Monday, May 11, 2020

Is Rap/Hip-hop Really Music?

Is Rap/Hip-hop Really Music?

From PJH’s Stoop:

Oh no! The dreaded question that I usually manage to avoid finally slipped through my forward defenses and made its way into my email inbox.

“So, PJH, since you are such a music critic, reviewer and a fan of all types of music, I need to know, IYO, is rap and Hip-hop really music? I say no and my opinion caused all kinds of debate on a local discussion chat group. I value your thoughts.”

Now, I have no choice because the question is sitting on my stoop. Ugh-A-Roo-Ski. This topic does cause heated and lengthy debate! On this post, I will bring Lopez in and sit Aly on her stoop for her thoughts and views from a more “modern POV.”

Well, here goes:

Most music experts insist that music has to have basic raw elements in order to qualify as music. Some experts say seven elements, tempo, timbre, melody, rhythm, harmony, dynamics, and form. For simplicity and in my subjective point of view, I will go with three elements; melody, harmony, and rhythm. In addition, for simplicity, (and to dodge a little controversy) I will say that the speaking part (rap) is contained within the genre classification of Hip-hop.

With that established here, we go.

Rap is not music. It is a vocal technique. It is speaking fast and spewing words. It is almost a form of chanting and it is entertainment. IMO, it does not qualify for any of the elements of music. Done deal. No further thoughts on that!

Now, to Hip-hop.

I will begin my subjective opinion with an example. Due to my military and ham radio background, I am fluent in Morse code. Morse is a language of sounds creating and communicating and in doing so, it is making letters, words and numbers and punctuation marks. Just as all languages do. It is not music, yet if you listen to a polished Morse code operator sending code on an electronic keyer or a mechanical bug, or even on a hand key, it has a rhythm and certain word and letter combinations tend to have a melody. It does have beats and depending upon the settings of the equipment, it has what you can perceive to be timbre and tempo but it does not have harmony. Morse code is not music. It is a language.

Hip-hop does have rhythm. Can you dance and jump around to the rhythm? Sure, you can! On most cuts, it does have harmony and where Hip-hop falls into the questionable category, is in the melody qualification. Early Hip-hop seemed to have more melodies. Nowadays, not so much. There are no chord structures, or progressions of such, no intros, no bridges, no chorus, and no outros. No melodies. To my ear, most of the “songs” all sound the same. Same repetitious beats. Same thump-thump. Same beats. No discernible melody. On most cuts, few, if any, musical instruments are utilized, just electronic beats, hooks and sounds generated via a computer or other electronic devices, and artist’s voices heavily utilize sound processing, AKA, auto-tune. I am a purist. I despise auto-tune. Either you can sing and speak clearly and carry with your voice unaided, a musical note or you cannot. I realize that most Hip-hop artists use auto-tune for a special effect, but still, I find it very detracting to the seriousness of the work. . ..

Key the drum roll here. IMO, Hip-hop is a culture and it is a powerful form of entertainment. Artists are, without a doubt, very talented in what they do within the framework of the entertainment aspect of the work. Hip-hop broadcasts powerful messages and thoughts. It is a force. Some of it; I enjoy. Most of it; I do not.

With all that being said, IMO, I agree with the writer of the email and will say that Hip-hop is not music. It falls short in the qualifications established by musical composition experts.
There! I said it, wrote it and I will live with it.

Now, let’s see what Lopez thinks.

From Lopez’s Stoop:

I am no music expert here, Paulie. I know nothing about your seven elements. Nor do I know about melodies or intros or bridges. Basically, everything you are saying here is foreign to me. I listen to music purely for enjoyment purposes. Different music for different moods. From all different genres, artists, times, and parts of the world.

I did a quick Google search to see if I can get a truly basic understanding of the definition of music. The Google definition of music is “vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.”

Upon reading this definition, I will agree with you in saying that rap is not music. It is not beautiful or harmonious. With very few exceptions, they are mostly talking into a mic to a beat. It is a form of expression, and a culture, but not music.

Hip-hop, however, I would say, is music. Per my Google definition, the mostly, but not completely, computer-generated instrumentals are beautiful in form, harmonious, and express emotion. Now, I am with you here, Hausleben, in thinking of early Hip-hop. The works of the Missy Elliott’s, the Run DMC’s, the Dougie Fresh’s of the world. Real Hip-hop. I will even take it to early 2000s Bay Area rap, such as Too-Short, Mac Dre, and Keak-Da-Sneak. Apart from a few artists, most of Hip-hop has transitioned into “trap,” which is what I believe you are referring to when stating that “’songs’ all sound the same.” The Migos, Future, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, that generally drop trash to give off an image that they are living a certain life. No story, no purpose, same beat time after time.

Hip-hop, like all other forms of art, has phases though. I see more artists going back to an early 2000s style of Hip-hop in their message and style. I see artists working more and more with incredibly talented musicians in the creation of the instrumentals they use in their songs. I believe that the evolution of Hip-hop is going in a direction that we may all be surprised by.

