Vox recently posted that “rap” inherently leads to a dead end.
Seriously, is there a bigger pop music abomination than the massive steaming dump that Jay-Z inexplicably slathers all over Alphaville’s “Forever Young”?
But when I got to thinking about it, I realized that this musical dead end was inevitable. It was always going to be the case. Most of the early “rap is crap” critics were committing a category error when they complained about “rap music”. Their instincts were right, but their sneering arguments were mostly off base and therefore unconvincing. The fact is that rap is not, technically speaking, music at all. To call it music is akin to describing “scatting” or “falsetto” or “rhythm” or “electric guitar” as music. It is, rather, a non-melodic vocal styling; it is an element of music, or if you prefer, a musical tool, rather than a form of music in itself.
And while that vocal styling can be utilized in a broad variety of music, from metal to ambient, it is not music in itself. What is often known as “rap music” is a degraded, primitive form of music created mostly by non-musicians, which is necessarily going to be either sample-based (Public Enemy), childishly simple (Dr. Dre), or an additional vocal track added to existing music (Puff Daddy, Jay-Z).
Note carefully – we are distinguishing between the genre of “rap” which has some melody, etc., and the vocal tool. As Vox notes, “keyboard” is not music, it’s an instrument. So is “voice”. So, when I say “rap is music”, I’m not just relying on the infogalactic entry, I’m talking about the genre, most often by black performers, heavily centered on rap vocals.
FWIW, as defined:
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. The common elements of music are pitch (which governs melody and harmony), rhythm (and its associated concepts tempo, meter, and articulation), dynamics (loudness and softness), and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture (which are sometimes termed the “color” of a musical sound). Different styles or types of music may emphasize, de-emphasize or omit some of these elements. Music is performed with a vast range of instruments and with vocal techniques ranging from singing to rapping, and there are solely instrumental pieces, solely vocal pieces and pieces that combine singing and instruments. The word derives from Greek μουσική (mousike; “art of the Muses”). In its most general form, the activities describing music as an art form include the production of works of music (songs, tunes, symphonies, and so on), the criticism of music, the study of the history of music, and the aesthetic examination of music.
I’d long ago thought about it and realized there was no way to define rap-based music as “not music” that would not eliminate things I considered good music. Lack of instruments? No problem. Lack of melodic singing? No problem.
So, yes, Rap – some would argue more properly, hip-hop and it’s offshoots which are heavily rap-centered – is music. (look, people call both the music, and the vocal style “rap).
*That *said, syllable for syllable, singing and holding a note requires more technical proficiency. And while some rap “songs” have complex and long sets of lyrics and a more rapid-fire delivery, many…. don’t. The subjects of most are degraded as well – the subject of most being “I’m so big and bad, with all the women, the money, the and the guns, living a party life.” One commenter at Vox’s noted that “it’s always the same three subjects.”
Rap, the genre, is generally crap. We’ve gone from jazz, to, simple, degraded, dreck. Is simple bad? No, I love folk, some punk, and the Ramones managed to make a popular career out of an almost deliberate lack of sophistication. There’s something to be said about lyrics and main melodic lines that are straightforward and catchy. As noted, again, the degradation isn’t just the loss of intricacy and fineness, but a fall from uplifting to gutter vulgarity.
And if I ever hear another “uh… uh… uh..”
Seriously – what is supposed to be high-grade rap, the soundtrack to Hamilton, is just (PC misrepresentation of events and people aside), gunk. After hearing it I immediately put on the Pirates of Penzance because if I was going to hear the line “modern major general” I was going to hear it done right, and sung.
Is there good rap (genre) music?
Yeah. Vox mentions Beck, and Twentyone Pilots, and the influence the rapid rap delivery has had on them and other bands such as one of my favorites, Disturbed. I also like a fair bit of the Beastie Boys, and I always hear “Intergalactic” in my head whenever I log into Infogalactic. I also liked one album by Pop Will Eat Itself, especially the tracks “X, Y, and Zee”, and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”.And yeah, vulgar as hell, but I’ll almost always get a laugh out of Eminem’s “Without Me”. Yeah, it’s an “I’m so badass” song, but more original than usual. Oh, and love the dig at Tipper Gore.