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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Rap You Grew Up On

Kev posted a great comment on yesterday's post:
Here's something I've always wondered: In ten years, will there be a classic rap station? Imagine a velvety voice beckoning Gen Y-ers to reminisce upon "the rap you grew up on."

Other than appearing on satellite radio, I doubt this will happen as a format on terrestrial radio.

Full disclosure: I have never been a big fan of rap music. In middle school, when jocks were listening to NWA and wearing Los Angeles Raiders jackets, I was listening to EMF and Cathy Dennis and wearing Stussy shirts. Sure, I saw a lot of Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg's videos in high school, but I've never been very attached to hip-hop and rap. For me, it's too much talking over repetitive beats without a lot of warm melodies.

I know in the world of rock critics and hipsters, hip-hop is an exciting and ever-changing genre. However, I've never gotten into Kanye West, 50 Cent, Common, Ghostface Killah or Missy Elliott. I'm a melody fan deep down and I just don't hear that in their material. No matter how many strings and pianos Jon Brion put on Late Registration, I still only hear monotone talking over and over again.

That said, I'm probably a little off in this assessment, but knowing what I know, rap is not meant for a nostalgia format.

Listening to older hip-hop and rap is like watching old episodes of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. If you lived through that time and paid close attention to the media, you'd get what Carson was talking about. However, so much of what he's talking about is lost on later generations. Talking about specific people like Michael Spinks or Geraldine Ferraro and topics like the Cold War were about what was going then. However, we don't hear about that stuff in the headlines now, so what makes me think that younger generations are going to know or even care?

When lyrics describe a specific time and place in the past, I can't help but think that if I lived through that, I'd know what the writer was talking about. However, if I wasn't, what could I relate to? What does "911 is a Joke" mean to people now? What does "Burn Hollywood Burn" mean to people now? For me, they are specific snapshots of a time and place, but does that necessarily translate into nostalgia fodder? Not for me. The music is always the key and when the music is more samples, drum machines and breaks than anything else, what can I get out of that musically?

While I was in college, I heard a few club bangers of the day. I'm talking about those songs that you hear in heavy rotation in the clubs and on the radio until the point of submission. For me, I heard Lil' Troy's "Wanna Be a Baller" and Master P's "Make 'Em Say 'Ughhh'" enough times to safely say that I don't ever want to hear those songs again. Too repetitive, too hypnotic and (once again) not very melodic to my ears.

I forget who called hip-hop this, but hip-hop is like CNN with their coverage of "what's really going on." That said, I think hip-hop is a crucial form of expression. As a form of music, the palette is almost completely limitless. However, devoting a whole channel to older hip-hop would be almost like re-airing old CNN stories. They are crucial moments in time that are specific to what all was going on at the time. Nostalgia formats usually smooth out the intensity of the times for entertainment value.

Hip-hop is about what's going on now in a very specific way. However, there are reasons why a song like Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" still works: it's timeless. From the instrumentation to the lyrics, I still get chills whenever I hear these songs. In the case of "What's Going On," the lyrics were inspired by a certain time and place, but they are as relevant today as they were back in the in '70s. I can't say the same about "Wanna Be a Baller" or even "Fight the Power."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I teach elementary music. I discuss rap as a form of music and a way of music evolving. Then, when I play Beethoven's 5th Symphony and a student recognizes it from a commercial or video game, I'll say."Isn't that great? almost 200 years later, we are stil using and enjoying Beethoven's music. Do you think that will hapen with Rap? The funny thing, many of the students say, "No"!