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Is rap tomorrow's jazz?

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I'm offering this up as potentially interesting to someone...but not to me. IMO, this 'controversy' isn't.

http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/o...1,5591582.story

Is rap tomorrow's jazz?

By Thaddeus Russell

THADDEUS RUSSELL is a professor of history and American studies at Barnard College.

August 16, 2005

A LEADING African American newspaper published a series of articles assailing black musicians for holding back the race. The music "is killing some people," the paper claimed. "Some are going insane; others are losing their religion." The artists under attack were not rappers such as 50 Cent or Ludacris but Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. "The young girls and boys who constantly take jazz every day and night are absolutely becoming bad, and some criminals," the (New York) Amsterdam News wrote in 1925.

There is a long but little-known history of African American leaders denouncing black popular music as self-destructive and an impediment to integration, a history that continues in the current campaign against rap. This is unfortunate because rap, like older forms of black popular music now considered to be "America's classical music," is distinctive and important because it differs from the norms of "respectable" culture.

Last month, when Lil' Kim was sentenced to prison for lying to a grand jury about a shooting, her raps were also indicted as an obstacle to black progress. "Her music is laced with lyrics that glorify promiscuous sex and gratuitous violence," wrote DeWayne Wickham, a nationally syndicated columnist and former president of the National Assn. of Black Journalists. "She is a Pied Piper of the worst kind — a diva of smut."

The criticisms of Lil' Kim were launched amid an anti-rap movement that began in March, soon after shots were fired by the rival entourages of 50 Cent and the Game outside a New York radio station. Al Sharpton demanded that the Federal Communications Commission ban violent rappers from radio and television, and he launched a boycott against Universal Music Group, which he accused of "peddling racist and misogynistic black stereotypes" through rap music. Sharpton expressed special concern about white perceptions of African Americans. Rappers and their corporate supporters "make it easy for black culture to be dismissed by the majority," he said, and the large white fan base "has learned through rap images to identify black male culture with a culture of violence."

Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition signed on to the boycott, as did Princeton professor Cornel West, who issued a statement claiming that music companies and rappers made it easy for whites to "view black bodies and black souls as less moral, oversexed and less intelligent."

These critics argue that the "damaging" images of African Americans in rap discourage whites from opening the door to full citizenship. Yet a consideration of the troubled relationship between civil rights leaders and black popular music in the past might give pause to the opponents of contemporary rap, and, for that matter, to the proponents of integration. In fact, blues, jazz, rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues were all denounced by advocates for racial integration, and for the same reasons rap is now under attack.

In the 1920s, several civil rights leaders were so concerned about the sexual and violent content of popular blues and jazz songs that they established a record company to "undertake the job of elevating the musical taste of the race." Promoted by W.E.B. DuBois and A. Philip Randolph, two of the most important civil rights leaders of the 20th century, Black Swan Records pledged to distribute "the Better Class of Records by Colored Artists," which meant recordings of "respectable" European classical music.

Civil rights leaders similarly opposed the next creations of African American musicians: rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues. In the 1950s, Martin Luther King Jr. told African Americans to shun the new music, which, he said, "plunges men's minds into degrading and immoral depths." Likewise, Randolph's Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which produced a great portion of the civil rights leadership, condemned rock and R&B for their overt sexuality and their "degrading portrayal of Negro womanhood."

This history suggests that the cause of integration has always been at odds with what is now widely hailed as America's most important contribution to world culture. Many scholars argue that the creators of jazz, blues, rock and R&B were great because of their willingness and ability to work outside European cultural forms and to speak about elements of the human condition that white artists would not, such as sex and violence.

Those who attack the latest form of black popular music for the sake of racial unity and "respectability" might stop to consider which side, in the history that will be written of this time, they wish to be on.

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Notwithstanding the progress regarding integration we've seen over the past fifty years, I believe that America is a worse place to raise children than it was when I was born. Maybe that's true everywhere in the West.

I believe that the vulgarity of the popular culture is a big part of the problem, and much of the popular culture is aimed at the 12-25 demographic, according to what I read in USA Today from time to time.

Thomas Sowell often writes about how black neighborhoods were safer then than now, and that black schools were better then than now.

I'm not familiar with rap music, other than to know that it is full of four letter words. If some people want to put pressure on the record companies to clean up their product, I say more power to them.

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I'm not familiar with rap music, other than to know that it is full of four letter words.  If some people want to put pressure on the record companies to clean up their product, I say more power to them.

