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The Regression Of Hip Hop’s Sound

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Today, we will continue defending the authenticity of the unique musical culture called hip hop. We will continue the discussion, which has been strongly opposed by those indoctrinated fans of the music in its present form who view the original “rules” as outdated and irrelevant, by advancing the idea that there has also been a decline in hip hop's once aesthetic sound.

Up until now, the focus has been on a shift in the overall mindset of the rap community by which lyrical technique no longer dictates success and veracity is overlooked, to the point where the term “MC” is no longer restricted. However, the production formula has also sadly taken a turn for the worst because of stricter copyright laws and the influence of a couple key players, not simply a violation of the music's distinct code of ethics.

Similar to the compromised integrity of rappers of the millennium, which became epidemic when the West Coast's theme of gang violence emerged and spread, lending itself to such violations, the musical lapse also traveled a split course. Also analogous is the dual role of Southern rap forefather, Master P, whose place in history has made him a major conduit through which hip hop took its plunge into super-stardom.

Just as Master P was determined to "outshine” Puffy in the arena of describing his elaborate lifestyle, his sound was inspired by Dr. Dre's classic album, The Chronic. He took both on as his own and carried them into the limelight in the events recapped in "Explaining The Fall Of Hip Hop."

In order to illustrate this claim, we must look back to the genesis of hip hop, which actually consists of four elements: break-dancing, graffiti, MC-ing, and DJ-ing. As respected pioneer, Chuck D, remembers, “…rap was originally not music, it was rap over music.” What he meant was simple. There were no early hip hop bands. The unmistakable sound that was heard throughout city streets and grew as the signature of the rap phenomenon was borrowed.

In the beginning, break-dancing was being guided by the funk/disco offspring, characterized by heavy synthesizers and either live drums or 808 drum machines, which became the signature of rap dinosaurs like Grandmaster Flash and had already hit California (remember that). The element of rap was practiced over more renowned records, usually from the funk genre, whose classic drum breaks were isolated by Djs and became the backbone of all rap production.

Then, when the time came to audition this new music on a grand scale, around the late '70's, hip hop was blessed with a machine that became the fundamental instrument of every producer, bar none. Samplers, most notably the classic SP 1200 or the Akai MPC60, which remains an industry standard, saved rappers from being limited to the synthesized tracks, which were geared more toward dancing than rhyming and were ridiculed by the latter as being “Casio”, referencing the cheesy little keyboards that every child of that time owned.

These machines gave the producer, usually the Dj, the ability to record limited, but distinct, loops from chosen songs and sequence them together in a way that would create a new version of the often recognizable tune. The personal use of this restricted space, along with song selection and drum patterns, were the essence which distinguished each artist's sound.

Focusing solely on the quality of the music and not the irrelevant debate over morality, the advantage of rehashing classic music from beloved artists, like Earth, Wind, & Fire and James Brown, and the superiority over the keyboard based sound are clear. The latter may have been skillfully executed by the originators, but it certainly becomes extremely repetitive when the same basic models are played one stroke at a time, inherently starting on the downbeat, by millions of producers with little to no musical training.

Hip hop producers were never fully considered, nor did they ever claim to be, musicians. With nothing but a keyboard and a drum machine, even a classically trained pianist would be hard pressed to match the music quality of a world-renowned band with timeless hits. This obvious formula for success remained in tact until the sampling-party was curtailed by legality.

Outcries from angry copyright victims began almost instantly and was brought to a crescendo in the 90s by the infamous catalyst, Puff Daddy, who blatantly broke the rules that were more subtly bent by others. In increments, the privilege of using top-tier tunes which have stood the test of time was shaved, and artists, who were being sued left and right, had to make a choice.

Traditionalists stayed true to the predominant method of sampling, by either strategically selecting tunes whose license fees were within budget or using the advanced sampling technology to hone their capabilities and disguise a musical band's melodic tunes in creative ways. This circumvention, still used by throwback artists today, actually displays the evolved originality and skill of hip hop's unique production techniques and nine times out of ten, creates a higher quality sound than the alternative, the aforementioned “Casio” approach. However, this obvious fact was overlooked, thanks to Dr. Dre.

