Rose writes, “Hip-hop gives voice to the tensions and contradictions in the public urban landscape during a period of substantial transformation in New York, and attempts to seize the shifting urban terrain, to make it work on behalf of the dispossessed.” (3) Hip-hop isn’t a type of music; it’s a way of life and a culture. The culture contains clothing style, rapping, turntablism, dance, rhyming, beatboxing, and sampling. “Hip-hop manages the painful contradictions of social alienation and prophetic imagination” (Rose). Hip-hop has intense attitude, poetic preaching, technological ingenuity, language mastery, imagination, spontaneity, and originality to the highest degree. Hip-hop was born from people who didn’t have anything handed to them; underprivileged people that fought to have their hardships heard and turned their asperities into a flourishing global culture. Hip-hop continues to come from people that struggle on a daily basis. Like they say in East of Havana, hip-hop isn’t taught in a classroom it’s learned on the streets. Hip-hop knowledge is entrenched in orality and street values. Street values and oral traditions differ throughout the world. For example hip-hop in Cuba is different than hip-hop in NYC because struggles differ in differing situations. Cuban hip-hop was born as a means of unifying against repressive communism and it fueled a revolution. Intrinsic to hip-hop values is the sense of honoring past traditions. Although hip-hop around the world is influenced by American hip-hop it eventually takes a unique form in every location.
While derived from past struggles, today hip-hop does the same but it also struggles within itself. Today the idea of “keeping it real” holds the meaning of authenticity. In the global hip-hop scene today there exists many imposters of hip-hop culture members. Artists sell out to make money. Top 40 music in the U.S is often referred to as hip-hop but isn’t. Artists like Kesha, Jay Sean, Taio Cruz, and others don’t stay true to hip-hop values and it is extremely unfortunate that these people have become the face of American popular hip-hop. Some artists sell out for a few songs then return to their true music. Eminem returns to his ingenious lyrics and rhythms in his album Recovery. He lost his way but he’s back now. In “Not Afraid” he says “And to the fans, I'll never let you down again, I'm back I promise to never go back on that promise, in fact, Let's be honest, that last "Relapse" CD was ehhh, Perhaps I ran them accents into the ground, Relax, I ain't goin back to that now”. Artists like Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Atmosphere, Common, Nas, and Damian Marley keep it real but they are nowhere to be seen on the charts. In my opinion the today’s struggles in American hip-hop revolves around authenticity.
Want to be hip-hop:
Hip-hop: A Give and Take Relationship With a Concerned Future
Meaning and style of hip-hop are a in relationship that resonates back and fourth between its original values core values and local cultural additions. Rose’s definition of hip-hop culture offers a great starting point to dissect this relationship. She writes, “Hip-hop culture emerged as source of alternative identity formation and social status for youth in a community whose older local support institutions had been all but demolished along with large sectors of its build environment.” It is this idea of an “alternative identity” that is the most prominent translation that occurs with the global dispersal of hip-hop. Just as local brass bands in West Africa and Asia adopted aspects of colonial music that they could readily use, such as brass instruments, so too do hip-hop artists and cultures today adapt components of hip-hop that they readily can use—the concepts of an active creation of an alternative identity, “keepin’ it real,” and freedom of expression through language and rhythm.
Guerilla Radio is a case study that shows the give and take within this relationship. Within a failing system under Castro, Cubans have found an externalized identity, a way of feeling independent in a hugely oppressive regime with hip-hop. This origin of hip-hop closely parallels its origins in the South Bronx in the 1970s, as “urban renewal” relocated minorities, mostly African Americans and Latinos, to the South Bronx, effectively destroying their existing communities, homes, and, most significantly, their identities. Both in Cuba and in the South Bronx, distraught, lost youth simultaneously found and actively recreated the identities which Castro and Moses’s Cross-Bronx Expressway respectively stole.
Yet “Guerilla Radio” also serves as an example of the flip-side of this relationship. While break-dancing, graffiti artists, DJs, and rappers were inseparable to hop-hop style in the South Bronx, it seems that largely only DJs and rappers were adopted by Cubans, leaving break-dancing and graffiti behind. For Cubans, DJs and rap were the components of hip-hop that most resonated with what they were seeking—identity and externalized independence from Castro. Breakdancing and Grafiti was not adopted because it did not fit within the outlet that Cubans were seeking. Thus, from the Cuba case study, it seems that when rap and hip-hop circulate globally, the origins of style are certainly a shaping force, but not the only force at play. There is a significant “give-and-take” between existing institutions and hip-hops original meaning of sound and style.