Give it a try, the swear words are part of the music. Everything doesn't have to be P-G. :rofl:

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I remember Thomas Sowell's writing from college, I think he talked about if the black community got together they could drive out the deviant forces. I think thats what his point was. As for rap and hip hop, I'm not a huge fan but there is decent stuff out there like A Tribe Called Quest, and Q-Tip but there are parallels between rappers and jazzers, the MC Battles are like cutting contests, some of the same vocabulary is used, like "cat", "hip", "motherfucker", etc... and they live a fast life, think of Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard how they'd get similar sports cars, chase after the same women, and try to outblow themselves. It was a friendly rivalry there, but a similar machismo aspect to it.

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Now matter what one feels about the parallel, the message of the article is a very good one. For more than a century, the white American establishment has consistently condemned current trends in African American music as vulgar, violent, etc, while at the same time celebrating earlier African American music.

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Rap/Hiphop has been in a rut for years, and most of its performers know little or nothing about music in general. For cutting-edge music, one must usually look elsewhere.

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Now matter what one feels about the parallel, the message of the article is a very good one.  For more than a century, the white American establishment has consistently condemned current trends in African American music as vulgar, violent, etc, while at the same time celebrating earlier African American music.

Which doesn't mean that it's impossible for black music to be vulgar or violent or condemnable. Rap and Hip Hop should be able top stand on their merits, without claiming the rejection of the white establishment as justification in itself.

The culture of hip-hop seems to be quite a bit different than the culture of jazz. For intsance, the overwhelming predominance of material success as a core value. Making historical parallels is interesting and can give you some new ways of looking at things, but it is no replacement for having a hard look at the particularity of historical phenomena, which almost always leads to an appreciation of the fact that history doesn't repeat itself.

If it did we wouldn't have to keep studying it.

--eric

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Now matter what one feels about the parallel, the message of the article is a very good one.   For more than a century, the white American establishment has consistently condemned current trends in African American music as vulgar, violent, etc, while at the same time celebrating earlier African American music.

Which doesn't mean that it's impossible for black music to be vulgar or violent or condemnable. Rap and Hip Hop should be able top stand on their merits, without claiming the rejection of the white establishment as justification in itself.

The culture of hip-hop seems to be quite a bit different than the culture of jazz. For intsance, the overwhelming predominance of material success as a core value. Making historical parallels is interesting and can give you some new ways of looking at things, but it is no replacement for having a hard look at the particularity of historical phenomena, which almost always leads to an appreciation of the fact that history doesn't repeat itself.

If it did we wouldn't have to keep studying it.

--eric

Eric: Point well taken. Yet we should also keep in mind that the Hip Hop/Rap scene is much broader than the most of the gansta commercial trash that makes it to MTV.

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Rap and the attendant so-called "hiphop culture" (if you can call gangs of semi-literate thugs wearing baggy pants, waving guns, and using lots of drugs to be a "culture") is full of the glorification of violence, racism, and degrading attitudes towards women. This is the message. The fact that there are ocassionally more positive messages is the exception, not the rule.

There is very little musical content, and comparisons to earlier forms of black music such as jazz or blues are pretty dubious, in my opinion.

The fact that professors of "American studies" (what???) think otherwise says more about the current tate of higher education than anything else.

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I kind of like to think of rap and hip hop as two different kinds of "poetry" over a backbeat. Rap I feel is more commercial. 50 cent, and all those MTV rappers probaly know nothing about Miles and Coltrane, but as for the obscure hip hop artists, I think they sort of were influenced by some jazz music.

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Yes indeed they were influenced.

By Ornette Coleman!

All this time I thought they were into Harry Partch.

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Should add that there is rap & hip-hop stuff I like.

I like this guy, for instance.

--eric

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The fact that professors of "American studies" (what???) think otherwise says more about the current tate of higher education than anything else.

You don't think America is worthy of study?

--eric

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Big deal - a Bach ripoff, not even performed just sampled (and then slowed down by half at the end so the flute sounds bad. The vocals have absolutely no expression, no dynamics - they're just loud and in-your-face. The interlude seemed just typical juvenile - ooooh - a "message"!

If one wants rap or hip-hop to be considered music it would be nice if these folks would actually *compose* and *perform* some instead of just taking pre-existing recordings. Yeah, I know "yo, but that's the point" - shoot, at least B. Bumble And The Stingers PLAYED the classical stuff that was being ripped off. And if you're going to try to deal with classical music like Bach - don't negate it by flattening out every element of contrast just to fit your boring repetitive pre-programmed (or worse yet, sampled) drum loops on top.

Not a fan - waiting for something to impress me.

Mike

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Big deal - a Bach ripoff, not even performed just sampled (and then slowed down by half at the end so the flute sounds bad. The vocals have absolutely no expression, no dynamics - they're just loud and in-your-face. The interlude seemed just typical juvenile - ooooh - a "message"!