Also, who are these “musical composition experts” of which you speak, and what era are they from? Because, times are changing here, Hausleben, and, let me tell you, an expert yester-year, may be no expert today.

From PJH’s Stoop:

There you have it! Lopez makes some solid points!

Maybe PJH does too.

What do you think? Let’s stir the pot and see what happens!

Cheerio for now!

Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Incomparable, Mr. Mark Knopfler’s Best Guitar Moments

From PJH's Stoop:
I love lists and I have to admit to making a list for everything. Ah yes, all the usual lists and some unusual. Ya know, groceries, (and I still forget items) things to do on the weekend, things to do around the house, whose birthday is coming up . . . all the usual.
As much as I enjoy lists and have a passion for them, I need to establish something. The best of “anything” lists are very subjective. Opinions. The best hockey player of all time, the best salad dressing, the best frozen pizza, the best muscle cars . . . it goes on and on forever. All based upon the author’s opinions. Subjective rather than objective. After establishing that fact, I now will happily venture into my own subjective waters. Up to my waist.
In a former life, I rebooted my writing career as a music reviewer and critic. It was a great gig. Make a few extra coins while remaining subjective and tapping away on your keyboard as if you are a mad subjective fool. My assignments in my music review gig were to write reviews on progressive rock artists. Jethro Tull, Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Genesis, Camel, and in a stroke of controversy that my editor called my cards in on, I added to my reviews the Love over Gold album by Dire Straits. “Telegraph Road” is my number one greatest progressive rock song. It changes your life. That will be another subject for another blog and a brief mention later on herein this one.
I love Dire Straits. They are my all-time favorite band and Mark Knopfler is my number one guitarist of all-time, (subjective opinion, of course). He is also my favorite musical artist.
Jeff Lynne is second.
Mark Knopfler is a genius. Not only because of his incomparable guitar playing skills but also because of his unbeatable combination of being the front-man for Dire Straits, his remarkable songwriting ability and total output of quality songs written, that smoky, sultry, voice, and of course, as soon as he hits a note on the guitar string, you know that it is Knopfler. He is a maestro and a composer of stories with his guitar strings. Stories that live forever.
Three other guitar players come to mind that invoke the same, “first note status” and they are Knopfler’s hero and neck-to-neck companion and fellow guitar god, Mr. Chet Atkins, Queen’s Brian May, and Carlos Santana. You just know it is those guitar players from the very first note. For me, as great as many other guitar players are, Mr. Knopfler is beyond compare.
Therefore, lift the curtain, and here is my list of the top ten best guitar moments by the great Mark Knopfler OBE.
Some might surprise you!

The list is in descending order with ten being great and one is out of this world!

10. “Why Aye Man.” From the MK solo album, The Ragpicker’s Dream. Knopfler somehow expertly keeps this song within the album’s folk-blues-honky-tonk theme, yet manages to shred and weave a guitar lick on his Gibson with a song laced with meanings back to his Geordie-boy roots. The official video is super cool with a dark boiler room setting, shot with strategic video work. I love boiler rooms, but that is another story.

9. “What it is.” From the MK solo album, Sailing from Philadelphia. It is a catchy hook, but during the entire song, it seems as if Knopfler is simply toying and teasing you with his amazing skills. When he finally unleashes, it is still a tease. BTW, the official video for this song is exceptional.

8. “Boom, Like That.” From the MK solo album, Shangri-La. A totally badass song with a tasty and slightly mean guitar lick. Only Knopfler can write a song about McDonald’s magnate Ray Kroc and make it badass.

7. “Down to the Waterline.” From the Dire Straits’, debut album, Dire Straits. The slow and ominous opening leads to Knopfler in total control as he takes over on the guitar and sets the pace for an amazing song. Here, it is the pure notes that he hits that capture the perfect tone of his remarkable finger picking ability.

6. “Brothers in Arms.” From the Dire Straits’ album of the same name. Dire Straits’ best-selling and best-known album is popular for the MTV hits of “Money for Nothing” and “Walk of Life,” and as great and catchy as those songs and riffs are, it is, “Brothers in Arms” that stands the test of time as the classic cut here. As a side note, the engineering on this studio album is beyond compare. On the song, “Brothers in Arms,” Knopfler makes the guitar cry with the pain of a soldier’s commitment and a soldier dying on a battlefield and you will cry too. You will cry with shivers running up and down your back. BTW, the black and white video for this song is an award winner. I enjoy the studio album version, best of all versions.

5. “Single-Handed Sailor.” From the Dire Straits’ album, Communiqué. This cut is not a well-known song from Dire Straits’ best-unknown record. Communiqué is five stars plus! This song has a killer riff and once more, the pure notes that Knopfler hits is what sticks in your mind and ear. He plays his red Stratocaster on this song and you get the feeling that he is making it too easy and toying with you. The studio version is wonderful, but the best performance of this song is a live video from a concert in 1979 in Germany called, Rockpalast. The ending solo is an example of his mastery at all levels of guitar playing.

