Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Come Together

My first "real" post concerns rap music. I used to hate this genre with a passion. I'm heavily rooted in older styles: basic rock and roll, a bit of jazz, even classical. Growing up in a household of almost entirely pop/rock oriented tastes, I never had exposure to much else. College (and the high-speed internet connection associated with it) has changed this. I used to hate rap music because I had only heard the club-thumpin' crap that gets played on the radio.

Now, I'm not saying that Flo Rida and Soulja Boy don't have a rightful place in the world of music. There's room for everybody in the creative universe. I just think that club-style music has been misplaced onto the radio. This kind of music serves only one purpose in my mind: to be danced to. That's why bad lyrics and repetitive musical ideas slide by people's notice. If you're dancing, it doesn't really matter how good-quality your music is. All you're gonna care about is a good beat and a few simple ideas you can recognize and yell along with. This is where I feel club-style rap should stay.

Club-style is not the only kind of rap music, though. There are plenty of rap/hip-hop artists who write solid lyrics, and do some interesting things with their musical backup. I really like Ludacris' humor-oriented stuff ("Number One Spot" made me laugh my ass off) a lot, because it's genuinely funny, the lyrics are well put together, and the backing track is usually pretty fun to listen to. The main thing that makes me hate certain rap artists is when they do nothing with their "music" except string a few cool sounds together, spew nonsense for 5 minutes, and call it a song. If the mix is creative, or if the dumber types of lyric aren't being taken so seriously, I'm fine with it. Some people write a rap song with really bad lyrics, but their only goal from the start is to be musically creative and fun. Black Eyed Peas are one of my favorite examples of this. In my eyes, they have no illusions about their intentions. They put out fun (sometimes ridiculous) music, and their different inputs to the group make for a good listening experience. Simply put, they don't take themselves seriously when they shouldn't.

There are other artists who are very serious at times, though, and they do their thing quite well. Common is one of my favorite examples. He does wonderful collaborations with lots of other artists, and he actually has a message to get out with his music. Mike Shinoda's (of Linkin Park fame) Fort Minor always has something cool going on. Whether it's something that's just genuinely inspirational or something more personal, they always hold my attention.

I guess the main thing that makes me like rap music is the music that holds it all together. Nothing for me legitimizes rapping like its fusion with other genres. The aforementioned Linkin Park is the most recognizable example (both with member Mike Shinoda and with Jay-Z). Plenty of artists do this kind of fusion regularly. Common has guested on at least a couple of other people's songs, and Gym Class Heroes by nature are a fusion of rock and hip-hop.

This fusion is what gives me hope for what I used to think was a pointless genre. Rap is still a new thing, and there is a lot of bad music involved. I see something new emerging, though. This is still a very young art form, and it is quickly becoming as strong of a musical influence as anything else has. There's always major change happening in music, and rap just may be one of the bigger factors in the current cycle of change. I look forward to seeing how this pans out over the next several years/decades as all the current genres of music continue to come together.

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