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has been strongly opposed by those indoctrinated fans of the music in its present form who view the original “rules” as outdated and irrelevant, by advancing the idea that there has also been a decline in hip hop's once aesthetic sound.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.