Hip-Hop: A Response

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In Response to Ben Johnson's Article

Based on this article, I found it oddly frustrating. I am acutely aware that I can be quite highly strung about music; instances tend to escalate, friends are lost, and I like to think I have learned from these experiences. Yet in this case, I struggled to keep the pressure gauge low, and so decided to let out the bulk of my vehement annoyance by writing a response.

It would seem the writer had chosen a subject almost arbitrarily, throwing his dart at the wall to which he has celotaped various genres which are not universally popular, and attempted to sound knowledgeable. Many view hip-hop in the most pretentious manner, or certainly at least use it as such as a conversational device: ‘here, look how varied my taste in hip-hop is, aren’t I textured and deep?’ This is precisely what hip-hop is not about.  The slander of Dre is nonsense, plain and simple. Few producers have existed, and these few will be dealt with later, with more talent than Dre. The composition of music, if you take a moment to understand that this is indeed very good music, is superb. The lyrics are wonderfully crafted around the beat, binding itself with its movements. Most importantly, the music says something powerful, rather than just listing a lot of things people often think are clever because, in all honesty, not many people like them.

My second point of contention is the absolutely atrocious awareness of the real depth of this sort of music. The erosion of culture is down to this sort of laxity in research and ability to seek entertainment widely. This is most lamentable with hip-hop, drawing roots from jazz, breakbeat, blues and providing inspiration to a plethora of new music, both now and for generations to come. The fact of the matter is that hip-hop does not equate to gangsta-rap, or indeed awful gangsta-rap such as Lil Wayne, but it does not also mean that this supposed openness of mind should not apply further and to the world of gangsta-rap itself. Big L was fantastically talented, as was Biggie and 2-pac, as is NAS. For a more pretentious ear, seeking something a little more clever and musically involved, something a little more painstaking rather than raw talent can be found in Souls of Mischief and Pharcyde, who’s lyrics are fantastically funny, the music itself so slick and aimlessly powerful to the point of brilliance.

However, for those who prefer a more relaxed hip-hop, a more intelligent hip-hop, leaving behind any claim at being “gangster”, there is an endless barrage of acts and DJs who create music in an infinite variety, some of which is truly beautiful and as cathartic as the Greek tragedies. J Dilla compiled much of Donuts on his death bed, ignorance of this fact having no bearing on the masterwork that this album. Onra remixes Vietnamese records and other old, largely unheard tracks, and samples it over awesome hip-hop beats. L’Omelette uses jazz to create phenomenal trip-hop. Hieroglyphics, Handsome Boy Modelling School, The Boomjacks, The Jazzual Suspects, L’Orange, Death Grips; all individually astounding and all produce hip-hop and trip-hop which is, artistically speaking, very good. The fact that hip-hop many people like is often just a slurring of empty statements is just because the people you are referring to are rubbish. However, don’t claim to have mined to the very heart of hip-hop when you are clearly unaware of its greatest achievements. It is also often the case that hip-hop about gangster life is awesome. NWA are great. Public Enemy are great.

So next time you judge someone on hip-hop, maybe listen first. Why not? You never know, you may find yourself surprised after all.

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