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!

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