Because global hip-hop is so strongly founded in hip-hop’s original meaning and values, it is worthwhile to consider where we are today. The hip-hop world has become profoundly distorted and reversed as money, commercial interests, and a wider audience have downplayed hip-hop to appeal to the American common denominator. One need only scan the radio for a few minutes to see that the creativity and way of life of the original culture has been distorted into obsession with money, sex, drugs, and power, all of which stand at the opposite end of its origins. (Communication medium based on freedom of thought, creativity with language, and ultimately “keepin’ it real” in a heavily impoverished community)
There is a line in Hip-hop artist Aceyalone’s “The Guidelines” that seems to resonate within this case study and serve as a conclusion to this blog entry. In a concept album largely about defining what hip-hop means, he states, “I’d rather stimulate your mind than emulate your purpose.” The dichotomy of this statement seems to represent to two sides of hip-hop: past and present. Because it has been shown that hip-hop translates significant aspects of its origins as it disperses globally, one has to wonder what components of hip-hop future global hip-hop scenes will translate into their own. Cubans latched onto the creativity and freedom of expression through language—Aceyalone’s “[stimulation] of your mind.” Could it be possibly then that, sometime in the future, hip-hop scenes will latch on to modern themes of sex, money, drugs, and power—Aceyalone’s “[emulation of] your purpose”—say in a third-world society which is already so heavily driven by drugs, power, and money. This is frankly terrifying to the music world and to me as a listener. What would be the implications of this for hip-hop?
Global Manifestations of Shared Rebellion
Submitted by Jenna Iden on Sunday, 11/14/2010, at 6:22 PM
Hip-hop, specifically rap, tends to be the music of frustration. It's a rally against whatever factors are oppressive, be it a stifling government or an economic system, issues of race or raw all-encompassing heartbreak. As Rose states, "Hip hop emerges from complex cultural exchanges and larger social and political conditions of disillusionment and alienation" (83-84). It's the musical outlet for those that are pushed into a corner, and no two corners are the same.
In her article, Rose gives her creation myth for the origins of hip hop. At the extremes of poverty and governmental marginalization, hip-hop allowed young artists in the South Bronx to reassert themselves. It formed a community of the oppressed, equipped to fight their un-charmed circumstances with rap, dance, and spray paint. Rap’s emphasis on words and flow allows rappers to quickly adapt to their surroundings. Catchy beats and heightened relevance draw huge audiences—not necessarily to a single artist, but—to a style that seeks to change society.
This is the musical revolution that spreads overseas. In East of Havana, the artists rap about oppression, their life struggles. Magyori, when prodded about whether she would pursue a career in rap, dismisses the question. For her, a profession is a shop owner, a cook, etc. Rap is a rebellion without bloodshed (though the passion involves is, by no means, bloodless). Alexander, a rapper featured in Guerilla Radio, is similarly immune to the allure of money. He’s proud of what he can do on $5 commissions with long outdated equipment. Rap is a social issue.
And here is where global hip-hop deviates from a cartoon-children-holding-hands-circling-a-globe mentality. Hip-hop may be the expression of the oppressed, but no two oppressions are the same. We all may suffer and we all may be empathetic, but no two injustices are the same. Rap begins from the same emotional state. It draws on the same emphasis on sampling, discovering new music in long discarded drum beats and bass lines, but Cuban hip-hop is not the hip-hop of the South Bronx.
Whereas the Cuban artists featured in the two films take great pride in their abilities to make great music with limited materials, American hip-hop values materiality as evidence of power. Cubans’ primarily repression is political; they must function under a totalitarian government. For them, creating in the most impoverished conditions is a badge of strength. For the artists Rose describes in the South Bronx, their primary struggle is with poverty: economic conditions the government seems entirely unwilling to mollify. If artists can show themselves to be monetarily successful, they too can lash back at the system that oppresses them. Here, rap created material culture in communities otherwise defined by lack of materials. Today this focus can become bothersome—Kanye West does not need a mandible embedded with diamonds—but it emerges from a real place of political rebellion. Rap may never produce two identical artists, styles, or expressions of outrage anywhere on the globe, but its foundation is the same; fight back.
I will spare the reader a diatribe on the rampant materialism and overblown egos present in hip-hop today and how far hip-hop culture (music especially) has deviated from its roots. Yes, it's frustrating, disappointing, and even saddening, but this is the natural course of subcultures; things that are initially subversive and shocking are soon swept up and integrated into a mainstream vocabulary. Since America is the main purveyor of culture, we see this commercialization of subcultures happen in real-time and often with frightening speed. Though there are still tons of underground youth movements towards more grassroots form of hip-hop, I think we can take the state of American hip-hop as an opportunity to actively explore hip-hop in other nations. In "Guerilla Radio" and the NYT's piece on underground hip-hop in China, we see that a largely unexploited, unknown world of hip-hop exists that has been able to avoid the glossed over sheen of American hip-hop. These international rappers take cues directly from hip-hop's roots, but adapt it to fit their own reality and struggles.
The question though, is whether global hip-hop must be molded in congruence with the original forms of hip-hop to be valid and authentic. I think this is not only essential, but unavoidable. As we've said in class before, nothing is made in a vacuum and must be built upon what came before it. Hip-hop embodies very specific roots of being driven by urban (usually minority) youth as a creative output for their frustrations over being socially and economically disadvantaged or oppressed. These ideas are inherent in most of hip-hop (or at least its earlier forms), but they have been adapted to fit the struggles that specifically pertain to a place or people.
