Friday, June 15th, 2007

USA TODAY: Can rap regain its crown?

Cover story on USA TODAY: Can rap regain its crown?

Response from Hip-Hop World: Yawn.

posted by @ 8:09 am | 12 Comments

12 Responses to “USA TODAY: Can rap regain its crown?”

  1. easportski says:

    what an entirely predictable story. there’s no proveable link between record sales and musical quality, although it is interesting that mims’ ringtone sales exceeded his single’s sales by 2/3rds and his album sales by 1.7 million

    the key quote is buried at the end:
    The upside for rap, Kitwana says, is that so much of it “remains off the mainstream radar. You never know when hip-hop is going to reinvent itself, or when something operating out on the fringe is going to emerge and become the next new thing.”

  2. Zentronix says:

    right, bakari came with the only context as usual…

  3. eric says:

    It seems people assume the rate of musical change witnessed from the 1960s to the 1990s should somehow be a new constant rate of change. That is simply unrealistic and the evidence supports this. There is not enough room in music theory (or human culture) for a new genre every ten years.

    The color spectrum has its limits. You can’t add new colors. There are limits to all creative endeavors. Creativity doesn’t imply endlessness, it simply means many different paths to a destination.

    I agree the music sales are a bad indicator. But it’s true that hip hop just went straight garbage on us. Trust me, I listen to it. And it’s garbage now.

    I also gotta take a point with Bakari’s comment. Hip Hop is not going to reinvent itself, and it shouldn’t even try. To the artists: just make some decent music, regardless of how “new” it is. Just make some good music. You gotta master the art before you can change it. Most guys these days don’t even do their homework.

    I also think the whole “I can make music without really knowing anything about music or scales or how to play an instrument” is really coming back to haunt hip hop culture. Yes, there are benefits and strengths from having a mostly non-theory-based music culture, but it also has drawbacks.

    Again, the evidence speaks for itself.

  4. easportski says:

    “There is not enough room in music theory (or human culture) for a new genre every ten years.”

    actually i disagree, for the simple fact that music theory has taken a backseat to technology as the driving force for sonicultural evolution since the ’60s, when moog and roland came on the scene. jimi hendrix, for example, couldnt read music, yet he developed the octoplex and did things with distortion and feedback that more technical players couldn’t grasp. (for that matter, robert johnson couldnt read music, either– he may not have been able to read at all). the limitations people like marley marl and rza worked with and were able to overcome contributes to their greatness. in their cases, knowing music theory might have actually have been a detriment to their creative process — they learned through feel and trial and error.

    given the rate at which technology is moving now, we could conceivably have a new genre every ten minutes (depending on your definition of genre). the “rate of change” you mention is cycling faster than ever before, and technology is the driving force behind this.

    “The color spectrum has its limits. You can’t add new colors.”

    true, but i don’t think hip-hop was ever about trying to add new colors, just mix up the ones that were already there in a different way.

    “I agree the music sales are a bad indicator. But it’s true that hip hop just went straight garbage on us.”

    is that true? or did the music industry go “straight garbage” on us? we shouldn’t confuse organically-created art with mass-produced consumerism, which is exactly what the USA Today guy does.

    a lot of times this comes down to indie vs. major where hip-hop is concerned. for instance, when def jam was an indie, they were innovative. but what was the last truly innovative release on this label since they became part of the borg? on the other hand, i could point to numerous recent indie hip-hop albums (too many to list) which are strong and vital, yet don’t have the commercial pressures which result in homogenization and predictable cliche.

    i don’t think the problem is lack of music theory, which is kind of tangential at best when the issue being discussed is really the cultural validity and relevance of the music to pop culture, and if sales are the only or best indicator of that. if you want a genre with reams of music theory (and even poorer sales), listen to jazz.

    i’m not convinced that hip-hop artists knowing music theory would change the restrictions of commercial radio formats, increase sales, or force major labels to take more chances with creative-minded artists. in fact, i’m almost sure that it would have no effect whatsoever on those things.

    to me the argument is really about culture theory vs. commercial theory. and if you’re gonna say “the evidence speaks for itself,” the least you can do is provide some evidence, which you have neglected to do in your post.

  5. O.W. says:

    “There is not enough room in music theory (or human culture) for a new genre every ten years.”

    Yeah but hip-hop’s been around for 30. High time for something new! 🙂

  6. eric says:

    Let me just say it’s an honor to be quoted and replied in such detail.

    1. Technology. While I do agree that digital technology took music to a level it could never reach with analog/electric instruments, technology is still a means, not an end. Music must still conform to the basic components of rhythm, melody, harmony/timbre. Reggaeton is the only new “genre”

    2. Semantics. True, my argument boils down to the meaning of “genre”. To me, a genre is defined by the general MUSICAL character of the instrumental or both instument/voice. Reggaeton, is a good example of a half-way genre. It clearly owes almost all of its rhythmic basis to ragga (hence, the name). But it does flip it.

    3. Lyrics vs Music. My view is that music comes first. If the music isn’t compelling, it doesn’t matter what the person is saying. That said, I think we can all agree that we would prefer to hear non-ignorant lyrics for the most part.