After being victimized himself for his sampling work on the N.W.A. Album, Dr. Dre, decided to abandon sampling altogether and went back to his roots. Early in the 1980s, Dre had been part of the World Class Wreckin' Crew, which was the West Coast version of Grandmaster Flash and others who were wedged between disco and rap on the music time-line and were characterized by electronic synth sounds. He dusted off the glorified Casio keyboard and created one of hip hop's most celebrated albums. Although this bold move was a step backward, which had regressed far enough to negate hip hop production's most prized possession, Dre was experienced enough in the previously discounted method to find overwhelming success with the album. This was noticed by many in the new frontier who desperately wanted to create their own sound, namely the rap visionary, Master P, who combined the new production with his Puffy-inspired theme and created the Dirty South.

So, we see how even the growth of the music which characterizes the element of rap in the culture of hip hop, has been stunted along the course of time. While the art of production that was originally regarded as the only choice has only evolved in the shadows, know as “alternative” rap, the inferior technique, which serendipitously returned from exile at a perfect time to be catapulted into the mainstream, remains masquerading as hip hop. We can only hope that the same limited sounds of an industry stardard synthesizer's isolated notes used ad nauseum in all techno music, as welll as Yonnie records, run its course and return to its rightful place as a synonym for corny beats and a new sound emerges, combining the robust drums of the day with advanced sampling techniques that make use of the music world's most aesthetic melodies, legally.

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About ProfPlume

  • Jordan Richardson

    We will continue the discussion, which has been strongly opposed by those indoctrinated fans of the music in its present form

    You know, there’s really no point in discussing anything reasonable with you when you can’t resist sniping at people who have an ability to see the bigger picture.

    You can blame other people for personal attacks all you want, but this arrogance you consistently display – without an ounce of credibility to your name, I might add – is just getting downright tiring.

    Your articles are little more than Wikipedia-style “history lessons,” only the problem is that your view of hip hop’s history is so skewed by where you’re from that you can’t be taken the least bit seriously. Your understanding of hip hop as art is so damn limited that it’s hilarious, yet you continue to lash out at the “mainstream fans” – you inexplicably put me in that category as one of the “indoctrinated” because I enjoy multiple styles of hip hop – as though your opinion actually makes a difference. It doesn’t.

    It’s sad, too, because sites like ours are designed for qualified, intelligent, interesting discussion and opinions.

    Your repetition of hip hop history demonstrates little more than your inability to properly title an article. “The Regression…” Really? Where exactly do you make that case? All you do is line up your “history lesson” and then proudly proclaim at the end how everything sucks now. Bravo, but that’s NOT how you make a case for anything.

    I could go on, but why bother. This is dumb enough as it is. All the best, “Professor.”

  • profplume

    ha ha,

    Thank you for another personal attack. As I came here to applaud your healthy discussion of music, something that this site encourages, you take it to where your defense of a music genre consists of insulting my writing and my integrity. As I said, its a sign of defeat.

    Even you, who is superior to me in every way knows that taking something out of context is dangerous and wrong.

    You site my sentence : “indoctrinated fans of the music in its present form”
    and leave off the end: “who view the original “rules” as outdated and irrelevant”

    that IS ALSO part of the statement and without a comma, as you know, it is restrictive of the “fans”. What I’m saying is the fans WHO think a certain way, and not the rest who have been “indoctrinated”, meaning have grown up knowing nothing but…

    You are in direct violation of a journalistic code, and you degrade my articles as being “nothing more than wikipedia lessons that are slanted?”

    Yes, they are just that. I recount history through my own lens and give my view on it. It’s a common practice and I’m proud to do so.

    I will remain here defending my position to my last breath, unless I surrender, and that’s what invokes the personal attacks.

    So, I don’t hold it against you because taking things out of context is our fundamental downfall when it comes to human communication and because it is only natural to get nasty when your up against the wall..