Hip-hop first entered Cuba in the late 1980s via Miami radio stations and quickly stirred up its own underground movement, much to the chagrin of the Cuban government. In the following two videos, "Por Los Ke No Estan" by Papa Humbertico (2007) and "Juicy" by Notorious B.I.G. (1994), you see a dialog between new forms of global hip-hop and the old forms of American hip-hop that influenced them.
Musically, the two can be compared through their simple, repetitive beat that centers around the break and features various amounts of layering at different parts of the song (especially the chorus, which becomes a bit more driving in each). The performance style of the two are also similar, as they take on a sort of "orator" role, telling a narrative about their lives and others who have shared the struggle- all fundamental aspects of hip-hop music. With the help of my shabby 5 years of Spanish classes (and through the images spliced into the video), Papa Humbertico raps about struggling against poverty and oppressive social conditions (not just in Cuba, but all over the world) and makes shout outs/dedications to various family members as well as historical figures (Malcolm X, Che Guevara, even Notorious B.I.G.). In "Juicy," Notorious B.I.G. also talks about poverty ("We used to fuss when the landlord dissed us/No heat, wonder why Christmas missed us"), social oppression ("Considered a fool 'cause I dropped out of high school/Stereotypes of a black male misunderstood") and stresses the importance of bringing attention to and overcoming struggles ("Don't let em hold you down, reach for the stars").
Somewhat off the topic of music but pertaining to hip-hop culture, the following two pictures show graffiti in China and New York. One addresses the hysteria and threat of H1N1 while the NY piece centers around the devastating effects of AIDS.
No matter where hip-hop takes root in the world, I think it's still bound to the original form of American hip-hop. This is for a variety of reasons but I think the main ones are that hip-hop is still a relatively newer form of creative expression and its origins are still tangible to those riffing off of its style; also, the messages and ideologies surrounding hip-hop are incredibly powerful and I don't see why they would want to be deviated from or discarded. Hip-hop has been, and I think will continue to be, regardless of location in the world, a crucial outlet for disadvantaged and oppressed youth. Eventually however, simply by the nature of cultural trajectory, hip-hop music will transform into something that is largely unrecognizable compared to its earliest forms. But then it might return again to its initial style and sound; this cyclical process of borrowing and transforming influences is seen in all forms of music, and will likely become more prevalent as hip-hop evolves.
Rappers Today: F***ing Billboards for Corporate America
This is not a rant against the current state of hip-hop. That would be an infinitely fruitless effort. This is an assertion. The sound and style of hip-hop is highly localized—hip-hop is not a static art form, it’s a reflection of the people who create it. People often get caught up in authenticity battles over what real hip-hop is (East Coast vs. West Coast anyone?) but they forget that hip-hop is about expression. People also forget that music is cyclical. We’ll soon tire of plastic consumerism with its post-modern cynical excess. We’ll want to get back to hip-hop’s roots.
Wild Style shows us how hip-hop began, in the Bronx amongst immigrants and minorities who were trying to find a way to speak on their reality. Spoken word and DJ culture spawned hip-hop, but at its roots, the genre was just Bronx kids trying to create something positive and beautiful, despite the ugliness of their circumstances. Hip-hop started out as a process of creating something out of nothing, out of using limited resources in creative ways to make art. The genre started out as a somewhat innocent celebration of life, dancing and an independent culture based on art and music.
When hip-hop music began depicting the harsh life of the inner city, and mainstream audiences began consuming the music, the commoditized story of violence began eclipsing the lyrical aspects of hip-hop. The meaning of hip-hop translated into a more negative incarnation as it moved out of the Bronx and into the larger culture.
When hip-hop moved to other places, its sound and style changed. For instance, when hip-hop moved to Cuba, its basic elements of spoken word integrated with beats were maintained, but the style of music incorporated with the wordplay became more local. The Cuban hip-hop we explored showed how hip-hop as a style was re-appropriated for a local culture. Cuban hip-hop tends to use son and other culturally relevant musical elements for its signature sound. Also, Cuban hip-hop artists in the films we saw rapped about aspects of their lives with candor and intensity, in a way that is more reminiscent of ‘90s rap than that of today.
One of my favorite rappers of today is Wale because he speaks to truth, instead of to an almighty dollar. The most prominent female MCs on the scene today is Nicki Minaj, who with her Young Money crew, has taken over the radio. While I respect how she plays the game, I think she moves hip-hop even further away from its roots of speaking truth. Because she has taken on the hip-hop world at a global level, she plays by the norms of a music industry business that don’t consider the roots of hip-hop.
