Thursday, December 9th, 2004

Robert Johnson, Rockism, and Hip-Hop Crate-Diggers

Let me now sing the praises of Elijah Wald, whose book Escaping The Delta (the paperback version is out next month) is just an amazing thing. Wald turns rockist history on its side–basically, his job is to take apart the making of the myth of Robert Johnson.

In doing so, he offers a really compelling read of how race and rockism (that is, before it was rockism–maybe more like folkism or blues-ism) came together to distort what we understand to be the history of the blues. At the same time, he restores the context for the way Southern black audiences appreciated the blues during Johnson’s time, overturning a lot of sacred cows and dirtying a lot of sacred texts on the way. It reads as an “alt-history”, but it feels wrong to call it that when the Richards/Clapton/McCartney version of blues history is what got canonized.

Read it yourself and holla back, but let me just drop these paragraphs on you–from the climax of the book, a chapter called “The Blues Cult: Primitive Folk Art and The Roots of Rock”–and you might see how Wald’s worldview touches on many raging questions, like:

+ Is crate-digging and funk or hip-hop nostalgia inherently conservative or progressive?

+ Just how important are packaged reissues–like, say, that wack 100%/200%/300% Dynamite series on Soul Jazz or even the brilliant Blood & Fire label–to our understanding of music?

+ How does whiteness, specifically the New York and the London versions, affect North American urban hipsterism and its aesthetic ideal of “what’s real”?

+ What the fuck was the deal with My Bloody Valentine anyway?

This chapter talks about how, during the 1950s and 1960s, blues history gets rewritten by white folks in New York and London. First some explanatory notes. The “neo-ethnic” movement was a group of white folkies led by David Van Ronk in Greenwich Village during the Beat era who started playing “country blues” in cafes. Harry Smith’s anthology is still regarded as godhead on 12 sides. John Hammond was, along with Alan Lomax, one of the brilliant white cultural progressives of his time–as an A+R he was a big Johnson supporter, and went on to champion everyone from Billie Holiday to Bob Dylan to Aretha Franklin to Bruce Springsteen. But in the book Wald argues that there was a downside to his legacy as well. Anyway, uh chekkidout:

The neo-ethnic movement was nourished by a spate of LP reissues that for the first time made it possible to find hillbilly and country blues recordings in white, middle-class, urban stores. The bible was Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music…Smith was specifically interested in the oldest and most-rural sounding styles, and set a pattern for any future folk-blues reissue projects by intentionally avoiding any artist who seemed consciously modern or commercial…

Far from balancing this taste, the other record collectors tended to be even more conservative. Much as they loved the music, they were driven by the same mania for rarity that drives collectors of old stamps or coins, and many turned up their noses at Jefferson or the Carters, since those records were common. (Ed. note: Like Rick James, bitch!) To such men, the perfect blues artist was someone like Son House or Skip James, an unrecognized genius whose 78s had sold so badly that at most one or two copies survived. Since the collectors were the only people with access to the original records or any broad knowledge of the field, they functioned to a great extent as gatekeepers of the past and had a profound influence on what the broader audience heard. (Ed. note: Like Freestyle Fellowship or Bun B, bitch!) By emphasizing obscurity as a virtue unto itself, they essentially turned the hierarchy of blues-stardom upside-down: The more records an artist had sold in 1928, the less he or she was valued in 1958.

This fit nicely with the beat aesthetic, and indeed with the whole mythology of modern art. While Shakespeare had been a favorite playwright of the Elizabethan court, and Rembrandt had been portraitist to wealthy Amsterdam, the more recent idols were celebrated for their rejections: Van Gogh had barely sold a painting in his lifetime, The Rite of Spring had caused a riot, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road had been turned down by a long string of publishers. Where jazz had once been regarded as a popular style, a new generation of fans applauded Miles Davis for turning his back on the audience and insisting that his music speak for itself, while deriding Louis Armstrong as a grinning Uncle Tom. On the folk-blues scene, Van Ronk and his peers regarded anything that smacked of showmanship as a betrayal of the true tradition, a lapse into the crowd-pleasing fakery of the Weavers and Josh White. As he would later recall with some amusement, “If you weren’t staring into the sound-hole of your instrument, we thought you should at least have the decency and self-respect to start at your shoes.”

