Friday, October 30, 2009

The Battle Rapper

As for the battle rappers, their main focus isn't a political or social statement... well, in their content anyway. Lyrically, the battle rapper will move you through the most creative lines written and through freestyle. The way they keep the hip-hop community rotating properly is the constant flow of new ways to diss the next man -- it's a real creative way to say that person can't rap or to deliver a punchline that'll knock him or her into next week. A battle rapper is always polishing their skills and looking for a challenger of the lyrical kind.

Bottom line: the flow of lyrics is always creative and fresh, the attitude is always confident and the punchline is always strong. Each and every battle rapper will tell you they are the best. Although most of these kinds of rappers become commercial, they can always get the most respect from their community. And if they don't, they'll battle their way to it.

Some prominent battle rappers:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Gangsta Rapper

Whereas a conscious rapper may want you to think about the issues and take a stance against them (whatever they may be), a gangsta rapper simply creates issues -- instead of just having the audience think about revolution, a gangsta rapper will make you want to actually do something. This can go one or two ways -- by painting the rawest picture imaginable or just plain ultimatum-style. These people are a lot more aggressive with their content, as well as with their lyricism and image.

The image as well as the content isn't what's especially important to a gangsta rapper. The purpose of a gangsta rapper isn't to brag about selling drugs and killing people; if that were the case they wouldn't be rapping about it, but out doing it.

The purpose of a gangsta rapper is to tell the story of what it's like in the streets from the street's perspective. He or she will become the voice of a drug dealer or gang member and paint vivid pictures of how to survive in the hood.

Why do they do what they do? It isn't to waste air. They are so raw, not only because they are the voice of killers and drugdealers, but because they want to invoke the same feeling of the hate and oppression the streets face every day.

Some gangsta rappers:
  • NWA
  • Immortal Technique
  • Joell Ortiz
  • Styles P.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Conscious Rapper

This guy or gal has the ability to move a crowd in a way different than an MC.

If you love political and social issues dangling out of a record, then you would love a conscious rapper. A conscious rapper values his or message more than anything else. Yes, a conscious rapper wants people to be active in the community, but not without knowing why there is a problem.

These people highlight things like racism, sexism, homophobia, family problems, economic problems, classism and a host of other "isms" in the world. They want you to know about these issues and think about them.

Some conscious artists:
  • Mos Def
  • Invincible
  • Talib Kweli
  • Common

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Basics: Exploring the Emcee

Ever since "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang (a song that no, was not the first hip-hop song, but was performed by Debbbie Harry's bodyguards by what became the legendary supergroup) took over the airwaves, skating rinks and barbecue outings in 1979, the whole world follows the most popular artistic element in the hip-hop culture: the emcee.

Basically speaking, there are several different ways to classify an emcee which honestly depends on your personal taste. But as for me, I arrange my emcees like this:
  1. The Conscious Rapper
  2. The Gangsta Rapper
  3. The Battle Rapper
  4. The Entertainer
Everyone who is breathing knows rapping (another name given by the media for what emcees do) comes from the art of poetry, what else is new? Indeed, much credit is due to poets, especially poets from the Black Arts Movement who not only gave the Gift of Gab to the boys in the street, but a voice for the voiceless in a more liberating way. Artists like Amiri Baraka and The Last Poets paved the way for a new band of art to come forth, and throughout this week I'll be diving into discussion about all the different types of emcees that have since immersed.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sampling Beyond Beats

DJ Premier digging in the crates. DJ Premier is one of the greatest DJs and producers in hip-hop.

If there were no James Brown, there would be no "Fight the Power". If there were no Michael Jackson, there would be no "Hey Lover". If there were no Chaka Khan, there would be no "Through the Wire".

The hip-hop community gets that.

Sampling is a musical technique that hip-hoppers have mastered over the years of turntablism, from simple breakbeats for a party to skits from a kung-fu flick. Whatever record a DJ can find, cut and/or blend is up for grabs in hip-hop music. Beyond "Fight the Power" by Public Enemy, which had 12 sampled songs in it, the entire album Fear of a Black Planet has over 60 sampled songs! And one of Michael Jackson's greatest albums of all time Thriller was used by several hip-hop artists, including LL Cool J, Camp Lo, and Nas.

