Blog Watch Edition Five: Narrow Categorization

You know what it is. Details after the jump as always.

A Quiet Reminder of Why I Love Rap Music – I agree with Joey that Pete Rock’s remix of “Jump Around” both improves upon the original and makes great use of its main sample, effectively “demonstrating the genre’s power to repackage other music … but also itself.” Joey is a gifted writer but I take issue with his notion of a linear model of the genre’s evolution: ” ‘Rapper’s Delight,’ is just a Chic loop. We’ve moved on since then, and just as rhyming has become more complex, so has beat making. The most basic samples, those that are unembarrassed to serve as royalty checks, don’t amaze people anymore.”  Well, “Rapper’s Delight” is a band-played  interpolation of the main rhythm of “Good Times” and that makes it fundamentally different from say, looping “Impeach The President”;  the enormous cultural implications of this difference have been extensively documented in the canonical tomes on hip hop history.

More importantly, I think it is simply untrue that either beats or rhymes have become progressively complex, at least not in the manner that Joey suggests; if we look back at the history of hip hop production we are likely to find numerous deviations from this neat narrative. His distinction between “rip-offs” and “the great sample-driven beats” is enormously problematic, as is his insistence that instantly recognizable or minimally manipulated samples necessarily result in inherently artless, inauthentic pop songs. There are far too many factors at play governing how sampled songs are received and assessed, and too many exceptions to the rules he posits.

Is O.C.’s “Time’s Up” an inherently inferior “rip-off” because Buckwild even left the loop’s original drums intact? Is it a less powerful or meaningful song than the “Jump Around” remix? If “no one ever felt that Will Smith was making great music when he was repackaging Patrice Rushen,” how do we account for so many aficionados and producers holding K-Def’s production on Intelligent Hoodlum’s “Grand Groove” remix in such high regard? There are a galaxy of other factors that need to be considered; the pattern that is proposed falls apart under scrutiny.

Not a bad piece, and I can’t fault someone for reflecting on their personal taste, but I think these arguments rest on a weak foundation.

Why You Should Listen To The Rap Group Odd Future, Even Though It’s Hard – Frannie Kelley’s piece on Odd Future adds literally nothing new to the ongoing discussion of the collective. It borrows this discussion’s most annoyingly persistent false binaries, condescending alarmist screed, and insipid SEO sloganeering (“The music makes a lot of people uncomfortable and thrills others. They’re funny. They’re loud. They’re lewd, nihilistic and disrespectful. The group raps about rape frequently.”) while seeking legitimacy by quoting Noz’s copious analysis at length, seemingly oblivious to how many of Noz’s statements dismantle Kelley’s uninformed assumptions, almost to the point  of ridicule.

Worse yet — but hilariously so — Kelley suggests that Tyler’s references to rape represent a knowing historical consciousness (“He knows whose buttons to push and how far. He knows which of our national repressed memories sting the most”) but demonstrates a profound amnesia of her own, relating that “Odd Future is more wolf pack than outlaw gang,” as if she forgot or had no idea about the mainstream media’s invocation of “wolf pack” in reference to the alleged (now cleared) Central Park Jogger case defendants. Granted, Kelly is probably correct in her hunch that Tyler borrows from a long rap tradition of subtly ad confusingly subverting derogatory words and imagery, ((Word to Omar Epps and his rap group Wolfpack.)) but how are you going to make allude to the power and history behind such terms and then  drop “wolf pack”  to mean a figurative “treehouse, complete with a ‘No Girls Allowed’ sign on the door.” Is Kelley even remotely cognizant of the role that terms like “wolf pack” have played in the demonization of minority male youths?

I won’t even bother picking apart the attempts to actually comment on Odd Future’s musical content, because this was was already accomplished in the comments section of the post.

Bonus: The oblivious circle jerk surrounding half-hearted uninformed Odd Future apologies has become so insulated from rational discourse that even critiques of the reductionism such as that found in Kelley’s article  are burdened by oversimplification and poor reasoning. See Okay Guys, That’s Enough With The Odd Future Think Pieces Already, or actually, don’t bother.  — Thun

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63 Responses to “Blog Watch Edition Five: Narrow Categorization”

  1. Joey says:

    yeah, man, good stuff. as you said, my synopsis was linear, and it was unfairly narrow. i was tired and wanted to get the primary ideas–that pete rock is a masterful remixer; that intricate beat making belies the tired idea that sampling is inherently not music making–into the post. but i’d agree that my treatment of production history and styles was inadequate.

    i do think, though, that today’s rap landscape benefits from the rich, layered sampling that people like rock, madlib, dilla, and many others have contributed. it echoes earlier work–like prince paul’s from more than 20 years ago–and stands apart from the kind of hip-hop that is simpler. doesn’t mean a simpler track can’t be great, but it does, to me, indicate a higher level of technical work and musicianship.

    • Thun says:

      Word, I feel you (nh) to a certain extent. I definitely appreciate the work and legacy, to say nothing of the genius and skill, of Pete Rock and Prince Paul. I love hearing layered samples. But at other times I’m trying not to sweat the technique because there are just too many simple short loop rap songs that are insanely dope. For what it’s worth, I haven’t yet decided on which technique I most prefer.

  2. Young Tucci says:

    This is the nerdiest website ever. It’s like McSweeney’s but about rap. Jeez. Who can read this shit?

    • Thun says:

      There are actually sites that are much nerdier, but now that you’ve given me such praise I will only aspire to make this site as nerdy as can be, hopefully the nerdiest ever.

      In fact, just because you posted that response, next week will be devoted to discussing rap in relation to Quantum Physics and Macroeconomics. Consider that a call for papers.

  3. hl says:

    I’m enjoying these every week. I’m a little surprised Joey has been the first to respond to this series.

  4. done says:

    your doin great work with all these man, they do a great job of clarifying my thoughts on these articles a lot better than i ever could myself.

    i had similar thoughts when readin the npr peice, like how could she put that much work in yet still be so lazy and uninformed? it just felt kinda dishonest but most of these odd future articles are like that, incomprehension dressed up as a proper analysis.

    anyone with a half-decent familiarity with their music knows theres a lot more to them than rape imagry and shock tactics, they can have a lot of depth too (the fact that seven is this really personal emotional rant that goes into absent father issues and that, shows they never botthered trying to listen to their music. its the first song on tylers album!)

    but even if all thats subjective, its really telling how they never give much time to discussing their appeal outside of their subject matter like noz did there (i agree with what you said re that, it really felt like she didnt understand what she ws quoting that well). i mean the fuckin spice girls could potentially be offensive if taken out of context. its like they all end up as articles on “rape culture” or some shit.

    like its always the “message” without discussin the more technical or other aspects of the music, that kinda attitude to criticisms always bothered me and is especially prevelant when outsiders talk bout rap. maybe cos its black music they feel like there should be some significant social meaning behind it which is presumptious bullshit. tyler and em are just havin fun expressing themselves nhjic

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