A Brief Comparison Between Jazz And Hip

Hop Essay, Research Paper

Throughout the history of this country, the music of African-Americans has remained a strong influence upon our society and culture. Beginning with the music carried over from Africa with the slaves, up until now, with the new styles created by urban youth today, African-Americans have retained certain elements within their music which makes it unique from any other musical form. Some of the musical forms which were created from, and/or were strongly influenced by afro-centric musical characteristics are: Hymnals, Gospel, Spirituals, Ragtime, the blues, and R&B. While many of these musical forms are still popular today amongst Blacks and Non-Blacks, jazz and hip-hop are arguably the two most widespread and popular forms of Black music ever created. As both forms of music were created strictly by black musicians, these musical forms are most popular amongst both the younger and the older generations of African-Americans. Outside the race, jazz has become a medium listened to and performed by people of all ages. Hip-Hop, on the other hand, has enjoyed the majority of it’s popularity within younger circles, while it’s opposition comes mostly from the older generations. Jazz is known to have it’s main influence from ragtime, and the street music of New Orleans. There were two types of street music from which jazz derived it’s style; these are the string and percussion bands which also sang in small groups to the music they made. The other was the brass bands of earlier years which imitated white marching bands, adding a twist of afrocentric quality. The first and most primitive jazz ensembles were called archaic jazz bands. These bands retained many of the afrocentric characteristics of earlier forms of black music such as spirituals and the blues (Blesh, 160). The wide assortment of instruments used by blacks were made accessible and affordable during the reconstruction period, due to the disbanding of numerous confederate bands in New Orleans immediately after the Civil War. These instruments usually ended up in pawn shops at cheap rates ideal for poor blacks. What is most unique about jazz is it’s combination of the African characteristics of polyrhythm, polyphony, improvisation, and the vocal tone given to instruments, with the harmony and arrangement of white marching band music. Other afrocentric qualities which can be heard in the music are: call and response, upbeat rhythm, repetition, falsetto, and guttural sounds. Some of the instruments used to achieve this sound were the coronet, piccolo, alto horn, tuba, trombone, clarinet, piano, and later, the saxophone, along with the bass, snare drum, and cymbal (Blesh, 160). An example of some of these characteristics is shown is the song, “Deed I Do”, sung by Lena Horne. In this song, you can hear remnants of white band music, as well as the polyphony of various instruments, demonstrating the afrocentric qualities. “It Don’t Mean A Thing” is a perfect example of all of the characteristics mentioned above. Polyrhythm is heard in the background, along with polyphony, and the vocal tone attributed to wind instruments. Not to mention, improvisation is an intricate part of the song. As a matter of fact, the majority of the song is improvised with guttural and falsetto sounds by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Another uniqueness from other styles of music that jazz possessed was the Blue Notes, which were tones from various African scales that deviate from the seven-tone scales of European music (Brendt, 15). The blue note is characteristic in almost all jazz songs, and is the low, solemn sound usually created by the piano, or certain horns. As with most forms of black music, the element of oral tradition and music as an expression of everyday life is prevalent within jazz. In almost any jazz song you listen to, there will be a message about life or the feelings of the artist. Some of the musicians responsible for developing this from of music were: Buddy Bolden, Bunk Johnson, Joe “King” Oliver, Edward “Kid” Ory, and Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton. As jazz became more popular, a second generation of performers arose, who made the musical form even more popular. The leading figure of this generation was Louis Armstrong (Brendt, 18-19). The second musical from I am examining in this paper is Hip-Hop. The first thing that is important to know is that Hip-Hop is more of a culture than a musical form. The musical form directly associated with and derived from Hip-Hop, is rap music. Therefore, while this portion of the paper will chronicle the growth of the Hip-Hop culture, it will also examine the musical form of rap. Hip-hop is a culture consisting of graffiti art, break dancing, djaying (cutting and scratching records), and emceeing (rapping). Hip-Hop could be considered a lifestyle, with it’s own style of dress, language (slang), and music. Today, many people confuse the hip-hop culture with the musical form of rap, simply because it has become the most prominent aspect of the culture. In the past, all elements of hip-hop were popular and widely practiced. Lately however, breakdancing and graffiti, while they still exist in smaller circles, have taken a back seat to deejaying and emceeing (Vibe Magazine, August 1996). It is believed that hip-hop began as and has continued to be a response to the rejection of the values and needs of the younger generation by the elders. All elements of hip-hop began as forms of self-expression for those who wanted to be seen and heard. This need for new forms of self expression came about in the early 70’s in response to a change in black radio. Black radio stations played an intricate role in the black community as a musical as well as cultural preserver. This is reflective of the bards and griots of west Africa. At that time, black radio reflected the customs and values of the