Tokyo Damage Report

WHERE RAP BEATS WENT WRONG

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.
 
 
Fuck that. 
 
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 collagesItalian 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

4 Comments so far

  1. Steve September 12th, 2012 5:51 pm

    And the irony is that Biz Markie sampled a melodic piano beat, not like 18 complex breaks.

  2. Narcoleptic September 15th, 2012 9:26 pm

    I really think the Musique Concrete comparison is totally accurate.  I just remembered this interview between Paul Simon and Hank Shocklee I read in 1990 or something.  Due to the magic of the internet, it's easily at my fingertips now.  Hank Shocklee basically states he's straight up for ditching melody and just sampling everyday sounds.  Of course, Paul Simon is not down with this.  Check it out:
     
    SIMON: The sound you're talking about is taken from preexisting sounds, like the drum machine, and sooner or later, that well is going to run dry. Unless you get new drummers, you don't have new sounds.
    SHOCKLEE: Well, if we'd be quiet for a minute … I hear a lot of sounds. I hear a bus going by, a car horn, somebody closing a door.

    SIMON: It's a hard case to make that those sounds will fulfill – as the main part of the meal – what actual instruments have always done. We've broadened our idea of what sound is and how it can be used in terms of music, but we haven't eliminated the heart. I don't believe you'll be as satisfied hearing a series of buses and doors as you will hearing a
    real instrument.
    SHOCKLEE: If you took people and played them nothing but simulated sounds, they'd start to develop a universe within, playing sounds from an artificial instrument.
    SIMON: But I think somebody's going to appear with a wooden flute, and people are going to go, Wow, what is that sound? I love it, because they've been loving that sound for ten-thousand years. I'm not saying people's vocabulary of sounds will ever eliminate the sound of the bus passing or the door closing; once your ear opened to the thing, it's in there. I am saying that these essential ingredients are so deeply a part of the human species that they could never go away. Melody has gone so far away that people don't think it will ever come back, but I don't believe it. You know why? Because at some point in time, everybody stands up and tears fall out of their eyes when the appropriate moment comes to sing "Amazing Grace." Because there's a certain moment when only "Amazing Grace" will do.
    [/mrs. robinson]
    Of course, to quote Chuck D:
    Can't be trusted cause you're living in the past
    Ya should have kept yo ass away from that blast
    MEGABLAST!

  3. consumer October 7th, 2012 8:31 pm

    Remove all references to rapping in this article, and you basically have the manifesto of first and second wave industrial music. Ignore all the distorted synthpop that came after.

  4. Jason January 21st, 2013 5:18 pm

    Rap music has changed that for sure. I miss those old original rappers. But we still cant take any talent away from the new school producers it still takes a lot of skill and brains to develop and produce a hit record.

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