Wale on Getting Back to Hip-hop's Roots:
Nowadays, with Jay-Z’s proclamations about the death of auto-tune and various rappers musings on the hip-hop game, and the send-ups to unfettered consumerism, hip-hop is as far from its origins as it has ever been. While it is important to remember where hip-hop comes from so you can understand where and what it is today, I think as long as consumers are being fulfilled by the current incarnation of hip-hop, anyone who tries to bring it back to its roots will be unsuccessful. They should be a consideration, but they won’t be anytime soon until audiences begin to ask for something different out of hip-hop artists.
The films we've watched, and more importantly, hip-hop as we experience it, have highlighted how communication through hip-hop is distorted through commercial interests. At its beginning, hip-hop was about using available technology to tell a story that also comes out through art and dance. An integrated medium is the way hip-hop speaks so effectively. Individual musical biographies are the stories each artist brings through music, showed through their resourcefulness as creating new sound. Hip-hop at its best is ingenious in its resourcefulness, which allows artists to speak values that help or otherwise inform their audience. Hip-hop as a way of being in the world is all about the transformative process of taking something that would be viewed in the negative and speaking on it in a way that brings it into a new light. Hip-hop is a way to assign worth to something that others deem as worthless. It’s creating art.
Jadakiss raps about many of our discussions in "Why?"
In Part I of Chuck D's interview with Run D.M.C., a groundbreaking icon of Hip-Hop, he talks of the evolution of American Hip-Hop and how what started out as a movement to express the difficulties of daily life with a bent towards the political, has evolved into what has become an essentially materialistic, egotistical expression about money - sort of “look what I own.”Run D.M.C. says: “what we didn't want, really, was public approval. It's like, you know, a lot of rappers say, "Man, I just do that 'cause that's what the people want. You know, I've got to get people to like me." To Run D.M.C. it’s all about Rappers (and he mentions Game, 50 Cent, Ludacris and Diddy) walking a “red carpet” to the MTV Music Awards and bragging about the rims on their cars and the watches they wear.To Run, the values of Hip-Hop have sunk and he says: “oh my God….. because what they used to ask us was this: ‘Yo, Run-D.M.C., why did you say what you said?’ And we was able to relay why we said that. And why did you make that music? What made you make that album? Those are the kind of questions we used to get on the red carpet.”
There’s a longing in most of these movies and videos for the old way; spinning, scratching and mixing records, breakdancing, politics, and real street life.These video clips reveal a way of being for the older, though still relevent Hip-Hop icons.Part II of Chuck D’s interview is with DJ Johnny Juice, contributing member and one of the founders of Public Enemy.He talks about how technology has changed things.To Juice it used to be hard, important work to create Hip-Hop, and he too longs for an older day.He says: “Talking of knowing history - music and equipment became more accessible with technology.You have iPod DJs now throwing songs on iPods.They don't have any music at all.You just have to throw songs on an iPod and play them at a party.”Juice then talks of a Palistinian rapper he is now working with.According to DJ Johnny Juice, this Palistian rapper “Lives the life.”
This longing for an older time when one’s generation talked of “important” issues is not new in popular music.In rock ‘n roll we still hear of 60s generation musicians and fans talking of how important and relevent and political their music was.They talked of how the next generation of “disco” music was commercial and meaningless.When Neil Young wrote his Anti-War, Anti-Vietnam protestation song about Kent State murders, “Ohio” (“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we’re finally on our own”), he did so because he thought it was politically relevent.Many years later, in a song “This Note’s For You,” he too longingly looked back at the “relevent” days and said to those who evolved into overly-commercial artists: “Ain’t singin’ for Pepsi, ain’t singin’ for Coke.”An older generation's longing for their relevency is not necessary a Hip-Hop issue alone.
As far back as 1984, when the British Broadcasting Company made the documentary “Hip Hop -- A Street History,” there can be seen a coming evolution getting away from the roots of Hip-Hop.The narrator/MC of this dated, but historically significant documentary needs his listener to understand where this all came from:
But the story of hip-hop doesn't belong
In New York, LA or London, that's wrong
The true story begins in devastation
Bad housing, gang wars, and desparation
In the Bronx ghetto, or, Planet Rock
Let's take a minute and turn back the clock
-- Timestamp 12:52
Just like DJ Johnny Juice feels a new-old relevency in his Palistinian rapper, the New York Times Video “China's underground Hip-Hop movement” shows how in China there is a Hip-Hop movement in some ways similar that which grew up in the South Bronx and Brooklyn.One rapper says: “as a student in china there are few opportunities to express yourself, to say who you really are.Difference is looked down upon.We can talk about our lives and what we are really thinking about.Our pop stars think it's a clothing style or behavior, but they were never really into Hip-Hop.”Traditional Hip-Hop, if you will, is also seen in the video “Hmong Hip-Hop Heritage” whereTou Saiko Lee, a rapper from Minnesota, keeps his Hmong heritage alive through a mix of hip-hop and ancient traditions, even going to the point of bringing his grandmother on stage with him to chant ancient Laotian songs.Tou Saiko Lee is seen using his music to find “a way of being in the world.”