As in John Hammond’s Carnegie Hall (Ed. note: a concert called Spirituals to Swing that packaged a grand narrative of black music), art was opposed to entertainment…

…Clapton and the Stones were the first pop stars ever to insist that they were playing blues…that was the sound they loved: no horns, no string sections, no girls going “oo-wah”–just slashing guitars and wailing harmonica.

Then the English kids flew across the Atlantic, bringing the gospel home. And they did something unprecedented: Unlike the hundres of white blues singers before them…they took it upon themselves to edcated their audience. “Our aim was to turn other people on to Muddy Waters,” Keith Richards would later say. “We were carrying flags, idealistic teenage sort of shit: There’s no way we think anybody is really going to seriously listen to us. As long as we can get a few people interested in listening to the shit we think they ought to listen to…”

In other words, my crate-digging, Wax Poetics-loving, hiphopcrit bredren, be careful what you wish for. You might actually win!

+ Gotta mention this too: Nate Patrin’s got a new blog and the most bugged out version of “Apache” ever–in video, no less!

posted by @ 9:46 am | 32 Comments

32 Responses to “Robert Johnson, Rockism, and Hip-Hop Crate-Diggers”

  1. M says:

    points taken, to a degree, but let me ask: is that version of blues history STILL in effect? I think not–if the “Jefferson” he refers to is Blind Lemon (insert Mao joke here if you like, har har), and “the Carters” the Family, then the work of a handful of snobs 40-50 years ago has been overturned, because they’re both happily ensconsed in the canon.

    also, I like the Dynamite! series–is your dismissal of them based on extra-musical grounds or do you just dislike them as compilations, too? I’m guessing some of both but leaning toward the former.

  2. Anonymous says:

    “Is crate-digging and funk or hip-hop nostalgia inherently conservative or progressive?”

    If you are talking Darge-style digging, it’s conservative. If you dig across genres and expose people to styles they aren’t expecting, then I think progressive. Everything has been done in music. Name an innovation or technique… it’s been done. Therefore, what might be thought of as “progressive”, in these times, is simply exposing people to new styles. After all, that’s all the original artist was doing to begin with…. just “playing” new music for people. Maybe we should think of “new” as being relative to the listener, not the historian.

    Let me ask: What is a more progressive experience for the typical radio-fed teenager of today… listening to Sun Ra or TV On The Radio? Or how about Toaster in the Microwave? Or Toad the Wet Sprocket? Or licking my wet socket?

  3. David says:

    Um, listening to the radio would be the more progressive choice, actually.

    “everything’s been done”? Gimme a break.

    Jeff – what did you mean by putting Bun-B with Freestyle Fellowship – Bun-B is very popular regionally.

  4. Anonymous says:


    Tell me a song that you consider progressive or innovative from the last five years. I will attempt to match that song with a similar one from at least five years prior.

  5. wayne&wax says:

    two more essential sources for this conversation:

    francis davis’s “history of the blues”:
    (which is currently being bundled with the wald book)

    benjamin filene’s “romancing the folk”:
    (which is bundled with cantwell’s book, “when we were good,” which also provides good critical perspective)

    happy reading!

  6. wayne&wax says:

    another interesting question:

    how do certain urban versions of whiteness and blackness (as inherently relational products) combine to produce the notion of the real? which is more influential ultimately?

    see also, this incisive piece by mr. race rebels:
    Robin D. G. Kelley, “Notes on Deconstructing ‘The Folk,'” American Historical Review 97 (December 1992): 1400-08.

    you can try to get it here:
    (won’t work for me, though)

    the larger conversation in that issue of AHR, to which Kelley trenchantly responds, is worth reading in its entirety. find it all on jstor, if you have access.


  7. ronnie brown says:

    seeing how the term urban is a euphemism for any manifestation of African-American culture and “whiteness” being a socially constructed category to unify European ethnics against Black folk, what is an “urban version of whiteness”???

  8. Jeff says:

    Whoa. You spend a day on home improvements and the convo gets really really good. Thanks yall.

    Just to add back in…I should make clear that Wald is super-nuanced (there’s that word again). I’m super appreciative that even while he’s over there skewering sacred cows he’s admitting that as a blues guitarist with a romantic streak, he himself spent years hitchhiking around the South playing for anyone who would hear his stuff–in an effort to replicate his white guy’s dream of the Delta blues–and that his aesthetic has been indelibly shaped by the mythology he’s taking down a notch.

