Jan 242013

Does any 30-year stretch of rock ‘n roll sound as similar to a non-rock ‘n roll lover from my grandparents’ generation’s ears as 30-plus years of rap sound to mine?

Honestly, I don’t want this thread to sound like the rumblings of an old white man, but I need perspective.

I own a few rap/hip-hop albums: a Sugarhill Gang Best of, a couple of albums each by Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys… I like them. Whenever I try moving beyond that small circle of artists (and trust me: I own some other rap/hip-hop albums and have had friends burn me collections of various artists in an effort to broaden my mind) it quickly sounds the same: people talk-singing in one of a couple of standard meters about a) how cool they are, b) how tough they are, c) how pissed they are that someone dissed them, or d) all of the above. Oh, and some of the more adventurous artists mix in “Eastern” beats and name-drop stuff that indicates a degree of nerdiness, turning on the likes of Quentin Tarantino: kung-fu movies, obscuro soul artists from the ’70s, ABA basketball legends…

I know this is a horrible generalization, but let’s hold a mirror up to my weakness, if not your own. Does any 30-year stretch of rock ‘n roll sound as similar to a non-rock ‘n roll lover’s ears as 30-plus years of rap sound to mine? Reggae? Rockabilly? Metal?

How do those of us in the know differentiate within one of these given genres? What would we tell me, for instance, to look for in terms of differentiation among rap/hip-hop artists?



  19 Responses to “Thirtysomething: Is This How 30 Years of Rock ‘n Roll Sounds to Someone Else?”

  1. alexmagic

    people talk-singing in one of a couple of standard meters about a) how cool they are, b) how tough they are, c) how pissed they are that someone dissed them, or d) all of the above

    This covers a pretty broad range of punk, doesn’t it?

  2. And the blues.

  3. Before we get into how one differentiates the different artists, I’d like to understand why you need to know this about rap and not about, say, old timey music or opera or any of a number of other genres. Do you know the difference between Tiny Bradshaw and Wynonie Harris? It’s much more important that knowing the difference between GZA and RZA, if you ask me.

    Personally, I just don’t like rap as a form, so while I respect some of it, I don’t like listening to any of it. But I could understand why a rap fan might not be able to tell the difference between the Coasters and the Drifters, or Johnny Burnette and Gene Vincent, or the Las and some other jangly Brits.

    One of my nephew’s is a big hip-hop/new country fan. I looked through his iPod a few years ago and about half of the artists for the classic rock/oldies songs were mislabeled. And in the grand scheme of things, what does it matter if he things Rod Stewart does Betty Davis Eyes?

  4. Listen, clearly the post is loaded with rhetorical if not downright idiotic questions. It’s not the sensitive, probing stuff you’ve come to expect from me. Among the more salient points, I believe, is whether the entire genre has changed that much over 30 years – 30 years – or I’m simply too dumb to understand the changes.

    The blues is a good comparison to what I’m getting at. That genre’s been hammering the same chord progression and lyrical themes for nearly 100 years! Punk, on the other hand, is just a ripple in ocean of what we broadly call rock ‘n roll. Parsing one silly, tongue-in-cheek line about the lyrics of rap songs and comparing it to punk isn’t quite the same thing.

    Listen, the shame of this entire post is on me. I’m not trying to argue anything necessarily “bad” regarding the entire genre of rap and hip-hop. If everyone’s cool with 30 years of rap and really feels they can point out some of the finer aspects of developments in those all-important beats I read about give it to me straight. I’m all ears. The way producers are credited for their innovations in beats I keep expecting to hear new time signatures, shit Bill Bruford couldn’t notate. What am I missing? Isn’t Missy Elliot credited with the skipping “Indian” beat in rap? I hear that beat to this day. It’s pretty cool. Am I supposed to put her on par with Bo Diddley and Phil Spector for that? Maybe so, and that’s my problem, right?

  5. I guess what I’m saying is that if it was important to you, you would know the difference between the various personal styles of hip hop artists because you would give a shit. But there’s no shame in not caring about a genre or subset.

