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chuck d
chuck-d.pngWow. My previous post somehow managed to elicit a few fairly incendiary comments regarding rap music: so I think we’d better have this discussion now. Let’s keep it civil, and aim to have as our ultimate goal the promotion of a greater awareness of all the amazingly great rap and hip hop music that’s out there.
Ok. One listener wrote “I can’t figure out for the life of me why rap is considered music”; another made the rather extraordinary claim that “…rap music is non-music and it is forced on the media to reach kids to pull them into the gansta, dope dealing, guns and prostitution junk while as they depict their lifstyle as the high life.”
OUCH!
This idea that rap somehow “isn’t music,” is pretty prevalent, so let’s check it out. Setting aside the minefields of class and culture and race and just keeping it to the music, I’ll just say that musically speaking the idea that rap is “not music” probably comes from the fairly obvious observation that (en masse and in very general terms) rap songs don’t have melodies in the same way that popular songs do. There are plenty of melodies in rap, and there is lots of great music as well; but the salient point here is to compare what there is in rap songs to what there is in the basic popular song.
Pop songs, folk songs, art songs, and even instrumental music are almost always built around a melody. In most rap, that focal role of the melody is replaced by the voice of the rapper, and by the words. Now it turns out that the vocal cadences of rapping do in fact have a whole music of their own (as do our own speaking voices), and it’s a music that is quite subtle and absolutely bursting with the kinds of deep human information that animate the strongest art. But, to the new listener, or to the listener who is accustomed to singing along with melodies, or who carries with them a certain idea of what music is and is not, it’s worth observing that the fundamental composition of most rap pieces is in fact a radical musical challenge.
As such, if someone were to say that they didn’t like rap in general because they listen to music primarily for melodies, then that would be at least a concrete musical argument.


Melody is not the only element in music, though, and those who would say that rap isn’t music should remember that. Technically speaking, there are at least four main elements to music, and they are pitch, dynamics, timbre, and duration aka rhythm. I mention this because, while music is literally impossible without rhythm (at least in the sense of rhythm as divisions within the general passage of time) it’s quite possible to have music without melody.
Moving on to the main dish in rap, the lyrics, I want to observe the way rap allows for what seems like a 360-degree freedom of language and concept that is quite hard to achieve within traditional song form. Raps can go anywhere, and they do, from references to the most ephemeral cultural wisps like Perez Hilton or Michael Jordan’s baseball career directly into a deep commentary on the systemic injustices of our economy, connecting them and playing off of them.
Also, good rap lyrics are full of the kind of ultra-rich sense information that songwriters cultivate and that animates all the best writing. The good stuff is very, very good writing.
As for the embodiment of aggression, which is often present in raps and is a focus of much criticism, I think there’s something we could all learn from there as well. Yes, there are expressions of anger in some rap music which are reprehensible and probably carry little or no real cultural value, but the presence of anger in the genre has other things to offer. Those feelings are a part of our human nature, and one of the great attractions of rap music is that it allows for a healthy, constructive and artistic expression of anger. A healthy relationship to anger can lead to positive things both in terms of society and also in one’s personal makeup; and the creative, uninhibited expression of personal pride and inner confidence is a great gift to lots of listeners who need to be reminded of their worth.
I will agree that rap hasn’t done itself any favors by also bringing out some of the most crass, violent, nihilistic, vapid, and just simply dull productions one can possibly imagine. In its defense (without defending bad rap), I’d just observe that rap music has been by far the most popular music in the world for let’s say the last ten or fifteen years, maybe longer. It’s been the main global popular music force, and there’s been a lot of it, for better and for worse.
And because of that very fact, I think all music lovers should see rap’s global popularity as a signal of its fundamental importance and worth; and therefore as an opportunity to learn something, to expand their tastes, and to connect with others out there in the larger world.
Essays and books have been written by better writers and thinkers that me on the subject, so here’s where I bail, but as I said before, let’s please keep this civil, and let’s post some examples of great rap that might help new listeners come to hear the power, vitality, and the beauty in the music.
it takes a nation of millions…