Tony Mitchell’s article “Another Root – Hip-hop Outside of USA” opens with a claim that brings together how hip-hop is the same yet different, listing examples such as “Japanese b-boys struggling with the hyperconsumerism of Tokyo youth culture, Italian posses promoting hardcore Marxist politics and alternative youth culture circuits, and Basque rappers using a punk rock-hip hop syncretic to espouse their nationalist cause and promote the rights of ethnic minorities globally.” Hip-hop maintains its general role in any culture: it is a tool to preserve local identity. Mitchell lists more examples, stating “rappers in war-torn Bosnia declare their allegiance with the violent lives of gangsta rappers in South Central Los Angeles, and a rap group in Greenland protests that country’s domination by the Danish language.” Beautifully put, “[h]ip-hop and rap cannot be viewed simply as an expression of African American culture;” it is a style of music that branched out globally, impacting the younger generation looking for change.
The style of hip-hop is preserved from region to region; the sound, not so much. Every hip-hop song usually consists of rap and digitalized instrumental sounds or samples with “heavy” beats put in a loop. The localization or the differentiating factor is the “feel” one gets from listening. This “feel,” which is an ambiguous term to describe, can be achieved by the instruments used or the rhythm from the percussion section of the music (think cowbells and claves.) Technology can also play a role into this “feel” factor: some regions cannot afford turntables, making sampling a more difficult task. Thus the sample would greatly affect the song’s “feel” if large chunks are used. The “feel” of music is something hard to explain – you have to listen and take in the sounds to notice the differences between hip-hop music. Take a listen to reggaeton music (the mixture of hip-hop with reggae created in Puerto Rico) and compare it with Japanese hip-hop music or even “plain” American hip-hop music. I use quotation marks here to emphasize the differences from the original and the derivatives, if we think in terms of American hip-hop as being the mother to all other styles of hip-hop.
Once the styles of hip-hop are established by local areas, these styles can branch out into new styles and influences of the next generation’s hip-hop. Hip-hop responds to, or rather evolves by, current issues and situations ranging from life changing crises to the quickly advancing technology. Even American hip-hop is changing: compare Tupac’s song to mainstream hip-hop artist Flo Rida’s song “Who Dat Girl” . Modern day hip-hop heavily relies on technology and the pop culture, possibly valuing popularity more than creativity and musicality. (Although Flo Rida’s song does not have the similar rhythmic beats and loops found in Tupac’s song, Flo Rida is still considered a hip-hop artist.) Derivatives of hip-hop and any other genres can be traced back to an “origin,” the point of creation where it musically separates itself from other branches of genres (in this case, I refer to the emergence of American hip-hop from African Americans living in urban cities.) Hip-hop also has the potential to nourish a new style of music as well. As regions across the world develop and change, new music will be formed inspired by older styles.
The Roots We Can't Remember Are The Roots They Can't Forget
I was recently looking at the Billboard Top 100 Chart for this week (http://www.billboard.com/charts#/charts/hot-100), and felt my face drop into frustration as I read it. Most of the artists on the chart are hip-hop artists, but most of the hip-hop on the chart is far from what hip-hop was made to accomplish in the first place (both sonically and lyrically). Included on the list are such stunners as “What’s My Name” by Drake and Rihanna and “Whip My Hair” by Willow Smith. With lyrics like “I whip my hair back and forth” and “what’s my name,” I can hear the roots of hip hop crying for its branches back. Since the beginning of hip-hop which, as Rose describes, “emerged as a source of alternative identity formation and social status for youth in a community whose older local support institutions had been all but demolished along with large sectors of its built environment,” it has spoken the margins around the world and allowed them to speak for themselves.
There is doubtlessly a hierarchy of hip-hop in the United States—though this is usually viewed subjectively amongst the hip-hop community. As hip-hop has hybridized and dominated the mainstream, it has become what Paul Gilroy described as “a kind of simulation of itself, and it’s empty, and that is depressing.” I bring this up because, as hip-hop globalizes, the elements that are adopted are not those of the mainstream—they are those of what we would call “underground” now. What is carried on in the global circulation of hip-hop is not this:
But more things like this:
Wherever they are, people create imaginaries and imagined communities in order to perpetuate solidarity amongst groups who have undergone similar processes of oppression. In the United States, race was the binding factor in hip-hop. Hip-hop created and sustained an identity for African Americans and Latinos (which is an imagined race, itself), and gave them voices within their communities and in the face of the world at large. It addressed the issues that it was a reaction to such as racial discrimination and placelessness. Hip-hop is a way that people look at themselves in the larger scheme of things and allow themselves to secure visibility in the face of a world that forces the opposite. When hip-hop travels outside of the U.S., the origins and the original motives are always a shaping force.