If one wants rap or hip-hop to be considered music it would be nice if these folks would actually *compose* and *perform* some instead of just taking pre-existing recordings. Yeah, I know "yo, but that's the point" - shoot, at least B. Bumble And The Stingers PLAYED the classical stuff that was being ripped off. And if you're going to try to deal with classical music like Bach - don't negate it by flattening out every element of contrast just to fit your boring repetitive pre-programmed (or worse yet, sampled) drum loops on top.

Not a fan - waiting for something to impress me.

Mike

Well, I wasn't presenting that tune as some sort of be-all and end-all... I think it's funny and it does give an idea of the range of the form.

Saying it's loud and in your face is the equivalent of saying it's rap--that's the style. If you come looking for vocal subtlety when someone's rapping as fast he does, you aren't going to find it very often.

And it is a new form, and part of that form is exactly the pastiche element that you so vigorously decry. They don't want someone to come in and play the Bach piece, they just want the flattened out snippet because it's there mostly as a reference, anyway.

A lot of this music is less "in itself" and much more embedded into an entire way (actually, I should say, entire ways) of life, with all kinds of contextual references running through it. Which is one big reason the culture / music question is so slippery when dealing with this genre, because it isn't "just music" the way, say, a Mozart opera would be just music today--an aesthetic aretefact with few contemporary referents out there, and those rather abstract and high-falutin'.

You are applying standards to this form that just don't apply in the way that you seem to think.

Kind of like taking a collection of really groundbreaking news articles and complaining that the prose and imagery just doesn't compare to Annie Proulx.

--eric

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Well, if you want to call it culture or whatever - sure. But with *music* you're dealing with centuries and centuries of evolution. Musically, this stuff is not interesting - it's repetitive and if by mandate of style all vocals must be "in-your-face" then it's not expressive. And music that eliminates expression is - well, bad. I disagree that a fast tempo necessarily eliminates the possibility of expression. But if we're OK not calling it music, then fine. Music has elements that transcend style - melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, form, timbre, tempo, etc. What is being done with these? In what I listened to, not much. I'm trying to establish objective criteria - I'm not apalled or repulsed that Maestro Bach was borrowed, it could have been interesting - I'm disgusted that the end result was so bad, so cheap, so pointless. But if it's not music, then these criteria don't apply. Pastiche is one thing, but cheap boring pastiche is another. As for the range of the form - where's the range? Just in the fact that what is layered in the loop is Bach?

Could someone do something interesting with this stuff? Probably - but I'm still waiting.

Mike

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Music has elements that transcend style - melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, form, timbre, tempo, etc. What is being done with these? 

Mike

But music doesn't always "do something" with all of these things. It works actively with some of those variables, and it just flies on auto-pilot with others.

A lot of times when someone says "it all sounds the same" or "it isn't music" they're just focusing on the wrong elements.

And when a genre completely throws over the arbitrary distinction between "musical" elements and "other" elements, like rap does, it makes it difficult to evaluate. You can't just trot out the "musical yardstick" and see how it measures up, because your musical yardstick is irrelevent.

So there is a real question as to whether the statement beginning "As music rap is . . ." is a great deal more meaningful than a statement beginning "As novelty meat product, rap is . . ."

--eric

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Morton Feldman is repetitive and so is Terry Riley.  I might even argue that Steve Reich is, too.  :g

All much more interesting than rap.

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Rap is akin to collage, and faces very similar criticisms as collage did from traditional painting critics. Also, like collage, rap will never attain the level of creativity which music created with traditional skills will (imo). Michael Fitzgerald is looking for traditional music qualities in a music that can't possibly provide such qualities since it never intended to.

If anyone is interested, I'll gladly put together a cdr Blindfold Test of rap/DJ work which has been created with the highest possible quality for the genre. There definitely won't be any deft instrumentation by jazz standards, but I've been listening to rap since I was a kid so I know a lot about it.

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Everyone's got an opinion about rap until actually challenged to listen to some. :g

No big deal, I wouldn't expect anyone to like it anyway. I'm sure I can provide examples which show rap at its best, but even at its best it isn't going to be good by jazz standards. It has its own place, its own audience. It's not for everyone.

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Michael Fitzgerald is looking for traditional music qualities in a music that can't possibly provide such qualities since it never intended to. 

What about a group like the Roots, who, to my ears, meld the two quite nicely. They play the instruments as well as rap over the music.

By the way, I'd love to hear a mix that you put together. If you were serious with that offer I'll pm you my address.

Edited by John B

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