Comments

  1. Sean
    May 21, 2008 at 4:59pm
    Not a big rap listener to say the least but you do offer some very well argues points and I think it was best to keep everything civil and just call the critics shit heads. Great post dude. Sean
    Reply
  2. Kendramama
    May 21, 2008 at 11:37pm
    As a music lover with myriad tastes- perhaps because I was raised on the island of Maui by my father, a country-western/southern rock musician; dated thrash drummers and grooved to Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" and Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" throughout several years of heroin addicted haziness; have a tattoo of Jimi Hendrix; and although I *adore* the genres of reggae and quality classic rock, I occasionally find myself going through what my husband calls "another one of my rap phases"... where I am irrepressibly drawn like a moth to the flame towards that thumping bass and alliterative soliloquy of syllogistic serendipity that truly good rap offers... but, eventually, the allure fades again for me and I switch back to more Sublime-ish stuff, or perhaps some contemporary Christian if I want the itch in my soul scratched. But Mr. Zapruder, I loved your post and find your defense ever so much greater than my "Applejacks" explanation: "Why do you like that RAP, Kendra?" /shrugs "...I just do sometimes, that's all..."
    Reply
  3. Roman
    May 22, 2008 at 12:42am
    Let's put some more questions: "Music" is an entity without lyrics. Lyrics added to music make a "Song". Nowadays, the visual part (live act, video clip) is also a big part of a "performance", let's call it so. How much rap without lyrics exist? Would you consider Paul Mauriat arranging a rap sound sequence? How important is the visual part of a rap "performance", compared to let's say, a typical Drifters' or GK & Pips' "performance"?
    Reply
  4. Ivan A. Arcaya,Sr.
    May 22, 2008 at 11:06am
    I started liking Rap Music when Eminem hit the scene. Eminem's music was in my opinion similar to the protest music of the 60's and 70's. It was anti-establishment. I was a researcher and writer for our underground newspaper. I also wrote speeches for our local cell's leader. Finally, I negotiated friendly relationships with groups such as The Black Panthers, Students for a Democratic Society(SDS), The Weathermen/Weather Underground,etc. We were anti-establishment. I share my background with you to confirm myself as someone who understands the anti-establishment movement. Rap is not anti-establishment nor does it represent the poor and working class black/Latino youth of the inner cities. It is pro establishment and represents the rich and wealthy white men who control the federal government, the large corporations especially the large music companies, main street media especially the ones that control the music magazines,and the military and it's military contractors that make and sell the military weapons that are killing people of color here and all over the world. They are a bad example for today's inner city youth. They portray successful Black and Latino Men as Men who believe that only money, jewelry , guns,luxury cars and luxury mansions and other material possessions are the only important things in life. I'm not going to tell you to change your music. However; I am going to ask you to stop portraying yourself as anti-establishment. The Truth is that you are part of the establishment. The Establishment that oppresses the poor people of color here and in places such as Africa and Latin America. Ivan,Sr.
    Reply
  5. ThugDrummer
    May 23, 2008 at 9:22pm
    There ya go painting with that broad brush again. True, most of the rap you hear on the radio is establishment rap. But it isn't definitive rap. The same could be said for any genre of music or probably any other art form for that matter. Unless you hunt for it, all your gonna experience is the corporate crap that get's blasted at you. Great artistic innovation requires risk. Corporations are risk averse. Rap originated as an anti-establishment art form. Some are still doing it that way. As to whether or not rap is music, remember that art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
    Reply
  6. Oddyseus
    May 24, 2008 at 11:07am
    What's in a name? Would not a rose called by any other name smell as sweet? I think that Mr. Arcaya said it best. It's all in the eye of the beholder, or in this case eyes and ears. Rap is simply another form of expression. One that is not necessarily acceptable to some yet embraced by others. If one wishes to denounce it and hold the position that it is not music, so be it. To each his own. However, the facts suggest otherwise. Major labels have invested heavily in Hip-Hop and the figures support the premise that this "art form" is real and real appealing to many. Rap evolved from poetry. Is poetry not art? But then, exactly what is art? Who can say?
    Reply
  7. raj
    May 25, 2008 at 1:41pm
    I discovered pandora through a friend. I absolutely love it. I am not the kind of person who can build my own libraries, and I love that Pandora has done for me. I hope you guys make a lot of money but please just try to keep your service to us the way it is, free and open. I love that in a day like today where everyone is out there to make a $$$ there are entrepreneurs who are building business by helping out regular people like me and still innovative enough to make money. If i had a business I would definitely advertise with you because I love you and am a fan and would like to support you on behalf of my fellow listeners.... but please keep your shit free. thanks and love, raj from nyc
    Reply
  8. OnTheBeat
    May 25, 2008 at 7:01pm
    Excellent post. Music sampling, more so than the rapping itself, is what really got my interested in rap music. It's an art form in itself. Especially if done well. I know a lot of the sampling heard on the radio or TV is rather boring or just over-used and uncreative. But, if you do some digging, you can find some of the most amazing pieces out there. In a way, sampling is like taking a bunch of different pieces of scrap metal and manipulating them until you come out with something amazing. Places like myspace and the like are just a breeding ground for projects like that.
    Reply
  9. imadeddine
    July 30, 2014 at 11:45am
    Not a big rap listener to say the least but you do offer some very well argues points and I think it was best to keep everything civil and just call the critics shit heads. Great post dude. les femmes du monde
    Reply

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