In Tony Mitchell’s words, “In its initial stages, appropriations of rap and hip-hop outside the USA often mimicked US models, but in most countries where rap has taken root, hip-hop scenes have rapidly developed from an adoption to an adaptation of US musical forms and idioms” (11). There is no direct translation as hip-hop travels, there is just an echo of the tradition that started it all. The way the hip-hop makes people react to the world is what travels, sonic elements with it. Usually, however, elements of local cultures find their way into adaptations of hip-hop. For example, there is MC Yan, a rapper from Hong Kong who raps in Cantonese. He said that, “Through hip-hop, we are trying to find out who we are, what we are. That’s what black people in America did” (Mitchell 7). MC Yan takes the hip-hop tradition and makes it relevant to his own experiences. Thus, rather than making history disappear, he stays true to the roots of hip-hop, but also creates his own that connects to where he comes from.
Orishas, the Cuban hip-hop group, demonstrates the way that sound is transported and transformed. In their song, “A Lo Cubano,” certain elements of hip-hop traveled (like the scratching and the rapping pattern) but they added more Cuban elements to it to make it specific to their situation and to their reasons for needing an outlet.
Without its roots, hip-hop wouldn’t have a reason to travel. It has become a way for people in the margins all over the world to understand how to establish a place and an identity in a world that perpetually attempts to steal it from them. Sonic elements change depending on where they travel. Hip-hop has become the language of oppression in general—it is not just limited to racial discrimination, but it has been used to voice anti-sexist, anti-capitalist, anti-war, and many other sentiments. Back in the United States, the roots of hip-hop are becoming forgotten, as what is listened to on the radio is less about a message and more about popularity and mobility in the capitalist hierarchy. Hip-hop still creates and upholds an identity for African-Americans and Latinos in the United States, it has just lost much of its meaning to the materialistic ideals of the present day. The original motives of hip-hop are necessary for it to travel and take root elsewhere around the world. In the United States, the roots of hip-hop are sinking deeper into a trance and they soon need their global adaptations to remind them why they were there in the first place.
Some things I noticed while watching “Big Fun in the Big Town” were the many similarities drawn by American hip-hop artists to rock music in that it was a more of a movement and lifestyle as opposed to simply a genre and category of popular music. The actual act of performing hip-hop music, from an MC setting up turntables in city parks to rapping and break-dancing battles between opposing artists, provides much-needed entertainment for underprivileged communities throughout the New York City metropolitan area. Many New York artists claim hip-hop is beneficial to the community in that it helps keep the younger generations plagued with a burgeoning drug industry off the streets and channeling their energies towards more constructive ends. Also, like the rock music movement, hip-hop seems to primarily be a product of New York’s youth to the extent that the older generations do not relate to the issues and struggles presented throughout the lyrics. The documentary presents hip-hop in a reverent light, highlighting MC’s and DJ’s alike as the unfiltered, authentic voice of inner city youth in America. Later on in the film, however, artists begin to denounce hip-hop as “one big egotrip”, where the focus centers on escapism instead of depicting real life, trials and tribulations. L. L. Cool J explains that his music aims to take the pressures off youth living in underprivileged circumstances instead of describing and illustrating their struggles. He marks the shift of hip-hop from embodying the lifestyle to becoming simple and superficial entertainment. Like rock, rap music loses its shock value and its notoriety as only the beats and and catchy rhythms are appreciated instead of the lyricism and messages behind each song. I liked "Big Fun" because it included well-known rap artists such as Run DMC and L. L. Cool J's point of view as well as more underground artists, MC's and DJ's in a study meant to both shed light on the origins of hip-hop and extrapolate where the genre is headed in the future.
We're not out of the woods yet...
Submitted by Jenna Iden on Friday, 11/5/2010, at 12:46 AM
A friend just sent me this link that I thought would be fun to share with you guys...
It's a ridiculously hilarious representation of how the production of music has changed over time, and what happens when they come face-to-face. In a way, you can say this is a live re-mixing of generations.
Q: Is sampling creative and virtuosic or parasitic and unimaginative?
I believe there should be a line drawn between parasitic and creative sampling. First of all let’s put the types of sample songs into two subdivisions: Rap songs that use sampling and mash ups. These are two entirely different types of sampling that are used in the contemporary age of music, yet mash ups are having the book thrown at them while rap artists continue to use songs to rap over (I’m assuming this is because they pay the original artist for rights to that song, but this is just an assumption).
Rap songs more explicitly use sampling to enhance the sound of their song. Sometimes the rap artist will tweak the song a little bit, but most of the time listeners can audibly recognize the song being sampled clearly. In my opinion this is the more parasitic form of sampling than say a mash up because the rap artist is clearly using another artist’s material (with barely any changes made to the song) as background music. For example in The Notorious B.I.G.’s hit single, “Juicy”, he samples a song titled “Juicy Fruit” by Mtume. B.I.G.’s background music for Juicy differs marginally from Mtume’s Juicy Fruit. Likewise in Jay-Z’s song, “Blueprint 2”, Jay-Z samples from Ennio Morricone’s famed “Ecstasy of Gold” and makes very little changes to the song as he uses it for background music. I find this form of sampling to be much more explicit and less creative and though yes the song is more aesthetically pleasing with the samplings, I wonder why more of the artists whom are being sampled are not upset about having their work serve as background music.
