I can tell you EXACTLY when rap production got fucked up: when sampling was outlawed. That’s right: I blame The Man.
‘70s rap records ( with music performed by live musicians) were cool, but it was ‘80s rap that was the most distinct! It was very minimal and noisy :
it didn’t sound like ANY OTHER TYPE OF MUSIC.
It had almost no melodies, it emphasized what was unique about hip-hop, rather than trying to sound like funk or dance music or pop. No melodies, just hits and abrasive noises over gritty beats. You could tell what song it was just by the beat alone, even without hearing the hook or the rapper!
It pissed off music critics – it even pissed off older black musicians, jazz musicians, who complained that the new generation didn’t have any theory or talent. Critics said, “this is just noise, not music!” And then the Bomb Squad came (public enemy’s producers) and took that negative and made it into a positive: they said, “You want noise, you fuckers? We’ll give you some fucking noise!” . . .
After that minimal early ‘80s sound, rap beats became more like: James Brown samples, then through the early ‘90s things got more melodic, but they also got more frenetic, as producers would layer on more and more samples, so you’d be hearing pieces of 5 or 6 songs at a time (why not, right? Sampling was free!) So that still wound up being pretty noisy.
And then came fucking 1991.
The Man came and smacked up poor old Biz Markie for using a sample – setting a legal precedent which said “sampling copyrighted music is illegal!” .
All the other producers were faced with a choice: either get really creative with their samples or abandon the sampler altogether and just use keyboards. And they mostly chose the latter. Even producers like RZA that used samples creatively wound up using music samples, rather than found sounds or things they recorded.
Keyboard-driven rap just sounds like pop or dance music to me – it doesn’t emphasize what is unique about the art form. Plus it’s hard to take the rapper’s tough-guy talk seriously when he is using more synths than Depeche Mode or Duran Duran.
To this day, I waste a lot of time wondering what would have happened if hip-hop producers had taken the other fork in the road: what if they said, “since sampling OTHER PEOPLES’ songs is illegal, why don’t we record our OWN sounds and sample THEM?”
There’s a whole history of music made from found noises and sound collages – Italian Futurism in the teens and French Musique Concrete in the 40s. If hip-hop producers had gone out and recorded the sounds of their neighborhoods, they could have 1) avoided sampling lawsuits, 2) made music even more noisy and revolutionary and abrasive, and 3) represented where they came from.
THE GOLDEN AGE OF BEATS!
When I say "golden age" I don't mean that the beats are better than the beats you kids like. I mean the beats are more unique and revolutionary: they weren't trying to be dance or funk, or pop. it was hip-hop being fucking hip-hop. Also golden-age beats had to be ORIGINAL. Like if all you had for music was drums and a DJ scratching one note, the drum patterns , the actual RHYTHMS, for each song had to be a rhythm that had never been done before. There was a creativity. And the shit was catchy. Play just 3 seconds of any of these beats to an old rap fan (without even hearing the rapper or the chorus), they can tell you exactly what fucking song it is. Try that with a rock song (assuming you can find a rock song with all the vocals and guitars removed, just the drums!). Try that with a modern rap song (again, with all the melodies and vocals removed). Ha! Get the fuck outta here. Not even the fans (of rock or modern rap) could tell their own favorite songs apart just by the beats alone.
Of course, most of the music produced back then was awful. Just like with any era. But the following songs – all from i guess '85 to '89 – show what I am talking about where the beat WAS the hook.
TOO MUCH POSSE – public enemy
SUCKER MC – run dmc
MEGA BLAST – public enemy
WALK THIS WAY – you know
MY RHYME AIN’T DONE – ll cool j
GET N PAID – schooly d
SOUTH BRONX – boogie down productions
PETER PIPER – run dmc
6 N THE MORNING – ice-t
PAUL REVERE – beastie boys
THE SHOW – doug e fresh and slick rick
MY ADDIDAS – run dmc
MONEY (DOLLAR DOLLAR BILL Y’ALL) – jimmy spicer
DOPEMAN – nwa
MORE ON MUSIQUE CONCRETE:
MORE ON ITALIAN FUTURISM:4 comments