    I’m a jazz neophyte. I like a bunch of the “core” artists, but I heard some of Coltrane’s more experimental stuff about 20 years ago and if killed any desire I might have had to hear free jazz or hard bop or anything lacking what I consider to be a sufficient amount of structure. I’m sure if Buskirk is lurking, he can jump in and set me straight, but the squonks and screeches all sound the same to me and I don’t want to listen to any of it long enough to parse out the individual styles of the players.

    Also, rap has been distilled down to a set of rules and a uniform. All genres are, but much like metal, I can’t relate to the particular rules or uniform, so I’m sure that I occasionally and unfairly throw a genuinely artistic baby out with the bathwater.

  6. cliff sovinsanity

    Hip hop ain’t been nothin’ but shit since Crunk.

  7. To go out on a limb and quote Mrs. Cleaver – ‘True dat blood’. And that’s Beaver not Eldridge.

  8. 2000 Man

    It only matters if he aspires to become a music nerd. Otherwise, he’s not gonna buy any music and he’ll probably mostly grow out of the rap and just be a new country fan (which is really just a new generation of Journey fans with cowboy hats).

  9. cherguevara

    This thread is timely in that the other day my four-year-old son asked me “what is a rapper” and my response, as it left my mouth and returned to my brain via my ears, left me horrified as if I’d slept for 30 years and awakened to see my own reflection. It wasn’t the music or logic from my own mind, it was my father’s. It was a paltry, pathetic impression of a rapper presented by a person with no cultural or generational connection to the form. What is a rapper, he said and the goofball rolls out of my mouth as I try to rap “it’s a guy who rhymes to music like this boomp boomp de boomp.” My wife looks at me sideways, what just happened?

    As a kid I was surrounded by the “old school” rap – Apache. The Message. Playing Basketball. Now I’ve been fortunate to know and even work with some of the people who made those records and all I can muster is “boomp boomp de boomp.” I’ve turned into my dad.

  10. Thank you for getting what I was getting at. I really wasn’t trying to make some attack on a form that got started as I was getting calcified.

  11. jeangray

    Really? You started getting calcified in the late ’70’s?

  12. The process began in 1983, jeangray. How about for you?

  13. jeangray

    Ha ha! Well, I hope that I didn’t not offend you Mr. Mod. My question was more a statement of the true timeline of Rap’s origins, and perhaps an intro into a bigger question that has plauged me ever since I have entered these hallowed halls of rock.

    Whilst my body may be calcifying as we speak, I would like to thank that my tastes in culture are as vital, ongoing, ever-expanding & open-minded as they have ever been. Therefore, it just blows my mind when I read statements regarding Rock dying in 1982, or whole handed dismissals of entire genres such as Rap. On any given day, I can be found to be listening to the selections from the entire spectrum of recorded Musiks. Anythang from ’40’s Jazz, to today’s Top 40 (got a middle schooler in the house), to Rap to fifties Rockabilly, to Classical to Grunge, to etc., etc. I have not found a genre that I cannot find somethang of value in, although I do find Young Country especially hard to parse through.

    Anyhow, I guess my whole point is that I have never really understood why most folks seem to find a genre or time-period of Musik that they love, and then don’t ever really step outside of those boundaries. Seems limiting to me.

    As for your Rap argument, I would say dig out that Sugar Hill Gang CD & compare it to Kanye West’s latest album. If’n you canna hear progress in that, then I can’t help you. And there are also plenty of Hip-Hop artists that don’t subscribe to your four stated lyrical topics. Try some De La Soul, Digital Underground, cLOUDDEAD, THEESatifaction or Pigeon John. You may be pleasantly surprised at the variety of lyrical content.

    I will concede your point about beats. It’s not about the beat itself being innovative, but more about the sound of the beat being innovative. Does that make sense?

    Sorry for the screed, this topic is just somethang that I feel strongly about.

  14. jeangray, no need for apologies whatsoever! I wasn’t really offended, just playing so in hopes of drawing out more discussion. This is as expansive as you’ve ever been. It’s good stuff, and truly, you express goals we should all strive to meet. I think a lot of us do work to keep our minds and ears open. Those of us who don’t succeed as well are still committed to “living the blues,” or whatever genres float our boats. Getting deeper into what we love is as important as exploring wider streams.