    4. Theory. To elaborate, I believe hip hop artists need something to build upon. At the very least, a hip hop artist that has a theory background would be DIFFERENT. In the late 1970s, almost all musicians knew theory because THEY PLAYED INSTRUMENTS. In that climate, hip hop was different and it provided a much needed grassroots feel, but the music was still very much based on the existing theoretical music tradition. And don’t kid yourself… Hendrix was quite adept at music theory. You can’t play the guitar like that and not know theory scales. The dude was a backing musician for the Isley Bros and Little Richard. Think about it.

    5. Indie v Major. If you can give examples of compelling new hip hop, PLEASE DO. This is by far the most appropriate place to provide such a list. I am happy to discuss the evidence. I would post a list of new hip hop that I like, but there isn’t any 🙁

    6. Evidence. By evidence of hip hop (and music, in general) sucking these days, I guess I should say it is by virtue of a LACK of evidence to the contrary 😉

    I appreciate the response, easportski.

    O.W… no doubt, hip hop has been around for awhile now. A change would be nice.

  7. Zentronix says:

    damn you guys all sound older than i actually am.

    a couple of thoughts: i think theory (and a lot of other things) is only as good as it moves.

    i also think theory (and a lot of other things) more often follows practice than the other way around.

    but anyway…

    i’m feeling m.i.a., lifesavas, kanye, common, and any number of local thangz, also digging african rap.

  8. eric says:

    no doubt. theory does follow practice. and it’s gotta move ya. or it don’t mean a thing.

    that said, i try to keep in mind that much soundtrack music is sort classical in orientation.

    ennio morricone, Phillip Glass, but some exceptions are Goblin and Giorgio Gaslini, and David Holmes, and others of course.

    i’m feeling: slum village, sean price, El Michels Affair, akoya afrobeat ensemble, antibalas, and everything from 1968 to 1974.

  9. dubmugga says:

    jacked the article, started a thread and off we went…

    …aotearoa styles,46603.0.html

  10. easportski says:

    this is an interesting thread… if only all music writing was this stimulating… i left for a minute and it appears to have gotten a little cold, but i’ll respond anyway.

    first, here’s what i’m feeling: -the new turf talk: the beats are godzilla-killa slaps, his voice is so unique and his delivery is so varied, it almost proves the point about lyrics not mattering. it’s really how he says it. plus he jacked one of my favorite mantronix songs, “fresh is the word” which is kinda ill when you think about it. whoa! hold up! that’s hip-hop reinventing itself right there!!

    actually, that’s why 1) hyphy is SO hip-hop and 2) hip-hop isnt dead: it continues to reinvent itself with every generation. fuck USA today, they get no biscuits.

    damn, guess i’m really feeling that one. i went off, didn’t i?

    anyway, i also love the new galactic album, which i’ve been lucky enough to hear an advance. not only is it superfunky and a continuation of the n’awlins legacy, but it’s been blessed by almost the entire quannum crew, plus mr. lif, chali 2na, ladybug mecca, z-trip, etc…

    what else: the new A+ album on hiero is worth picking up; zeph +azeem on om is dope; the now again re-sounds on stones throw is ridiculous (especially the cut chemist/MED/LA carnival re-fix and the percee p/Koushik joints)…

    in dancehall, the new mavado lp is killing it…

    also, hella reissues (culture, 70s cuban funk, betty davis); world music (kenge kenge from kenya, viuex farka toure remixes–hott!).

    point being all of the above is on indie labels…

    meanwhile what do we get fromt he majors? a remix of “rehab” featuring jay-z? {{snooz}}

    also about jimi hendrix: i said he couldnt read music (which is true), not that he didn’t know music theory.

    but then “blues theory” and music theory are two entirely different things; one’s based on life experience, the other on academic notation. jimi didnt go to the berklee school of music, he hustled the chitlin circuit with little richard and the isleys.

    my point is that had he been grounded in conventional theory, he might not have innovated to the degree he did. he went outside the grid — just like some of the classic hip-hop producers who got stupid with samplers and drum machines.

    you’d have to invent new theory to incorporate what they did into the music canon, much like how tubby et al. innovated with two-track reels and invented dub (which according to william gibson’s “neuromancer”, cures the malicious effects of technology). anyway…

  11. eric says:


    good to see this still going.

    i do agree about hendrix. i guess what I meant initially wasn’t so much “theory” as simply being able to play an instrument, which to me seems sort of equivalent to knowing theory. That may sound sort of contradictory or simplistic, but we are in an age where most MCs have damn near stripped everything except rhythm from their delivery (which is really outside traditional theory, actually). oh, and the beats are pretty much recycled too, usually by a “producer” who also doesn’t know much about harmony and other valuable components of music “theory”.

    with regard to theory and classical music and how it compares to an artist like hendrix, i like to think that there many classical composers and jazz musicians have been able to combine sophisticated theory with compelling music. Think Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters or Sextant or Changes. Think about Duke Ellington or Curtis Mayfield of Miles Davis. All of these guys had deep backgrounds in theory. They, of course, had the essential rhythms, but they were about so much more than just rhythm and being hip.

    I simply think music standards have gone down. Most music now is geared towards 14 year old kids and I think it shows in the level of sophistication. What about the adults? Why can’t hip hop artists from the Golden Era(s) stay relevant? Why is there no counter-movement against the lack of soul? I think we are seeing a series of hip hop artists unable to reinvent themselves because their lack of musical training simply limits their possibilities.

    I believe that the move away from traditional instruments and live music (and thus theory) is the primary cause.

    just my opinion, though. who knows. maybe it’s just not the time for a renaissance. thanks for keeping the conversation going.

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