time, and set the tone for and climate for which people governed their lives. This was because the radio was a primary source of information and enjoyment for blacks, particularly those youth in the inner cities. It is the theory of many that as black radio began to try to appeal to the older, more affluent, and primarily white audience and featured more of the less soulful and rhythmic white disco music, black youth felt excluded and responded by creating hip-hop (Vibe Magazine, August 1995). Rap was created out of the hip-hop culture in the early 70’s primarily by a New York City DJ of Jamaican decent named Kool Herc. Herc’s style of music consisted of reciting improvised rhymes (lyrics) over dub versions of his reggae records. Since New York was not into reggae as they are now, Herc changed the reggae beats to the popular songs of the day. As the records at the time were relatively short, Herc learned to extend the beats through repetition by using an audio mixer and two of the same record on turntables. (Rap Pages, November, 1992). Rap was also characterized by the element of call and response, where the emcee would recite a well-known phrase, and the crowd would respond with a common response such as: “If you’re having fun in the place to be, somebody let me know!” and the crowd Shouts back “Oh yeah!”. Or, “The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire!” Crowd: “We don’t need no water, let the m—f— burn!” Other characteristics of rhythm, clever word play, and the use of metaphors were also prevalent. As Kool Herc became more popular, he began to focus more on the new aspects of deejaying, and added two emcees, Coke La Rock and Clark Kent, to form one of the first emcee teams. They took on the name Kool Herc and the Herculoids (Rap Pages, November, 1992). The popularity of rap spread like wildfire because of the fact that it was easily accessible to anyone who wanted to try it. There was no need for large sums of money, lessons, or other expensive resources to get started. All that was needed was a desire and the will to practice. The art form also provided various opportunity for new challenges. There were no rules other than originality and the ability to rhyme to the beat of the music. Rap also allowed for the performer to project his or her individuality and personality. Staying with the African tradition of making music life, Rappers usually talked about their life and things they’ve seen growing up. Also, as rap progressed, a popular way of displaying lyrical talent was to “battle” another emcee. At the same time, there were break dance crews who challenged each other as well. These performances began the trend of block parties, or parties in the park, where all of the local youth would stay outside and watch the various emcees battle for hours. During these block parties, the music being used to make the break beats for rappers to rhyme over were older artists such as James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, and the Last Poets. The music of these artists became the building blocks for today’s rap, and the latest phenomenon of “sampling” old records. Rap as a musical from, as well as hip-hop as a culture continues to be popular among youth today for the same reasons it was in the past – it is still accessible to all, and allows for the free expression of the performer with the positive affirmation from his/her peers. Between jazz and hip-hop, there are many similarities. This is especially proven through the belief that hip-hop was indirectly created from or influenced by the scatting and improvisation of jazz. The truth is, improvisation is an intricate part of both musical forms. Also, both forms use their lyrics to express life and the world as it is seen by the artist. Jazz and hip-hop also share many of the same afrocentric characteristics, such as polyphony, rhythm, repetition, and call and response. Music, poetry, and dancing combined are also very common in both mediums. In jazz performances, the music is played, and over it an artist may be reading or reciting poetic verse or dancing out the expression of the music. As for hip-hop, poetry and dancing are mediums which are more directly related to the music. In hip-hop the lyrics of the emcee are considered the poetry, and the dance, break dancing, was created right along with the music. As for the differences between the two, hip-hop is a more political art form than jazz. Much of the meaning behind the music is hidden in code, or almost a secret language, understood only by the secret society which created it. Jazz, on the other hand, is more care free, and easier understood by almost anyone. Another difference is that jazz requires a live band, in order to perform. Hip-Hop can be performed a capella, or with music, but rarely requires a live band or instruments. Most music used within the hip-hop culture consists of sampled records of the past. Lastly, hip-hop appeals mostly to the younger generations while jazz snags listeners of almost all ages. In conclusion, jazz and hip-hop are both very interesting musical forms to study. Their origins are both mostly from the street, and were invented and perfected by blacks who were talented musicians with little or no training.


References 1. Berendt, Joachim-Ernst; The Story of Jazz. Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, 1978. 2. Blesh, Rudi; Shining Trumpets: A History of Jazz. Da Capo Press, New York, 1975. 3. Balliett, Whitney; Jelly Roll, Jabbo, and Fats. Oxford University Press, New York, 1983. 4. Ro, Ronin; Gangsta:Merchandising the Rhymes of Violence. St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1996. 5. Potter, Russel; Spectacular Vernaculars. State University of New York Press, New York, 1995. 6. Vibe Magazine; “What is Hip-Hop?”, August 1996. 7. Rap Pages; “The Beginnings of Rap: Kool Herc and the Herculoids”, November, 1992.


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