Thursday, 15 December 2011

Hip Hop

Right, so I've had stuff on audio programming and programming, but that still leaves audio itself.  I'm sure a break from digital signal processing is called for.

So I guess that's where the post title comes in.  Hip-hop is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and mislabelled genres, and I definitely had preconceptions about it up until recently.  In fact, I pretty much ignored it as a genre, up until about a year ago.  Strangely though, years back, I bought Mos Def's "Black on Both Sides", as one of my random buys in HMV.  "Black on Both Sides" was so different to anything I'd heard before - it wasn't commercial, the lyrics dealt with complex issues, the beats were catchy, but not in a tacky way, and Mos Def undeniably demonstrated skill.  Then, for reasons I can't really explain, recently I returned to the genre.  For some reason I'd neglected Black on Both sides, hiding it away in a draw.  This year has been a huge eye opener.

First  I followed up on some of the collaborations on the album.  The great thing with genres like jazz and hip-hop is all the best people usually contribute to each other's stuff.  Talib Kweli was one who I really caught onto, Mos Def (now known as Yasiin Bey) and Talib Kweli actually have an official collaboration called Blackstar.  After that I had a little pause in my musical journey, but I was back into hip-hop.  What triggered off another wave of discoveries was stumbling on J Dilla during aimless youtube browsing.  Possibly my best random discovery.

J Dilla caught me with his incredible production skills, able to cut and splice music and completely transform music into his own creation.  This completely destroyed my preconception that producers basically did no work, just stealing the efforts of real musicians and looping it over and over with a drum track.  Strongly linked to Dilla is Common, another artist who thinks, and from there I found Slum Village (maybe even more underground), Jaylib (a collaboration), MF DOOM, and the incredible Madlib.  Madlib is possibly the only rival to Dilla in terms of production, sadly J Dilla lost his life to lupus, but Madlib has the ability to pretty much match any sample and to a beat and make it work.  He mashes up Indian, African, pretty much anything.

There's so many more on the list, and more importantly, my ears are way more open after these discoveries.  But seeing the skill of good producers has changed my standing point on the use of beats in hip-hop.  Making music from music I guess is a tradition from jazz.  Often jazz musicians take standards, essentially old pop songs, and completely transform them through improvisation.  Hip-hop is really another form of this, taking snippets of recordings and making music from wherever they can.  If you look hard enough, you find artists who use beats rich in their own musical preferences, their own history and culture.

Anyway, I still understand why some react so negatively to hip-hop culture.  Sometimes it's confrontational, or seems overly arrogant.  Sometimes artists rap more about their rapping than anything else.  Sometimes it seems obsessed on drugs and machoism.  I think when these things are overdone I get tired of it too, and seem to be the bane of skilled hip-hop musicians' lives.  Overall the genre is tainted with commercialisation and mediocrity.  Also, often some artists are less than classy when it comes to how they portray these things. But it's important to remember that across time new music has come as a culture shock - I'm thinking how blues was initinially thought too racy but now no-one would raise an eyebrow, and how in rock often drugs and sex feature a lot but don't seem to stir the same reactions.

Finally, perhaps summing up a lot of the things I've said, and maybe damaging a few preconceptions, I'll leave you with De La Soul's "Stakes Is High".

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