This takes us to the very controversial topic of mash ups. For the most part, I am not enamored by the emergence of all these new mash up artists. It seems like any kid (including my younger brother who is constantly making mash ups) can go on their computer open garage band and put two songs over each other. But, there are a few that have caught my ear and actually intrigue me more than the original song being sampled. White Panda is a mash up artist I can somewhat level with because his music is creative yet, as opposed to many other mash up artists, he can mash up songs so there is a consistent beat and melody the listener can follow. In my opinion, a mash up artist like Girl Talk or The Super Mash Bros use too many little parts of a song for the listener to follow. This brings me to my next point. Do artists like Super Mash Bros and Girl Talk really sample enough from each song they use to constitute their work as stealing? I understand that the music they are mixing is not their own, but when Girl Talk explains to the viewer how mash ups are made in the movie “RIP: A Remix Manifesto”, it really gets the viewer thinking what qualifies as stealing and what qualifies as original thought or inspiration.
If not for anything else these artists and even kids who make mash ups are using some sort of creativity to create and compose these songs as opposed to rap artists who yank a melody and put the same exact one into their own song. I don’t think there should be a legal restraint on where inspiration comes from unless so much of a song is being used in a new song that the artist could not possibly claim the “new” song is his or her own. For now copy right laws side with the original artists, but will we see a day when mash up artists get their way and have copy right legislators see the creativity in their music?
Keepin' It Real
Submitted by Ashley Hogan on Monday, 10/25/2010, at 12:31 PM
For all practical purposes, the United States' copyright laws are convoluted, vague and outdated. Also, it's incredibly difficult to enact laws that are supposed to govern artistic output. How are cut-and-dry laws supposed to dictate creativity and ideas that are emotionally driven? Feld gets at this a bit when analyzing Herbie Hancock's argument of "it's just a brother's kind of thing," as to why he can appropriate/adapt/copy (whichever word is easier to swallow) hindewhu music. For Feld, and probably for most people, more issue is taken with Madonna's sampling of Hancock's appropriation, even though she properly credited and paid for the rights to use the sample. Both Feld and Hancock seem to operate in a "moral universe," rather than one dictated by laws, when they speak about the appropriation of sounds and musical styles. More generally, this seems to be how most people approach the issue, which is why copyright laws are such a sticky subject.
I agree with Hancock's assertion that "it's a brother's kind of thing"- but in a context that surpasses the divisions of race or geographic origin. As the modes of how music is made and distributed has greatly change, so must our language in how we talk about the dissemination of actual musical commodities and un-copyrightable styles. I propose that we enact copyright laws on the basis of "keepin' it real"- a mantra I use to dictate my opinions on musical appropriation (don't worry, this is not going to turn into a Chappelle routine).
But "keepin' it real" is basically what Hancock is talking about in his argument in using the hindewhu style. Feld also asserts that what Hancock is doing is not "theft," as he is borrowing from and revitalizing his own musical traditions. If we want to get into the nitty-gritty of the argument- Hancock was born in Chicago, not Central Africa- but I think we get the gist of what the two are saying. Problems seem to arise from musical appropriation under three circumstances: when the borrowing is either politicized, monetized, or de-contextualized.
The issues of musical appropriation as they pertain to money are pretty straight-forward; if somebody utilizes another person's creative output to make money for themselves, they are bound to get sued (think of Girl Talk and the legal troubles he's entangled in with sampling). The other two criteria, however, are a bit more ambiguous. Politicizing schizophonic practices (or, the split between the original and its reproduction, to give the most bare bones definition) can be both overly complicated and overly simplified. The escalation of "power, rights, control and authority" enter the picture and can be a two-way exchange. In the case of Hancock and hindewhu, the musical styles of the pygmy people were not credited or paid for, bringing in the issue of the diminutive cultural and political status of the pygmies (unless, of course, you see Hancock's usage as an homage and deeply inspired by the pygmies, which is legitimate). Again, you see the slippery nature of politicizing this debate, especially since it often intersects with money.
I would like to focus more on the issue or re/de-contextualizing sounds, or "keepin' it real," as I see this as the most intuitive and thus effective means of approaching musical appropriation. I want to begin with these two songs: Nobunny's "Live it Up" (2010) and The Pony's "Little Friends" (2004) (only the first 10 seconds are necessary!)
First instincts would lead many to exclaim that Nobunny blatantly stole the beginning riff. Well, he did. But..so what? And maybe "stole" isn't the proper word- borrow? copy? Or, perhaps less painfully "re-contextualized." The reason that fans of either of these songs would not be offended is that the guitar riff was not de-contextualized, politicized, or particularly monetized. Both of these bands are small-time punk acts that both originate from Chicago and have even toured with each other. Nobunny using this guitar riff is "just a brother's kind of thing"- it's still staying in the context of the musical style and is cleverly re-contextualized (The Ponys song is about being stuck in a dead-end job, while Nobunny tells his listeners to live it up). Also, there's no real power difference between the two bands and Nobunny isn't making an exceptional amount of money from the song. What he is doing though, is creating an active dialogue with his musical influences and origins, which, to me, incredibly enriches the music, rather than taking away from its authenticity or originality.