    I appreciate it cause that’s basically how I feel about hip-hop–and with my own thing coming out soon, I’m super sensitive to the idea of fixing a narrative on history and what might result. Plus, I was out there 10 years ago with a super post-teenage idealistic Freestyle Fellowship and UGK fist pumped in the faces of east coast-centric MFs on some old “I’m independent and I’m feeling myself bitch!” type shit. So yeah that post goes out to me.

    Lots to comment on:

    Double M: yeah, good point, on the Carters and Blind Lemon. Wald’s ability to do the book prolly rests as much on the fact of the pendulum swinging back in the past decade as anything else. Tho it is interesting that Wald hasn’t appeared in Tracks yet.

    And frankly, I don’t dig the Dynamite series for the same reason the blues 78 diggers didn’t dig Blind Lemon. I don’t like the way they mashup reggae history, the tracklists are pretty obvious and I don’t think they do a particularly good job of educating. But in my case, that might mean indoctrination. Call me a reggae Stalinist or uh, Maoist, and Soul Jazz gets the icepick. (Some Communist humor there, hoo ha.) I actually dig a lot of their stuff, just not the Dynamites.

    Anonymous 1: Blogger is wack about identity, so please post your name if you don’t mind. Yo, I go back and forth on this: digging can be progressive because it’s a form of cultural recovery, and it can expose alternative ways of looking at music and therefore the world.

    But it can be conservative when it canonizes a particular kind of aesthetic–because it’s inherently about the past. It freezes a certain kind of nostalgia. By definition, you tend not to dig for stuff that is less than 5 years old.

    In the Anonymous 1 v. David debate, here’s a question: what marks originality? This is the question that Wald asks about Johnson. He hits 60s British and North American whites as totally original, unheard, a break from the past. But Wald finds that Johnson is actually a master stylist–one who is listening to all the stuff of his time, from the “pop” to the “down home blues” and has absorbed all kinds of folks’ singing and playing styles. He tries to argue that Johnson was original, but not in the ways folks thought. He was a tree in a really interesting forest, to mix metaphors.

    Wayne: for us no Jstor-having non-paying students can you rock what those pieces are about?

  9. Jeff says:

    To add another thang, I was kinda equating the way young Brits and Americans in the 60s idolized Robert Johnson and obscure “country blues” artists with the way us True Schoolers were championing regional stars like FF and UGK in the mid-90s as an alternative aesthetic to the mainstream stuff.

    But maybe it’s more accurate–and much less comfortable, I know it is for me–to compare it to the way we’ve gone crazy for defunct post-JB funk bands from the late 60s and early 70s who recorded in their garage with one mic and sold 100 45s from the local Abilene headshop before getting married and finding real jobs.

    Just to put it out there and be a little more explicit: is diggerism a form of rockism?

    OK, now this convo could really start to hurt.

  10. wayne&wax says:

    a few points:

    i usually understand “whiteness” not as an attempt on the part of euro-descended folk to unify, but as a way (for others, and non-complicit whiteys) to name what too often goes unnamed: the socially-constructed racial identity of those in power. while “blackness” was on the table for a long time, and often used in degrading ways, “whiteness” was allowed to operate invisibly, as the norm against which everything else was defined. (barthes calls this exnomination.) it wasn’t until cultural studies critics started deconstructing/naming whiteness that the term itself emerged and, henceforth, could be used to locate the operation of (discursive) racialist power. whiteness and blackness, as ronnie suggests, are socially constructed concepts, which is not to say that they don’t have “real” effects in the world. (incidentally, transition’s “white issue” of a few years back is a good primer on “whiteness” studies:

    as for “urban,” it’s not always a euphemism for “black” (though it often is, especially in London and when referring to, say, radio demographics). sometimes urban simply signifies the city, as opposed to the rural, which is not to say that even these categories are often “constructed.”

    this is what robin kelley is getting at in his “notes on deconstructing the folk.” he argues that “the folk” (similar to “the real”) is a romantic category created in the metropoles/urban-spaces to name/reify the social groups outside of these spaces. i’d have to dig up the article and re-read it to present the nuances of his argument. but the gist is that: there is no folk–just an imagined community from the outside (and perhaps the inside, too; though outsider- and self-representations can be difficult to extricate).

    davis, filene, and (from what jeff says) wald also seem to follow this thesis: rockists/hipsters/critics/metropolitans/etc. have consistently constructed mythified versions of blues/folk/jazz histories, which tend to value the authenticity of expressions they see as pre-modern, emotional, licentious, pure, etc. these authors, commendably, seek to add nuance to the histories as they simultaneously deconstruct the major myths that have clouded their interpretation.

    sorry ’bout the jargon. once we get into the realm of the “real” and socially-constructed racial categories, however, i find the language of cultural studies helpful.