    When you want to bring the debate back to the world of music and off of my personal craft, which by the way, has attracted some opposition, right or wrong, and that’s never bad, I will be here.

    1. I’m sure your a fine writer and when I read something of yours that strikes my interest, I will be happy to discuss it with you without resorting to attacks on your writing style, nor will I degrade your credibility.

    2. I came here to add a couple after thoughts, but forget it, as it stands right now, I will consider this one a well fought victory. Thank You for the debate.

  • profplume

    Oddly too, I was going to continue my series and compile what I described, just the other day, as “a slanted view of Hip Hop History in the style of Wikipedia”

    I gues I got a good pitch, Thanks Jordan, that’s so ironic.

  • Come on, guys.

    De gustibus non est disputandum.

  • zingzing

    or latin… please.

    prof. peacock is completely wrong in his approach to this subject. it’s an old man arguing his time was better, that’s all.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    OR… “Hip-Hopped! The Passion, Knowledge & Talent is Gone.”

    For me, it’s got nothing to do with who’s time was better. It’s got everything to do with showing me underground material that has a real message and the musicianship to sample tastefully. Not, another group that just wants to prove how thug they are or release an audio handbook on how easy it is to cut & paste with pro-tools. Because, I’m a lover of all music, I would love for someone with knowledge of the current underground that could show me some groups that may take that influence of the early passion and pioneer it for today! Until then,to me, Hip-Hop is just another backdrop for a commercial kinda like Rock in this country. “Roll the Mustang footage!”

  • profplume

    Nice peacock joke, so you too have conceded.

    No it’s not what u suggest, it is Rush Limbaugh arguing politics.

  • profplume

    ….or peacock, whatever…

    just as Alexander of Macedonia is said to have wept when there was no more territory for him to conquer, I am saddened by the obvious surrender by any and all opposition.

    This was my finest and funest hour, as an expert of the subject with no real credentials, other than those similar to Bob Costas, America’s baseball afficianado, who is a historian with traditionalists views, and I fear proceeding articles will pale in comparison.

  • profplume

    Oh, and I’m sure the blogcritic’s cabal of fine writers will appreciate that you feel thirty-six is an “old man”. lol

  • zingzing

    yes, yes it was a nice joke, wasn’t it? and no, i haven’t conceded anything. it’s just i’ve said most of what i want to say on the other articles. what you’re saying is horrifying, not because it’s right, but because it’s someone not terribly older than me sounding like a baby boomer who says “the music of today simply cannot rival the music of the 60s.” i look upon your words and shiver at my own future. it’s scary.

  • profplume

    For a pure evolution of lyrical skills and an all out “different” approach to rap that doesn’t conform to the usually “gangster” or “Bling Bling” theme, you would look to a veteren, who used to be known as Zev Love X, named MF DOOM, or DOOM, or a number of other aliases like King Geedorah and Victor Vaughn. He is clearly my favorite.

    then you have those who preach along positive lines such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli or the Roots. Most of the artists in the same arena have evolved styles and , because of sampling laws, as I described have mastered the art of sampling so that it is creative and unrecognizable, produced on MPC’s or sp1200’s rather than cut and paste work.

  • profplume

    The above was for Bryan ^^^^^^

    If you said what you had to say in the last articles, why are you here?

    You commented on an article, which you probably didn’t read, that was about a particular topic, sound. lol

  • zingzing

    prof, i am a man of many contradictions and hypocrisies. i’ve read your article, and while it’s on firmer ground than your last few, it still seems to essentially be saying “hip hop was better when i was young.” yet, you don’t seem to be listening to a good amount of the new stuff out there. sure, the mainstream is a little gimpy right now, but the mainstream only accounts for about 1% of the rap world. there’s so much more going on.

  • profplume

    I agree Zing,

    I never did not agree with that. I actually named a bunch. The thing is they are not honored at The Hip Hop Honors as dominating the music. They are not even invited.

    The word Hip Hop instantly means Drake, Lil’ wayne and the radio stuff. Meanwhile, the other guys are called “alternative”, they are a fring sect that relies on internet sales and shows for profit, theylive menial lifestyles, while the artists who are propped up rub wealth in their face. Unfortunately, a great deal of people only listen to the radio and don’t hunt on Grooveshark, or whatever.

