March 27, 2011
Okay, okay, my man! You say it’s a great song so I’ll listen. I love music, so please go ahead, hum me the melody. C’mon, let’s hear it. Off you go. A-one a-two a-... what’s that? You can’t hum it? Precisely my point, brah: it’s because there is no melody, is there. The song is just you talking, isn’t it.
Well, when I say talking I really mean shouting something angrily and resentfully in a mumbly kind-of rhythmic pidgin English peppered with foul words and even fouler sentiments.
Much of it is painful listening. Try ‘A Thug’s Love Story’ by one Nathaniel Wilson who’s taken to calling himself Kool G Rap. There’s plenty of thuggery in this guy’s love story, but no love; it’s been usurped by base lust and I shan’t get into his lyrics or those of individuals like Lil Wyte or Juicy J because this is a family newspaper.
There’s far too much about guns and drugs and rape and killing. Here’s Clifford Smith as Method Man, where every third word’s an obscenity, bragging about ways of torture such as stabbing with a rusty screwdriver and... no, I really won’t repeat this. It’s too repulsive.
What kind of hostile, twisted minds spawn such vile material? It’s so alien to society – or is it? People are actually buying it. Lots of people. They’re even dishing out Grammy awards for the “best” of it.
Offensive poetry put to rhythm. Someone yelling violent obscenities while making occasional coughing, belching, sneezing noises to denote the beat. Phoom-pukka-tisha-burp Sss-pukka-phoom-phoom...
There’s Earl Simmons as DMX hollering and barking. Like a dog. That’s music? Since when?
Also these odd jerking, often menacing, movements. You angry dudes gotta calm down. And why must the whole gang be swaying silently onstage while only one is doing the chanting and sneezing? Doesn’t anyone play an instrument any more? Rap might be de jour but to label it music is simply false advertising.
Word up, homeboys, gangsta rappers, hippers, hoppers and those trying to be them: modern music, as rock ‘n’ roll legend Fats Domino defined it, is rhythm and melody. With rap, that second element is missing.
Granted, I’m old, just as my parents were when they knocked the rock because it wasn’t all violins and warbled love songs, nor even the brassy tones of the Dorsey Brothers and Glenn Miller.
They found The King’s suggestive hip gyrations awfully common, but they could never label him unharmonious. Even less justifiably once he’d cheeseburgered himself into the operatic 255-lb Rhinestone Elvis. Nor could they fault the melodic stuff from Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and the rockin’ rest. It had a beat but it also had a tune.
They said rock ‘n’ roll would never die. Sadly, it did in its second decade, strangled by technically accomplished musicians who flaunted their instrumental skills. So here the lyrics were lost, drowned out in a cacaphony of virtuoso playing – the opposite of what’s happening today with rap where it’s all words, no music.
In the Twenties we had that gorgeous jangly jazz, the euphonious sounds of King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke and Jelly Roll Morton, replete with soaring improvised solos and stunning ensembles. It morphed into a polished version called Dixieland and jettisoned its soul. Even Satchmo, Louis Armstrong, who had traded his cornet for a trumpet, allowed himself to be re-branded as a pop star. ‘Hello Dolly’? Goodbye Satch!
Meanwhile Big Band had made sure that jazz’s heart, too, was stomped into the dancehall dust. Plus there emerged a cerebral modern jazz, again performed by the masters: music for musicians, too refined for us ordinary folk.
Music is always improved to death, or it becomes drab. It happened to sweet Jamaican reggae once its ‘dub’ form took over. The country, bluegrass and electrifying blues of the Fifties all “perfectized” now into canned goods – the raw excitement gone. Easy listening, soft rock - but at least the melody lingers.
The young seek their own sounds. There was punk, disco, grunge, and now this, a collection of objectionable rhymes, shouted insults and woofs coupled with the mouth-drumming style they call beatboxing.
Progress, if that’s the word, with all these guys bearing names like Soulja Boy and Lil Boosie and 50 Cent who, incidentally, does not have a big brother called Dollar Ten. And then there’s Radric Davis, going under Gucci Mane, with a huge ice cream cone tattooed on his face. It’s all so, well... so absolutely Christopher Bridges. So Ludacris.
There’s Artis Ivey appearing as Coolio because frozen water is apparently the thing to be.
You think these people are so cool? Word up again, you guys who weren’t even a warm, loving look in your daddy’s eye when I used to chill out with the freezingest fellow of them all. You know Ice Cube and Ice T? Well, I knew their father... Ice Pop.
My record collection ranges from opera to jazz to country to blues to bluegrass to reggae to cajun to a couple of CDs by Joey, the Monroe-based son of my good friend Gary Snead.
And every bit of this real music beats the rap.