  11. Anonymous says:

    Those “Anonymous” posts were me, Eric.

    I think it is important to realize that most white people involved with that hardcore funky DJ thing…
    a) would like their whiteness to not get in the way
    b) often carry mythical notions of Black authenticity
    c) genuinely respect and admire Black culture
    d) don’t fully understand the Black experience.

    I feel white fans have certain tendencies
    a) listen to what Black people do
    b) find artists concerned with “authenticity”
    c) enjoy music, ignore lyrics
    d) ignore black music because of its “directness”

    I think it is important to divide music into its fundamental elements
    a) musical qualities
    b) personal experience
    c) group experience and morality
    d) spiritual experience

    My problem with hip hop is that (a) is always bangin. yet (b-d) are so lacking. Are white people to blame for this? I think the blame can be split. But underlying this, I think, is a desire ON BOTH SIDES to maintain a certain authenticity of Blackness (read: not necessarily white hegemony). Sadly, I feel this is contrary to the origins/essence of the music. I listen almost exclusively to “Black” music because it is more likely to satisfy (a-d), and especially (d). And it is (d) that I feel is most unique to Black music and yet is the element least dependent upon notions of race.

    And I think the reason for this is simple. The experience of Black folks in the New World was such that those vital needs (a-d) sought refuge in music, and fused in the music, and thus the capacity of the music grew and grew, until it could house every modern genre of music. And then it was so big that people all over the world sought shelter in this house. And pretty soon people were arguing over which room was theirs. And people were squatting and pimping and cavorting. And then the police came and beat everyone up and dragged away the hookers. And eventually everyone had to leave the house because people forgot how miserable things outside the house were. and some people thought there might be other big houses outside. But there weren’t any other big houses. In fact, most of the other houses were quite small.


  12. ronnie brown says:

    Wayne&Wax, for the sake of clarity, we need to limit the definition of “urban” to the context in which this term is being discussed…Black culture and Black people. As much as i dig Robin Kelly, “The Folk”, whether it be in the form of a white supremacist social order (where “whiteness” was…and is being used to unify European ethnics to control the Black population) or Blackness/Black people being branded as the “outsider” or the “other” is a very real entity, with its effect upon each other is as real as real gets. Sometimes i think people use the notion of “race as a social construction” as a way to try to avoid coming to grips with America’s horrific racist legacy and white folks part in it.

    How else can you explain the white man’s obsession with “authenticity” and propensity for myth making. He can’t live with the social order he himself has created. He has to reconcile the obvious inspiration he has received from Black culture with his self-styled notions of being “superior” to Black people in general…He looks to Black folk for “realness” because his own self-definition is so fake…If you’re really want the real, you gots to put ALL the cards on the table…

  13. wayne&wax says:

    damn–got this conversation all up in my brain now.

    just got back from breakfast with my wife, where i kept wondering, what is so ‘urban’ about her omelette. finally, she said, “no, no. it’s an herb-and-swiss omelette.” yikes.

    anyway, i appreciate the clarification, ronnie. though i do still think there is something distinctive about urban life that goes beyond the pattern of white cultural appropriation. the population density of cities and their, pardon the term, multicultural (and therefore intercultural) character, i would argue, creates conditions for cross-racial experience that tends to underline sameness and give the lie to the big racist myths. so sometimes i think there is a genuinely subversiveness (vis-a-vis the mainstream american status quo) in city life–call it cosmopolitanism, unless that’s too dirty a word–that transcends the fetish character of hipsterism. [which might be one reason that bush didn’t win in any city over 500,000.]

    and i can see how toting the socially-constructed character of race carries the danger of letting people off the hook for the continued effects of racism. even so, challenging the common sense belief that race is a product of nature (as opposed to “second nature”) seems like an important step, if only for some people.

