In this piece, I discuss the follies of holding onto one sound in hip-hop. Additionally, I argue that all rap, even the trash, has its place within the genre. This will probably offend some of you, but I’m okay with that. I’d rather have my real opinions out there than to front about it all.
As a producer, you try to encapsulate some of the best sounds you can to appeal to as many folks as you choose to while still remaining true. This can be done through booming bass hits, samples, synths, and other tools at your disposal. But, every once in a while, there may come a time where you’ve got to ask yourself: is what I’m doing still keeping up with the times? That’s not to say that, as producers, you need to abandon everything you’ve learned. Rather, any producer worth their weight in instrumentals will tell you that you’ll need to tweak your sound and reinvent your style every so often, just to keep it from going stale.
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While I’m only 28 myself, I came up in an era that was heavily populated with the grimy, yet crisp, sounds of DJ Premier, Large Professor, RZA, Dilla, and so on. Samples were plentiful, the snares knocked just as hard as the kicks, and there wasn’t as much crazy warble bass employed. In some ways, it was a simpler time; you didn’t have to worry as much about making a twerk anthem because people still found their way to the dance floor off some Biggie or ATCQ. As time went on, however, and other forms of hip-hop began to exalt us in their excellence, the boombap sound began to fade in some ways. Now, it’ll still pop up and it’ll always get my attention. Blu will get play in my car before Young Thug at times, depending on my mood. I’ll push boombap rap and backpack bars on SpeedontheBeat.com over trap a lot of the time, but that’s a personal thing. However, I can’t help but wonder if people that hold onto boombap as being the “only pure hip-hop sound” are just being willfully ignorant.
In the olden, golden days of hip-hop-centric music, there were a wide variety of sounds. For every “(I’m) BAD,” “The Message,” and “My Adidas,” there was still a “Straight Outta Compton,” “Paid in Full,” or a “Poison” (and yes, I know “Poison” is more New Jack than rap, but it fits for this). It was never just one uniform sound accepted as the standard. Sure, the “traditional” New York style of rap ran rampant, and it was great. But, there was still diversity to be had. Boston developed its own sound. The West did the same. You had house rap in Baltimore, Miami, and Chicago, which later gave way to other variations of the genre. Suffice to say, there was a plethora of evolution.
As time went on, producers and artists wanted to take more risks to further that evolution of the art form. Samples were used differently because just chopping a beat and looping a vocal hit reflected a classic era that people didn’t want to simply recreate. Certain drum machines were phased out for more contemporary sounds. Hell, people started mixing more genres to create a new energy. We still see that today with producers such as Metro Boomin, Knxwledge, and Boi-1da mixing in sounds of trap, EDM, soul, dancehall, and other genres to compliment the so-called “traditional” hip-hop aesthetics. We see that in indie rappers who do DIY stuff that sounds like they decided to mix Iggy Pop with Iggy Azalea just for kicks and giggles. We see it all over the globe.
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With that in mind, does a track that doesn’t have a “Shook Ones”-like drumline count as being “less hip-hop” than one that does?
I argue no. Hip-hop may’ve started out in the park, but it’s evolved—and is evolving—into something more complex. To keep it regulated towards one sound can and will stunt further evolution of the genre. The bias towards the “real” sound is, as has been explained many times by people more qualified than me, a bias against and a rejection of Southern rap aesthetics. People associate Southern rap with “trash” at some points, potentially because of some of the artists the South has turned out. However, if you go that route, you can’t be willingly unable to say that the North, Midwest, and West have all churned out their fair share of headscratchers and strictly party rap tunes. But, this evolution didn’t suddenly happen when the South took over rap music.
The genre has been evolving since The Sugar Hill Gang rapped over a loop of “Good Times.” It’s been evolving since DJ Kool Herc first dropped his knowledge on party-goers. It’s a genre built on the process of evolution in itself. So, be honest, “real rap” aficionados. Would you really want to hear the same beats and approaches to hip-hop that you’ve heard a million and one times before or would you want something different “for the culture?”
Again, I’m 28. So, this may just be my so-called “youthful innocence” (or perceived “ignorance” to everything the culture has to offer) permeating through. But, as long as it features something that makes it “real” to someone, beat-wise or otherwise, I’m down to call it all “hip-hop.” Yes, even the trash (because there’s trash in every genre). As long as it’s real to someone, that’s good enough for me.
Hip-hop is hip-hop regardless of the snares and bass hits used. There can’t be just one definition of what the genre is, or else we run the risk of killing creativity from people who don’t fit into that mold. Hip-hop is supposed to be a genre of inclusion through a rejection of norms and evolution through the use of everything around us all. Everyone has their own version of their truth. By saying one style is more overtly hip-hop than another is, in all honesty, going against some of the “real” rules of the genre.