitar Center one time to look at keyboards (wound up buying an RD-700.) But the kid that was working sales wanted to show me how good he was...he proceeded to demonstrate a machine that played various samples with a single button press. That particular day I walked out after telling him "Sorry man...I like to play the actual notes myself." Loops, sampling, e-drums, etc are sending the message to future musicians that music is something you don't have to have talent to play...you just have to push a few buttons and the music is made FOR you. That's all well and good for the ENTERTAINMENT industry, but I don't think it's good for music in general.

As far as posers in every style, you won't find any jazz or classical posers that get anywhere. Why do you think that is?
on Dec 14, 2006
Loops, sampling, e-drums, etc are sending the message to future musicians that music is something you don't have to have talent to play...you just have to push a few buttons and the music is made FOR you.


Have you ever heard Gotye? His music is almost entirely sample-based with his voice over the top, and yet I've never heard anything more beautiful or aesthetically pleasing. It's the selection and combination - cutting here, blending there - that turns a whole tonne of samples into something entirely new, much like a traditional guitarist will use a combination of the standard chords and something entirely his own to make something new.

links: http://www.myspace.com/gotye . www.gotye.com


As far as posers in every style, you won't find any jazz or classical posers that get anywhere.


Except, of course, Mozart (classical). I'm not sure exactly where jazz begins and ends, but Sinatra was undeniably a poser, as was Nina Simone.
on Dec 19, 2006
thanks for the comments guys,,,i've been away from the pc for a few days, so i apologize for the delay in responding...

on loops, samples, etc...in my opinion, they are tools. they are neither good nor bad inherently. it is what a person does with them that matters. i've seen some great creative work, not only in hip hop, but in other styles using "electronic" means of creating sound and music. i think guys like talib kaweli do some really interesting stuff for an example in hip hop today.

on "posers"...yes, every style has their wannabees and posers. most of which, we will never hear about concerning styles of the past because usually the "frauds" fade over time.

sidenote...some interesting trivia...bach wasn't the best known, or even amongst the best known composers of his time. he did have a huge reputation as being the best "tester" of pipe organs and was commissioned regularly by the church to test new ones out. bach was an extremely aggresive player and if the instrument could stand up to his abuse and stay in tune, then it was a pretty safe bet that it would stay in tune for anyone else. he was commisioned by leaders to write pieces for them, but most of them didn't become widely known until well after his death. another note, bach hated the piano, he preferred the harpsichord. and lastly, many of his pieces were written to "prove" that the 12 tone note system that we take for granted today, was the best way. in his day, there wre other variations on that and there was no clearly defined "standard." bach was instrumental (pardon the pun) in making the 12 tone system the standard.

on aesthetics...if we go with this definition...aes·thet·ics or es·thet·ics (ĕs-thĕt'ĭks)
n.
(used with a sing. verb)
The branch of philosophy that deals with the nature and expression of beauty, as in the fine arts.

i have to disagree. but i think it's a matter of perception perhaps. but i've heard lots of hip hop, especially underground stuff that was definitely trying to express beauty and so forth.

thanks again for the feedback guys:)
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