    at any rate, this is not to deny your major points. there is perhaps nothing so inauthentic as white supremacy (and by extension, white identity), and i think you are right to note that the myth of authenticity–and its attachment to blackness–grows out of a white anxiety about the falseness of racialized difference. not to get all confessional and shit, but i definitely felt this growing up: the whiteness to which my identity was reduced always felt fake/empty compared to the “core” identities of blacks, latinos, jews, etc. of course, having grown up with all kinds of kids, it was obvious to me that such labels–despite their accuracy in predicting one’s ability to navigate society smoothly (e.g., the real effects of racial ideology)–were imposed by self-delusional adults who either lacked intimate cross-racial experience or had forgotten its lessons because racism seemed a more appealing (and easy) explanation for the state of things.

    at the same time, i think it is important to recognize–as with the book that inspired this thread–that there is more nuance to the story, and that in fact it is the nuance that undermines the myth. to this end, i’ll add one more book to the list:

    “lying up a nation: race and black music,” by ron radano:

    radano is my dissertation advisor, so let me recognize my biases right away. still, i find his perspective to be deeply illuminating. in this book, radano investigates the formation of the american concept of “black music” in the 17th-19th centuries. he shows that the concept of black music itself–which, as this conversation demonstrates, so deeply informs our very sense of ourselves–emerges out of white representations (who else was writing about it?), which are inherently suspect, as well as black appropriations of this twisted racialist logic in the service of liberation, self-formation, and good ol’ exchange value. in recognizing the messy, complex evolution of the concept, radano underscores the discursive emergence of blackness in the ambivalence of early american racial encounter. i find his perspective provocative and profound, radical and righteous. (though, i should admit, it’s a bit on the academic side, which is bound to exclude some readers.) at any rate, radano lays bare the historical construction of the myth of authenticity (and indicts white supremacy, and recognizes black creativity, and underscores interracial contact, in the process), which is as valuable a contribution to american music scholarship as any.

  14. ronnie brown says:

    Wayne & Wax,
    Don’t front on confession; it really is good for the soul…Bottom line, “Blackness” as a concept was created as our response to the white man’s degradation of our culture and the violent exploitation of our people..If we had been allowed to “just be”, the natural cross-cultural interaction and mutual enrichment would have not been interrupted and we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

    The moment so-called white people determined that they would be the center of the social universe, pushing Black folk in particular and people of color in general to the margins, you immediately disrupted the law of synergy: The simultaneous action of separate agencies which TOGETHER have a GREATER TOTAL EFFECT than the sum of their individual effects. Mankind was made to function as a COOPERATIVE entity…white supremacy/racism (or any other ethnic group self- exaltation or isolation for that matter) is a monstrous violation of the synergistic nature of society. The white man’s never ending search for “realness” will end when he decides to eat a slice of humble pie and re-integrate himself back into the human family…no greater and no worse than any other Homosapien.

  15. wayne&wax says:

    word. i can’t improve on or argue with that.

    i can only hope, humbly, to shift the so-called center through my own scholarship, music-making, and inter-personal contacts.


  16. Anonymous says:

    word to the third.

    the great irony of people gleaning authenticity off Black music is that, as a whole, it covers the entire musical spectrum and is characterized by the way it continually shifted and morphed.


  17. ronnie brown says:

    Your interpersonal contact and aggressive engagement of passive and reactionary white folk will be the greatest contribution that shift…The difference between white folk who jumped into the civil rights movement with both feet and the “non-complicit whiteys” of the present day is that the white people of the civil rights era were willing to accept the rejection and opposition of their own friends and neighbors; they put their lives and occupations on the line (people forget that the KKK lynched and bombed white dissenters too) while for the most part, “non-complicit whiteys” retreat into Black organizations, selfishly enjoy Black people and culture, even go so far as to marry into Black families!…without bearing the burden of confronting their own communities!…basically pontificating from the sidelines while the David Horowitz, Bill O’Riley types and Heritage Foundation talking heads go unchallenged…if you want to win in this game, the watchword is: no pain, no gain!…who’s willin’ to pay the price?

    I appreciate the honesty of your 2:02pm post.