It is through sampling, as well as the rebellious nature of the cultures, that rock music connects to hiphop music. Everyone can recall the Run-DMC/Aerosmith classic collaboration "Walk This Way" in 1986. What some people may not know is that Aerosmith did that song first in 1975, and Jam Master Jay and Rick Rubin wanted to remake the song. So of course, like any good DJ should do, JMJ took the record to a whole new level, a level that the hip-hop community can't touch to this day.

Another big contribution rock music gave to hip-hop, along with disco, is the breakbeat. Breakbeats are the part of a record that consists mainly of drums, bongos, and guitar and piano solos. The name has been adopted by the hip-hop community because of the breakers, who DJ Kool Herc (a hip-hop founding father and pioneer) says best, "waits for the breaks so their inner self can go wild". The great thing hip-hop DJs do is that the breakbeats are cut, blended, and/or repeated so the mix keeps going. Perfect songs that include breakbeats include James Brown's "Funky Drummer", Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache", and Billy Squier's "The Big Beat".

The hip-hop community is well aware of how much they sample classic music. If it isn't stated in the rhymes, DJs always give subtle props to their sources, even through mixes. One prime example is the song "Classic" by Nas, KRS-One, Rakim, and Kanye West, and produced by DJ Premier. The first thing you hear is the infamous sample drop "And now for my next number, I like to return to the classic" from The Heller's Life Story. Although there are a slew of drops that give credibility to what precedes hip-hop, one group stands out to me the most as a group that uses samples as a theme to who they are (which is really what samples, breaks, etc should be used for) - Wu Tang Clan. Almost any Wu Tang Clan song has a skit from different classic kung fu movies, including Shogun Assassin, Five Deadly Venoms, and more. This group used beats that were hardcore and could get anyone hype, and almost ready to try out karate or something.

But like most of the breaks used, as well hip-hop in general, the art behind it wasn't solely intended as a way to make music sound, just as bebop was intentionally improv. Both of these styles of music were created and mastered by Black musicians as ways to rebel against the mainstream way of making "good" music, not to mention a form of "broken expression" from inequality and oppression. During the 30s people weren't trying to hear cut-up riffs and artists performing improv. But once people listened, bebop became popular in mainstream jazz and in the clubs. Now the DJs use their turntables, like jazz musicians used their horns and drums in the 30s, to express themselves through mending their "broken expression" from oppression that continues to this day.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How the West was won... again.

In the beginning of West Coast hip-hop music, you had the thuggish sounds of N.W.A., Snoop Dogg, and Death Row. But there was always the conscious side of the West Coast, like Del the Funky Homosapien, Pharcyde, and Wordsmith. With the West booming with plenty artists like Blu, Pac Div, and New Boyz (who isn’t trying to jerk in the club?), people must wonder if there is a new movement coming out of Cali.

It’s no secret that the West always brings some new flavor to hip-hop. Way back when -- even though breaking did start in New York -- b-boys from California brought popping and locking into mainstream culture. While rapping about partying and conditions in the ghetto on the East, the West took it to another level with its tough street demeanor, and yet still kept it conscious. Now the whole auto-tune movement is calming down (hopefully), and while rappers continue to spit about being vicious on the mic and overcoming adversity, the West takes rap to another level yet again, just living and getting by.

Over the past five years, there has been a slow build-up of artists coming out of the Bay Area and L.A. bringing a cool but conscious style of hip hop music, and top hip-hop blogs like Okayplayer, illRoots, and 2dopeboyz are feeling. They don’t necessarily sound like a Death Row movement, although they contain an edginess that disturbs the conservative type. Nor do they come totally conscious like the Pharcyde, although they do bring lines that make you think.

Basically, they are in a style of their own. The production, led by Trackademicks, is phenomenal. It is very electronic, reminiscent of the 80s hip hop scene, as well as soulful. One group out of the West that, in my opinion, owns this style is J*DaVey. Vocalist Miss Jack Davey is Erykah Badu with a mohawk; her voice smothers a beat about as much as the CD it lays in. Producer Brook D’Leaurean provides smooth, fast, and electrical tunes all at once.

A few mixes to enjoy include:

L.A.U.S.D. – Various Artists
U-N-I – A Love Supreme
Trackademicks – The (re)mixtape Vol. 2

Photo Credit:
Pac Div's MySpace