    As far as being a traditionalist, yes, we’ve gone over that. Would you condemn a man who says they prefer the vintage crackle of an LP and rail into him all of the obvious advantages to listening to CD’s? Would you tell him that the natural progression of sound technology has brought us to this point and everybody likes the convenience of CD’s, so just accept the fact that LP’s have gone by the wayside and shut up?

    I suggest you may answer “yes”. lol No problem, here in Plume-town, we encourage any and all opinions.

    Thank You

  • zingzing

    as for the last part, “no” . lol

    but if you were to constantly harp on how much better lps are than cds, i’d tell you to get over it.

    as for the first part, i don’t care about award shows or who tops the charts, etc. and the “word” “hip hop” doesn’t mean drake and lil’ wayne. you seem to think peoples’ opinions on hip hop mean something to you. who cares if most people just listen to the charts? does it change the music AT ALL? no. sure, a lot of musicians will then look at the chart action and say, “i want a piece of that,” but you know, those are the types of people that would do that anyway. it’s no loss to the music.

  • profplume

    It’s sad that there is no argument presented in favor of keyboard based production, which dominates today. Even I could think of many reasons why it is used over the traditional sampling methods. Only schoolyard attacks. Oh well.

  • zingzing

    the hell you talking about?

  • zingzing

    sigh… keyboard production doesn’t need any defense. it’s like saying that guitars are better in rock than synths are. it’s just a different means of producing sound.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “who cares if most people just listen to the charts? does it change the music AT ALL?”

    I used to have that mindset but then I realized that it does matter and due to people’s preference, Music does change.
    Instead of appreciating music beyond the entertainment & image factor, I feel that most people who listen to the charts can’t really think for themselves. It really is like a “Mob Mentality”. They don’t look beyond that because they want the music to make them feel something. They don’t want to have to think about it. From that, I truly believe that the majority doesn’t have a passion for music.

    Thus, the consumer spends his/her money on what they are told to buy through mass marketing & demographics. This has a huge impact on what is perceived to be good & what is not. It also has a huge impact on what styles stick around because, those artists/musicians lose the outlets to communicate their ideas to a big audience.

  • Marcia Neil

    Hip-hop is ‘how get by’ music–human movement in song within and past other people/creature individuals/groupings. So-called “inferior technique” is therefore childhood negotiation activity different from implied idiocy.

  • profplume

    sorry for the delay, comp problems

    Ok, you actually have a point with the last statement. it IS a matter of the human ear and taste for sound, but I mean the ritual of producing. I am a producer, which makes no difference except that, for the reasons mentioned, I feel the unique art is lost. So be it on that!

    As far as changing music, as Bryan said, it DOES matter. Besides his argument, don’t you think it matters to the so called “indie artists” that they’re work isn’t recognized in an award show. That’s like saying to a pro sports team that it doesn’t matter if they win a trophy or telling a player who busted ass all career that the Hall of Fame means nothing. the Dirty South was propped up to “dominate” (see second article) The “indie’s” weren’t even invited, so they weren’t as ‘dominate”= “good”, no, and it does matter.
    Plus, to elaborate on Bryan’s comment, if the “mob” follows what is forced upon them, then that’s where the money goes and that’s what is cultivated. Yes, it sure does matter.

    Marcia, thank you for joining our long debate. As many will attest to, I answer each comment one by one for the most part, but I honestly missed your point. Perhaps you could “dumb it down” for me. Thanks

    Anyone see Jordan?? lol

  • hitmayne

    ^^^^^ To The Writer of this Article….Please Educate YourSelf about MASTER P’s MUSIC…he started rapping in 1990 and his music was real…his lyrics as real as 2pac and biggie….listen to more then the radio hits… there is over 120 No Limit Albums full of real streat HIP HOP… the streats was the birth of hip hop… if u need me to educate u on his music visit trutanksoldiers or tuen in to BOUT IT RADIO over at ustream… give me just 5 min of you time and ill change your opnion on Master P… dud is a tru hip hop legend.. music and business.

