Friday, February 13, 2009

Hip Hop Doesn't Deserve the Bad Rap

One of the most upsetting things about our culture is the blatant disregard of entire genres of music. Sadly, this happens all too frequently in eastern Kentucky, usually with Hip Hop music being the undeserving victim. I'll be one of the first to admit FM radio does Hip Hop a great disservice with so many bad songs getting all the airtime, but this doesn't mean Hip Hop should automatically be labeled as "bad music." Like any other genre, Hip Hop music brings fresh and creative innovations to the table, and contributes in a unique way to the overall music scene.

When I use the term "Hip Hop", I don't refer to the garbage played to excess on FM airwaves. The popular urban music today I classify as "Rap." Rap is in reference to the soulless, profanity-laden, unintelligent, pornographic lyrics written by rappers like Soulja Boy, Lil Wayne, and the Ying-Yang Twins. "Rap" music is generally the uninspired garbage pumped out by record labels made specifically for marketability, and is frowned upon by music lovers for good reason. When I mention Hip Hop, I'm referring to those who have broken ground for today's Hip Hop artists. A Tribe Called Quest, Grandmaster Flash, and De La Soul were some of the early Hip Hop greats that blazed the trails followed today by great Hip Hop artists like MF DOOM, Nappy Roots, Common, and the Jurassic Five.

To fully appreciate Hip Hop music, one must understand the evolution of the genre, and society's perception of current black music trends from the roots of late nineteenth century Jazz all the way to The Roots, a current Hip Hop group. Early jazz critic Joachim-Ernst Berendt defined Jazz as a "form of art music which originated in the United States through the confrontation of blacks with European music." When one looks at how current black music is perceived by most whites in eastern Kentucky, the same could be said for Hip Hop as it was for Jazz. MC's, DJ's, and Producers of true Hip Hop music today are inspired by the same cultural differences and social conflicts that inspired early Jazz greats like Jelly Roll Morton. Essentially, Jazz and Hip Hop braved the same hardships from society and have evolved accordingly. Jazz has earned its place in American hearts as a respectable form of music. It's high time Hip Hop gets the same treatment.

Hip Hop doesn't receive the same lush treatment as Jazz because of instrumentation; however, in good Hip Hop, those same musical nuances heard in Jazz are also easily identifiable in Hip Hop music. Whether machine-made or live, the production of both Hip Hop drumbeats and bass lines are complex and intricate, and require a learned rhythmic knowledge that must be constantly honed. Cee-Lo's "I'll Be Around," features beats by Hip Hop producer Timbaland complete with horn sections, hand drums/percussion, and vocal harmonies. All of these elements could be reproduced on stage for a live audience featuring live musicians.

The centerpiece of most Hip Hop is the MC, the equivalent of a rock band's lead vocalist. The lyric writing of Hip Hop isn't just inventive from a writer's perspective, but the delivery of lyrics in a Hip Hop song must be variated and creative, as opposed to simply sung cut-and-dry to guitars and drums, as in Rock music. Good Hip Hop lyrics are inspired by and written about real-life situations, social injustices, and racial hardship. A fine example of inventive lyrics can be found in Common's song, "Food," about a man who has to live a life of crime to provide for his pregnant wife and two children.

"I call my man 'cuzo' like I'm kin to him,
He tryin' to stay straight; the streets is bendin' him."

The lyircal delivery of Skee-Lo's lyrics in his 1995 single "I Wish" is especially profound, in the way he rhythmically and gracefully dances on his lyrics through spoken word. Busta Rhymes' MCing in his single "Gimme Some More" is widely renowned by Hip Hop critics for the impeccability of his annunciation despite the lightning speed of his delivery.

Not all great Hip Hop is lyrical, either. Some of the genre's best music can be found through instrumental tracks, involving a DJ scratching rhythmically on turntables to a beat and bass line. When listening to "Holy Calamity" by Handsome Boy Modeling School, even the most inexperienced Hip Hop listener can appreciate the advanced skill level of DJ Shadow during the four-minute turntable solo. The song also has a complex structure as in other forms of music; there is a defined verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus format, despite the song not having any spoken lyrics.

In being unfairly grouped with Rap, Hip Hop has gone largely under the radar for many American music lovers disenfranchised with FM rap. Some of the key Hip Hop greats have accused modern rappers of ruining the appeal of the genre for new listeners with the classlessness of their music and lyrics. The main gripe of Hip Hoppers is Rap's domination of pop radio due to its club appeal, while the musical eccentricity and uniqueness of Hip Hop gets very little radio and club play. In an interview on a West Coast Hip Hop radio show, widely-renowned MC Snoop Dogg publicly criticized Soulja Boy, a current trendy Rap artist, on the simplicity of his music. Classic Hip Hopper Ice-T also followed Dogg's example with a similar attack on Soulja Boy, saying the 17-year-old rapper "singlehandedly killed Hip Hop."

While it's still a relatively new genre in America, and a completely new genre for lots of people, Hip Hop deserves its elite place in the hearts of music lovers along with Jazz, Funk, Soul, and R&B music. It's time Hip Hop be recognized by the popular music community, radio stations, and music lovers everywhere as a legitimate musical art form. As Naughty By Nature said 15 years ago,

"I live and die for Hip Hop,
This is Hip Hop for today.
I give props to Hip Hop,
So Hip Hop Hooray, Ho!",

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