4. “Sultans of Swing.” From the debut album, Dire Straits. I will catch some heat for this because most fans and critics consider this song as the best of Knopfler’s guitar moments and his best riff and best ending solos. Yet, as great as Sultans is, and it is great, I think there are better guitar moments. Of course, it is Sultans, and it is Knopfler, so it is as if you have to pick out the best jewel from the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. Just pick one of ‘em, ya can’t go wrong. A truly remarkable song, and of course, the ending riff is famous and awesome and forever. For me, the live versions of this song are where you capture the full magic of Knopfler’s abilities. The video of Dire Straits’ live version of “Sultans of Swing” on the Alchemy tour is one of the greatest live rock-and-roll performances of all time and the video of his performance of this song on A Night in London in 1996 is a close second. In fact, the Alchemy tour is one of the greatest tours by any band of all time. Dire Straits were at their peak on that tour. Anyway, pick a version, take a deep breath, grab your favorite beverage, and put the headphones on. Go to another world.

3. “Tunnel of Love.” From the Dire Straits’ album, Making Movies. I think that this is Mark Knopfler’s best melody and his most interesting chord progressions. From the opening of borrowing a few bars from Rodgers and Hammerstein to the tempo changes (a Knopfler trademark) to the quiet moments alone with the guitar notes, to the ending guitar solo, the song is a masterpiece of songwriting and musicianship. Knopfler uses his masterful lyrics to invoke your own memories of falling in love at an amusement park (I did once. She was a cute blonde-haired woman) but he utilizes his guitar to smash through your ears to embed the memories in your mind forever. IMO, the live performance of the 1985 concert at Wembley Stadium has the best live performance of this song, with the live Alchemy tour performance being a close second. BTW, this song is the inspiration for one of my most popular short stores, “The Silver Locket.”

2. “Speedway at Nazareth.” From the MK solo album, Sailing from Philadelphia. What! Outrage! No, “Romeo and Juliet!” PJH, you are nuts! Maybe. “Speedway” is the song for me. You know . . . that song that you roll the windows down to listen to when you are driving down that lonesome highway, and you step onto the gas pedal, and just, well, go fast. If I had any hair left, then the wind would blow it. The song fools you and lulls you with a slow tempo introduction, mumbled words about a racecar driver on his last turns around the track and a string of losses until finally enjoying a race victory and it does so with a constant “thump, thump” background beat to mimic racecars on the track. Then Knopfler stops singing and lets his guitar sing and do the rest. It is one of his longest ending guitar solos on a studio version of a song by Knopfler or Dire Straits and it is mesmerizing. It is an incredible guitar moment in and amongst genius. The live version on the famous Real Live Roadrunning Tour with country music goddess, Ms. Emmy Lou Harris, is my favorite version. Emmy Lou rocks out on stage and while Mr. Danny Cummings' outright assault on the drums almost steals the song, in the end, it is Knopfler’s growl on the Gibson that captures the song’s magic.

1. “Telegraph Road.” From the Dire Straits’ studio album, Love over Gold. As mentioned, here in the opening to this blog, eons ago, in a former life, when I wrote reviews for a progressive rock website that marked my return to the writing world . . . I made the statement and rating that “Telegraph Road” is the greatest progressive rock song of all time. To me. Remember the keyword, subjective. I am a huge fan of the music of Yes and Jethro Tull, yet, I feel as if Telegraph Road beats out “Close to the Edge” and “Thick as a Brick.” My editor, my critics, and my readers, all fervently argued with me and even suggested that “Telegraph Road” is not even a progressive rock song. It is and other than one cut on the Love over Gold album, the entire album is progressive in structure. Anyway, “Telegraph Road” is Mr. Knopfler’s Opus. It ebbs and flows within magical layers and it builds in tempo, dies in tempo, and takes you on a magical journey through a tale of a pioneer in the wilderness to modern times, all built around one area where the pioneer cuts a road into the wilderness before ending in a wild crescendo. It reminds me of James Michener’s masterpiece novel, Centennial. Here, Knopfler’s guitar really tells the story and the final outro and solo is the culmination of this masterpiece. My favorite version is once more from the incredible Alchemy tour and on that version, Dire Straits’ drummer Mr. Terry Williams (a vastly underrated drummer) sets the world on fire while pounding the skins to the distinctive tone of Knopfler as he takes all of us on an unforgettable journey down Telegraph Road. I once wrote a blog piece about meeting a beautiful woman in a bar in Florida. She was Dire Straits’ fan and told me that “Telegraph Road” will change your life. I agree.

There you have it! No matter which songs you list, with Mr. Mark Knopfler OBE you cannot go wrong.
What are your thoughts? What other musical lists would you like to see from PJH? Please, post your own list. Subjectively, of course.

Cheerio for now.

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