  18. David says:

    Tell me a song that you consider progressive or innovative from the last five years. I will attempt to match that song with a similar one from at least five years prior.I can’t imagine I will win this game bcuz when it comes down to it I’ll say “Lil Jon” and you’ll say “Miami Bass.” But I honestly believe that lil jon’s current sound, and his aesthetic as a whole (his music aesthetic, not the aesthetic of the character he plays, althoug they are tied together) are wholly unique; much like jeff describes robert johnson (and I know some ppl won’t like hearing that comparison but ironically it works perfectly) Lil Jon pulled in influences from all over the map – miami bass being one of the more prominent sounds, but also dancehall, a very gothic memphis sound, the pop-infused sonics that came from house/techno (see philip sherburne’s article in the NY Times from last week) and even the influences of screw music in houston (see “Da Blow” from his new album).

    But if you’re going to say that everything he has done has been done before, I have to disagree; if you want to be reductive it is true, but you can say that about any musician in history, argue that they are only the sum of their influecnes. And that would be a fairly good argument but it doesn’t back up the idea that all music that can be done has been done.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for taking me up on the offer David. I’m not trying to compete with you. My challenge was mostly a test of my own music knowledge. I was hoping to get one specific song. I’ll admit, Lil Jon might actually be difficult. He combines a number of different styles.

    I definitely agree that it’s all a matter of degree and how reductive one wants to be. But let us remember that music does go from folk singers to orchestras. To an alien, hip hop might look like football.

    I certainly can’t promise identical twins, but I’d like to give it a shot. One of the reasons why Lil Jon sounds unique is simply that he uses sythesizers that are not so common in hip hop. But yeah, he is definitely bringing something new to hip hop. I definitely agree on those influences you mention. Lil Jon was in Scratch #2.

    For me the challenge is to do a song-for-song match. I must admit, with Lil Jon it might take two songs. On that note, certain Madlib songs might be difficult. Ladytron or Ratatat might be tricky. But don’t pick Dizzee Rascal… I could just slap a ragga/jungle acapella over Prefuse 73 and be done with it. Also, it would seem like someone outside of 4/4 rock/rap/techno would be more likely to sound unique, right?

    But anyway, I’m just trying to have fun with it. People are always so concerned with being new and original and progressive and sounding like nobody else. But nobody ever says to a beautiful woman… “You look just like this other beautiful woman I saw… you aren’t beautiful anymore.”

    Or as Evidence rhymed, “Emcees flop, trying to be new instead of classic.”

    On a side note, I do think music history is winding down a little. The rate of change seems to be slowing to a creeping halt. But more on that later…

    If you do have a unique song… drop it like it’s not. Er, I mean drop it like it’s hot!



  20. David says:

    Yeah i didn’t mean to come across as being hostile, sorry about that!

    Judging from a lot of the music I’ve heard this year, the development of post-hip-hop music everywhere (desi, kwaito, favela funk, grime, reggaeton, etc. and there’s no question, with reggaeton and dancehall and even bhangra hitting the charts, that this stuff is influential) I think if anything i’m getting the impression that everything is actually accellerating rather than the opposite; and this is sped along further by the “small world” syndrom, the fact that ppl can discover different kinds of music so much more quikly via the internet etc.

    There’s an mp3 up there from my top ten list, produced by lil jon; its called “FILA” and I think it is one of the best songs recorded by anyone this year.

  21. Jeff says:

    yo, you’re so on point. i went on a lil jon jag this weekend–it’s good music to clean and move house shit to–because of “crunk juice” and went back through all his records and realized again that lots of my favorite underground singles–like say, “white tee”, not to mention all the new bay rap shit–are just eastside boys circa 2000-1.

    it was exactly like that moment 10 years ago when i realized volume 10 was all about ugk in “pistol grip pump”. it’s great to get a big ass slap upside the head like that every once in a while.

    different topic, well maybe the same, but i think folks who dis lil jon are like folks who used to dis too short–they say he’s reducing the standards for everyone or that they “just don’t get him”, even though his influence is all around.

  22. Anonymous says:

    David… Thanks for being a good sport. I’m definitely up on Lil Jon productions. I’m gonna withhold comments on the lyrics for the sake of civility. That said, I’m gonna give it a shot and try to match the song.

    In a sense, I think you are right about the “acceleration”, but I think it might also be the acceleration of hair splitting.