  • proplume

    Hey, nice of you to join the discussion. I thought I had finished with this page. um, I don’t see anywhere that I said Master P wasn’t real.
    Perhaps u can present me with a quote.

    What I said was that he ADMITTEDLY, AD-MITT-ED-LY aimed to “out-shine” puffy and when he was designing his flyer/album cover, he asked for it to glow! It did, and that became the signature of his style.

    Puffy brought the platinum out and Master P brightened it. It was that time when the Dirty South took off. He started in 1990, huh.
    Yeah, that’s about what I said. read the article again, please, and, BTW, no, I don’t need any “rap” lessons from you, thank you. I was here, where and when it started.

    Thank You for flying with us. Where you will always get a response.

  • MK

    “After being victimized himself for his sampling work on the N.W.A. Album, Dr. Dre, decided to abandon sampling altogether and went back to his roots.”

    What? Do you have any idea how many samples are on The Chronic? There are like a dozen George Clinton-affiliated samples on that album alone. Not knowing that is just babytown frolics.

    As for keyboards, the new Big Boi album is full of them and it’s easily the best hip-hop album of the year.

  • profplume


    All I can do is agree. That sentence you quoute was terribly written. I believe it can be pinpointed at the use of adverb, “altogether.”

    Thank you for bringing that to light, and for allowing me to address that issue.

    You are correct, he certainly did not quit sampling completely. The Chronic was absolutely full of samples, which were also the object of some civil suits, to a lessor degree because the laws were more clearly defined.
    However, there was a definite crossing over to synth harmonies and such.

    *Basically, there is an addendum to the piece, and the quoted sentence should be replaced by this:
    “After being victimized himself for his sampling work on the N.W.A. Album,Dr Dre look to his roots for an alternative sound”

    Thanks again.

  • profplume

    Dang, I’m sorry, MK, I didn’t address your other point. Yes, of course Big Boi fits perfectly into the equation. That’s Dirty South!

    Yes, Big Boiis dope, allways has been. So was the Chronic.

    I’m not saying there weren’t bomb joints made with keyboards. It’s just changed, and in general, I think ‘regressed’. When I use that word, it’s the opinion part of the idea.

    I love a healthy discussion. Thanks again, dude.

  • spencer

    do you understand how a synthesizer works? any sampled noise can be created with some variation of synth. not to mention that hardware samplers are basically synths that pitch out the sample along the keyboard, so the vast majority of sample based hip hop is produced using the keyboard. you seem to blame lack of creativity on hardware which is ridiculous.

    if i’m gonna get a history lesson on music production i would like it to come from someone that at least understands sampling and how synthesizers work.

    “industry standard” sounds are just laziness on the part of the producer. i’ll make a noise you’ve never heard before, just give me a synth with at least 2 oscillators and an LFO.

    there is zero info in this article.

  • profplume (sean schiraldi)

    hey spencer,

    this article is slightly dated. it was part of 3 that just kind of happened through healthy debate. so, you should read all the first two first.

    yes, i know exactly how a synth works.

    The majority of “sample based” hip hop is not created on a keyboard. Although keyboards have sampling capabilities and built in sequencers, most samples are generated using an mPC or sp1200.

    Regardless, where do i blame lack of creativity on hardware, exactly?

    (reading down, second paragraph)

    This is not a history lesson on music production. Again, this is part three under the heading “The fall of hip hip”,describing the different “sound”

    Again, I do fully understand how samplers and sythesizers work. They are not the same thing. lol

    (third paragraph)
    Wow! I agree with something. Yes, industry standard sounds are laziness and the corporate model of squeeze what works until it’s dry!
    Finally, congratulations on being able to tweek an oscilator. Perhaps you could write that article on synths that you so crave.

  • profplume (sean schiraldi)

    OH spencer,

    Although you are gifted enough to be able to reproduce sounds from classic records, created by a band of talented musicians, most modern producers are not.

    synths forever