Most fans of Dillinger Four would take more issue with this "appropriation," most likely on the basis that Green Day is a mega-hyper-huge act, while Dillinger Four is more of an underground sensation. Again, these bands have toured together and even cut a 7" together as a side project. I see this in a very similar realm as the previous example, as Green Day is creating artistic dialogue, perhaps even an homage, to a band that influenced them. Money and a slight struggle of power come into play here, but they seem to both be trumped by the appropriation being kept within the borders of a defined and tight-knit community of musical styles.
The three criteria have a synergistic effect though; when they interact with each other, problems and legal issues can arise very quickly. Take this famous example of Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure" (1981), Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" (1990) and Vanilla Ice's subsequent defense:
That smirk says it all! Contrary to what Ice's fade haircut may lead you to believe, he was not keepin' it real. The sample was de-contextualized and re-appropriated for hip-hop (pretty standard fair at this point), credit was not given where credit was due, issues of power/authority come into play when riffing from two of the biggest acts in the world, and Ice made tons of money from this song. When all of these factors interact with each other and the moral guidance of music appropriation being a "brother's kind of thing," is completely thrown out the window, big issues arise. Ice was very swiftly sued and forced to pay royalties. I think there are some clear distinctions between "stealing" and what Feld calls "artistic dialogue of imitation," that can't be simply distinguished by laws, thus making copyright difficult to approach and enact. Moving towards a more "moral" or "intuitive" based system is of course not a legitimate course of action, as laws can't be governed that way, but I think if more people adopted such attitudes towards musical appropriation and created an active, open dialogue, copyright laws could change to be more in-tune with the beliefs of the people that make and consume music.
This simple question completely changed the way I view copyright issues in music: “Whom does copyright NOT serve?” To someone like me, who takes it for granted that the copyright of music serves no one else but musicians, including lyric writers, this question opens up a new door to discussions of copyright issues. From that question, we can examine two aspects of copyright issues: Why are some kinds of music opted out from the eligibility of acquiring copyrights? Who and what are copyrights really for?
Although details of copyright laws vary from country to country, the idea of copyright stands on the same aim, which is, in this case, to protect creations of musicians by granting rights to him or her. We learned in class that there is no pure originality in musical work. If that is so, there should not be certain kinds of music that are more accused of appropriations than others, because all kinds of music appropriate other music to some extent.
Olufunmilayo B. Arewa states in “From J.C. Back to Hip Hop: Musical Borrowing, Copyright and Cultural Context” that an issue of hierarchy puts Anglo/Romantic music on the top of the order. The reality is, as Arewa explains, classical music has an authority, and hip hop does not. I totally agree with his idea of this hierarchy causing an inequality between certain types of music. To think back at my idea towards appropriation in hip hop music before reading his article, I now think I could have been unreasonable before.
I am not a big fan of hip hop music myself. I like music in general, and I like listening to hip hop music sometimes, but I would not buy hip hop music CDs or music online. It is just my personal preference; however, it makes me care less about that particular genre, which could result in preventing this musical form from flourishing as classical music did in the past.
The video clip from this week’s assignment “RIP: A Remix Manifesto” gives us some good examples of how I and other followers see mash-ups, remixes, and similar works seen in hip hop music. For example, there is a scene where a registrar of copyrights of the United States of America meets Girl Talk. http://www.youtube.com/watchv=Uonb39HWmQ0&feature=mfu_in_order&playnext=1&videos=7QIeqHeHABA “He is just rearranging other stuff.” Without thinking too deeply, I would probably think the same. To those who are not interested in that particular genre of music or that culture at all, having a discussion on whether or not the music should be taken as an art work is not an important issue to spend time thinking about.
This is where inequality comes in. If people who have a relatively large influence on legislative works do not care much about inequality amongst musical genres or do not have any understanding towards particular types of music such as hip hop, not only musicians but the music itself will become diminished.
After all, who is music copyright for? It certainly is for musicians. Without copyright, it would be difficult for them to make a living, and then there wouldn't be good music produced. But is copyright only for certain musicians? How about those who make music but are not considered as musicians? And what about us, the listeners? In a common sense, the answer to the question “Whom does copyright NOT serve?” would be those musicians who are not categorized as musicians, and us listeners.
Except cases where certain musical works are not currently eligible for obtaining copyright, the listeners not having copyrights is a normal thing. Listeners do not have any creations to get copyrighted. However, we should also make a balance between respect for creators and the monopoly of properties into consideration. Putting it extremely, music should belong to everyone, not just to certain people. Everyone should receive its benefit. I am not denying the concept of copyright, but rather I am an advocate of copyright laws, and am suggesting a good balance between the copyright holders and those who are not should be discussed.