    Let me put some historical context on this. The first prominent rappers were Jamaican guys in the late 1960s, like King Stitt and U-Roy. Modular compositions with tight syncopation between drum and the bass, with guitar/keys playing an often secondary function, were standard in reggae in the mid-1970s. Guys were doing remixes, adding and dropping tracks, isolating drum and bass. This was a major shift away from the melody-dominated tradition of guitars/piano, and singing-based songwriting and performance.

    Following parallel to this shift were electronic artists such as Kraftwerk, who laid the foundation for techno, which solidified into it’s narrowly defined genres by the early 1990s, with Bhangra being the notable exception. Although I would consider Bhangra to be firmly in line with these other genres.

    I guess there is always a notion of “progressive”. But if one follows music history from folk to opera to free jazz to gospel to doo wop… the difference between Lil Scrappy “FILA” and Trickeration “Bounce Rock Skate” might, to the contemporary observer, seem dramatic. If we narrow our survey to the genres of hip hop and techno, then it might appear that things are steadily evolving. But let’s put some more perspective on this. After all, change is relative.

    The shift from singing to rapping over rhythm-based music was firmly established in Jamaica in the 1970s. In the U.S. it was established in the early 1980s.

    The major branches of “electronica” — electro, house, techno, trance, jungle, etc — were firmly established by the late 1980s and early 1990s. Let us also note that techno music — especially house — bears enormous resemblance to disco (uptempo 4/4 instrumental dance music).

    My point here is that it’s all about perspective. When I say the progression seems to be slowing to a halt, I mean relative to historical shifts. Let us remember that Michael Jackson wasn’t even allowed on MTV for awhile. Elvis Presley was thought scandalous for gyrating his hips while wearing a full suit. If someone had told me in 1986 that a group would rap about their favorite shoes over a 4/4 drum machine beat, I would have pointed out that Run DMC already did that song.

    I guess it is ironic that you mentioned “F.I.L.A.”, since it clearly refers to a song from about 20 years ago. Although I do admit that Lil Jon would have made a great character on Star Trek.

    Anyway, I’ll see what I can do about matching the non-lyrical style of “FILA”, if that is the song you want me to match.

  23. Anonymous says:


  24. David says:

    My point here is that it’s all about perspective. When I say the progression seems to be slowing to a halt, I mean relative to historical shifts.I’m not sure i understand what yr getting at.

  25. ronnie brown says:

    let’s not overthink this thing…music in all its permutations is a layer upon layer process…one era builds or modifies the work laid down by previous generation…every crate digger has his own bias in regard to what era was “most creative”, “most innovative”. there are only so many musical notes…but the arrangement of those notes is endless.

  26. Anonymous says:

    To summarize, I believe dramatic shifts like the emergence of entirely new genres such as hip hop and or techno are over and that the broadest boundaries of what is possible with music are essentially defined and will no longer expand. This is a fundamental change from only 30 years ago, when music was still somewhat unexplored and boundaries were still being pushed. I see free jazz as the zenith and innovation/progression as slowing down ever since.

    To me the difference between “Rapper’s Delight” and “FILA” is a lot smaller than the difference between Sugarhill Gang and just about any artist from 25 years prior (1955, mind you). That is what I base my comments on. Of course, it that’s just my H.O.

    Sorry for being longwinded. You want me to match “FILA”?

  27. ronnie brown says:

    so the expansion of musical creativity has reached its zenith and is now on the downstroke within your lifetime?…all this before (i’m assuming) your 30th birthday???…whew!

  28. Anonymous says:

    but i’m not complaining! I couldn’t have picked a better time to be reincarnated as a hardcore music fan. I guess heaven, for me, would be getting locked in Amoeba records with 10,000 cans of Trader Joe’s lentil soup. Sustenance for a lifetime.


  29. David says:

    eric yr craaaaazy.

  30. Anonymous says:

    i know

  31. CR8DGR says:

    Come to – If you are not satisfied with your order, hit me up after you received your order at , and I’ll give you $6.50. (the average price of 12″ on any other site)

    Best Regards,
    DIG IT!

  32. Jay says:

    I Digg!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Previous Posts

Feed Me!






Come follow me now...


We work with the Creative Commons license and exercise a "Some Rights Reserved" policy. Feel free to link, distribute, and share written material from for non-commercial uses.

Requests for commercial uses of any content here are welcome: come correct.

Creative Commons License