Hip Hop/Rap A Few Early AM Thoughts
Contrary to those who would define all African American culture entirely through the lens of Hip Hop, North American Black cultural musical expression has several co-existing historic genres that pre-date and yet fuel Hip Hop and rap. Tied to its Black cultural roots, Hip Hop/Rap is an American blending of expression through the lens of African American culture. Like these co-existing secular and sacred genres(spirituals, blues, jazz, Gospel, R&B, Soul to name a few), Hip Hop/Rap sprang from common folks’ need to “speak to” their material and spiritual life experiences through creative expression.
During its early years, first and second second generation rappers with social conscious messages would on occasion credit musicians like Funkster George Clinton and check out the brief shout out to James Brown’s Funky Drummer Clyde Stubblefield on controversial rappers Public Enemy Fight The Power.”
Afro-classical music intersected popular music with Scott Joplin’s 1911 Ragtime opera Treemonish through Duke Ellington’s Jazz inflected New World Symphony it contiues to do so with Hip House/House/ Electronica in DJ Spooky and T.J. Anderson.
Sampling of Soul singer Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise finds its way into the movie title Rap song of “Dangerous Minds.” PIR Records plea for social consciousness “Wake Up Everybody” sung by Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes
The song is made more contemporary by Legend with a socially conscious commentary video upgrade
The same song is then used by rappers in a “Word! Word Up people!!!!” social conscious call to action to encourage young Americans to vote before the right is taken away.
(The lyrics of this song is still on the mark due to today’s legalized voter registration restriction laws in some states. Its chord progressions and hook still works sonically for today’s musical listeners).
Rhythm and Blues is still alive in the inflected vocalizations by Mary J. Blige, Alycia Keys, Rihanna, Beyonce, Erikah Badu, Prince, Neo, to name only a few point of interactions alongside and with Rap and Hip Hop. Rap and Hip Hop–the media often uses both terms to connote only a musical genre, so I’ll acknowledge that here— is only one complex creative expression of Black musical culture. It’s almost as if the media is not really listening to or creating spaces for newer fusion voices, like it wants to keep us in a Gangsta Style ghetto when Gangsta Style is just that—-one style of Hip Hop/Rap. It does not totally define who African Americans are as a people. The global inner city oppressed have embraced Hip Hop/Rap, its negative aspects as well as its positive.
And yes, current trends in Hip Hop/Rap seem to be following a common historical trend detectable in Africa American music history when appropriation, market wars and money become more important than musical quality.
I contend, as do many others in the community, that conscious artists in Hip Hop/Rap might be able to break this trend to realize the music’s power beyond entertainment, beyond its association with violence, beyond its association with misogyny, beyond its label and packaging as “a passing one generational fad”. Note its current fusion tendencies with real live Classical and Jazz music orchestral ensembles and soloists. Shades of Motown!!!! To those who would confine Black music in a Hip Hop/Rap Freeze Frame: Quoting Spike Lee at the end of “School Daze”: WAKE UP!!!
Nelson George, Chuck D, Tricia Rose, Tricia Rose, Jahson Edmonds, will ya’ll help a sistah to speak to this?
I’m just sayin’ . . . .
Many students are unaware of the historic origins of musical samples/quotes/intersections. Take as another example Stevie Wonder’s Pastime Paradise
It’s 2012; invisibilization continues through absence of African American presence in the way music history is taught in high school. (Note, lack of American musical presence in music history books in general is an issue) In my generation, if it had not been for elders and teachers who reintroduced literary and musical artistic works of the African American community pre- and post Harlem Renaissance, we would have been equally unaware.
Thankfully, they nurtured us on writings by Paul Laurence Dunbar, Countee Cullen, Alain Locke, Langston, Jean Toomer, Zora, music of Scott Joplin, Ma Rainey, Eubie Blake, Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith, Satchmo, the Duke, Count Basie, Miles, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, Ella, Sarah, Eartha, Billy Eckstein, Eubie Blake, Earl Hines, Cab Calloway, Earl Garner, Billy Taylor, the Cheathams, Gospel stylizations by Mahalia, Rosetta Tharpe, Thomas A. Dorsey, Clara Ward, Sissy Houston, James Cleveland, Afro-Classical compositions by Harry T. Burleigh, William Grant Still,
These elders spoke from their lives, sometimes consciously rejecting outside influence, sometime consciously blending cultural aesthetics. Hip Hop/Rap performers have shaped a style that will co-exist in the future, it will not die; it is documented with autobiography, biography, critical essays, books, discography and videography. Currently morphing into our next future socio-cultural musical expression, we must name it. What will we call this next musical genre?
All I know is this: it will emanate from our distinct African American cultural continuum, and it will Flow.