I heard a comedian on the radio tonight. The comedian was the late Sam Kinison, not one of my favorite comedians, in fact I find him quite obnoxious. That fact, however, had no bearing on my opinion about the statements he was making about rap music. I will say that I am not a rap fan, per se. I don't own a lot of rap albums or listen to hip-hop stations or watch booty shakin music videos. I've never owned a pair of Air Force Ones (shoes) given three rips about the rims on my ride or blinged out anything.
Kinison, however, feels (or felt, I guess, since he's dead) pretty strongly about rap. He hates it. He likened it to a foul smell, specifically, a fart. He used as an example of how bad rap is the rap group 2 Live Cru, a group from the late 80s and early 90s. At the time Kinison recorded this comedy track I was hearing I imagine that 2 Live Cru was at the top of it's popularity. Kinison's reasoning for how horrible rap was the subject matter of this particular groups songs. The songs were primarily sexual having titles that demanded fellatio and invited fornication. Having heard the songs before I can attest that, yes, they are completely filthy and without any redeeming merit.
However, Kinison lumps all rap together into this category of idiots simply expelling on sexual favors and getting off on cussing into a microphone. These guys are without question without any artistic talent. But, even in the early 90s all Sam would needed to have done was go seek out something else, something with a conscience and a soul to find out that, like any kind of music, there is the good as well as the bad.
I'm not a aficionado on early 90s Indie-rap but there was a group with the name A Tribe Called Quest that had a few menial hits but made their name as a socially conscious, intelligent rap group. I don't think that anyone could hear the Tribe without recognizing that it takes talent and artistic ability to do that. If you ever doubt that rapping is difficult then try it yourself. Just out of the blue try to come up with a string of words and phrases that are not only clever, but rhyme, have a through line of thought, and without skipping a beat. It's hard. Granted, rappers sit down and write out before hand the rhymes that will likely go on an album, but they also do the free-flow thing. It's improvisation in it's purist form and it's pretty impressive to witness if you haven't before.
You will find in my CD collection and on my iPod a variety of music that I probably shouldn't like. When someone asks me what kind of music I listen I generally say "good" because I like everything if it's done well. If I had to nail down a preference it would have to be rock, but there is plenty of crap that is labeled as "rock." it may be that the reason I don't like more country or R&B is because I simply don't know of the good stuff. In any genre the good stuff can be hard to find. For sure, it has become much easier with the internet and iTunes even if the stuff played on the radio keeps getting worse and worse, but nonetheless it is still not easy to find good music. That is why I have decided to list some very decent if not brilliant works of music in genres that would not typically be viewed as something I would listen to. These list are in no way comprehensive or definitive, they are just some things that I've run across that I kind and might not be played on the radio as much (or perhaps are, but I like them anyway.)
A Tribe Called Quest -- This group from the 90s is really the pioneers of socially conscious rap. The leader of the group, Q-Tip, did have a fair solo career that delved a bit into your typical "big pimpin" style of hip-hop, but he continues to create rhymes that inspire and challenge like on R.E.M.'s resent album Around the Sun. On the track "The Outsiders" Q-Tip says "I want to float a quote from Martin Luther King 'I am not afraid!'"
Outcast -- Now you're thinking "everyone's heard of Outcast, there about as mainstream as it gets" and you're right. Outcast has definitely made it to the big time, and it's about time. This duo started in the early to mid 90s and were underground for quite a while before having some decent success with Stankonia (Mrs. Jackson) but became a major force with the double album Speakerbox/The Love Below. As creative as ever Outcast pushes limits with not only hip-hop but the broader arena of popular music.
Beastie Boys -- If "Fight For Your Right to Party" is the last song you've heard by the Beasties then you've got some catching up to do. These guys are bonified legends of rap, having spanned a 20+ year career making records that are funny, inspiring, complex, and even political. They're still going strong with their latest collection of stripped down rap entitled To the Five Boroughs. Don't let the goofy videos fool you, these fellows are serious about their craft. Just check out the album Ill Communication and go straight to track number 4 to some serious jazz. In fact just about every cut on this album proves that rap is an art that can be fused with any genre of music. It covers jazz, funk, classical, new age, heavy metal, punk. Check out "Eugene's Lament" to hear their take on a world sound. The next track, "Flute Loop" is about as ingenious as they come.
The Roots -- I don't know much about The Roots and don't own any of their albums, but I know that I like them. They are proof to the nasayers that hip-hop IS, in fact, music, and while remaining grounded in hip-hop, are a better rock band than most of the crap that gets played on the radio. I often wonder why black artists that might rap and play their own instruments don't get played on more alternative stations. What's more alternative than rappers who are not only musically talented but who don't jump around talking about "bitches and hos." I can't help but think that there isn't just a ting of racially motivated pigeonholing going on there.
That's it for this post. Maybe next time I'll talk about how to use the soul singer's wail and voice modulation in a creative way (Not the way Christina Aguilera does it.)