    As for the rap comments I made, I was more interested in expressing a state of being that shocked me. I don’t necessarily stand behind it. I know about De La Soul’s cutesy rap. Kanye West is on my “punch list.” I don’t get anything out of his music, and I find his entire persona grating and embarrassing. If that’s progress give me Sugar Hill Gang! That stuff was fun.

    Anyhow, I’m glad we all get a chance to play together, push each other deeper and wider, as circumstances dictate, and have fun. I do explore new music and different genres, but I’m pretty certain of my core musical values. That doesn’t mean I’m “right” about most things, not at all.

  15. Mr. Mod, your thread raises a great issue, no matter how confusingly.

    I’ve long agreed with the “1983 Thesis” and surely that applies here. I don’t see the growth in rap either. Has it changed? Sure, I can hear some of that but that’s not necessarily the same as growth. The change I hear is more technological.

    I started with rock & roll in the early ‘60s, I have seen the changes and the growth. To my ears, rock’s been calcifying for the last 30 years though (going back to, wow what a coincidence, 1983). I stress the “my ears” part. I’ve only lately started to analyze why I adhere to that “1983 Thesis”. Too much of music lacks things that I generally need.

    Where have the melodies gone? Grunge dispensed with them and too much of what has followed seems to agree with the grunge template for that.

    Where are the singers, the people who can put a song across with their soul, their phrasing, their harmonies? (Of course, that’s harder to do without melodies.) Can it all be blamed on Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, and American Idol?

    And I don’t think my thoughts about rap or rock of the last two decades is because I’m another version of my father. For one thing, I loved rap in the early days; it’s around when it became known as hip-hop that I started to fall away.

    I came to jazz in the mid-‘70s and country even later. But I’ve gone back and I can see the evolution of both those genres over the decades of their existence (in jazz, I guess it’s the century of its existence). I don’t need to have grown up with it or have come to love it as a kid or teenager to see that. I don’t see that kind of evolution (and maybe that’s a better word than growth) in rap.

    I guess that’s enough disjointed exposition. Let me go put on that Herman’s Hermits Greatest Hits album…

  16. misterioso

    I hate to get all jazz pince-nez-y, but I think you are thinking of something else when you say hard bop, since most of the exemplars of that (Blakey, Silver, Byrd, Morgan, too many to list) are extremely melodic and, one might say, generally easy on the ears. Free jazz, once you get past the early Coleman records, I’m pretty much with you.

  17. misterioso

    I’m with cdm in that there’s “no shame in not caring about a genre or subset.” So, Mod, and join with me in declaring: “I don’t give a shit about rap and never have. And I’m okay with that. We’re here, we don’t care about rap, get used to it!” It’s liberating, my friend. I don’t even have to pretend I care about Public Enemy or give a thought to when rap “lost it” because it ain’t never had it for me. Freedom!

  18. See? I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about, and I’m A-Okay with that.

  19. 2000 Man

    I finally gave up trying different things musically, because if there’s no guitars, at some point I get bored. I still look for new bands with guitars, but I can’t keep wasting my time with classical or jazz or even blues (which has guitars but it all sounds the same to me). I used to make sure to buy a classical album now and then, but then I’d always fall asleep before they ended, even if I wsn’t tired. When rap came out I had a friend that got into it, and I’d borrow his stuff to see if I’d like it, and I listened to the college radio shows so I could see if maybe I just liked the underground stuff better, but it all sounded the same. Everyone just sounds pissed off in that genre to me. Or like that guy that keeps talking louder at a party because no one is really listening to him.

    But mainly, I know what works for me and I work on expanding that niche further back and forth in time. I do like a few other things and I can appreciate when someone is really good at what they do (like Madonna), or when someone just has so much talent you’d be stupid not to recognize it (like Adele). But I don’t understand why someone would steal a chunk of an old, familiar song, change the beat of that song a little bit, and then act like they just “created” something. I don’t mind that I don’t care about a whole genre (or two, or three, or more). I’m pretty happy with what I like, and since there’s so many rock records, I’ll never get to hear them all before I die anyway.

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