Jazz, Rap Music And Hip-Hop Culture 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 African 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 rap are arguably the two most widespread and popular forms of Black music ever created. Both forms of music were created by black musicians and 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. Rap, on the other hand, has enjoyed the majority of its popularity within younger circles, while its opposition comes mostly from the older generations. What older generations need to know is that rap/hip-hop is a spin-off of jazz. Early African-American jazz started a tradition by creating music that talks about the experiences in their lives.
Jazz is known to have its 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 that 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 African quality. The first and most primitive jazz ensembles were called archaic jazz bands. These bands retained many of the African characteristics of earlier forms of black music such as spirituals and the blues (Sexton, 160). The wide assortment of instruments used by blacks was 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 pawnshops at cheap rates ideal for poor blacks. What is most unique about jazz is its 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 African 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 (Sexton, 163). 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 African 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 (Sexton, 167). 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 had become more popular, a second generation of performers arose, a generation who has made the musical form even more popular.
The first thing that is important to know is that rap 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 much of this paper will chronicle the growth of the rap/hip-hop culture, it will also fully examine the musical form of rap. Hip-hop is a culture consisting of graffiti art, break dancing, cutting and scratching records, and 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, break dancing and graffiti, while they still exist in smaller circles, have taken a back seat to deejays and rappers. 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 rap 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. 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 (Costello 56). 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 a turntable. Rap was also characterized by the element of call and response, where the rapper 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 mother fucker 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 a deejay and added two rappers, Coke La Rock and Clark Kent, to form one of the first rapping teams. They took on the name Kool Herc and the Herculoids. Through their performances at clubs and promotion of the music, rap consistently gained in popularity throughout the rest of the 1970 s. The first commercial success of the rap song Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang in 1979 helped bring rap music into the national spotlight. The 1980 s saw the continued success of rap music with many artists such as Run DMC (who had the first rap album to go gold in 1984), L.L. Cool J, Fat Boys, and west coast rappers Ice-T and N.W.A becoming popular. Today, in the late 1990 s rap music continues to be a prominent and important aspect of African- American culture. Rap music was a way for youths in black inner city neighborhoods to express what they were feeling, seeing, and living and it became a form of entertainment. Hanging out with friends and rapping or listening to others rap kept black youths out of trouble in the dangerous neighborhoods in which they lived. The dominant culture did not have a type of music that filled the needs of these youth, so they created their own. So, rap music originally emerged as a way “for [black] inner city youth to express their everyday life and struggles” (Cozic, 204). Rap is now seen as a subculture that, includes a large number of middle to upper white class youths, has grown to support and appreciate rap music. Many youth in America today are considered part of the rap subculture because they share a common love for a type of music that combines catchy beats with rhythmic music and thoughtful lyrics to create songs with a distinct political stance. Rap lyrics are about the problems rappers have seen, such as poverty, crime, violence, racism, poor living conditions, drugs, alcoholism, corruption, and prostitution. These are serious problems that many within the rap subculture believe are being ignored by mainstream America. Those within the rap subculture recognize and acknowledge that these problems exist. Those within this subculture consider “the other group” to be those people who do not understand rap music and the message rap artists are trying to send. The suppresser, or opposition, is the dominant culture, because it ignores these problems and perhaps even acts as a catalyst for some of them. The beats of rap music has people bopping and the words have them thinking, from the tenement-lined streets of Harlem, New York, to the mansion parties of Beverly Hills, California (Sexton, 168). Rap music, once only popular with blacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, has grown to become America’s freshest form of music, giving off energy found nowhere else. While the vocalist(s) tell a story, the sic jockey provides the rhythm, operating the drum machine and “scratching”. Scratching is defined as rapidly moving the record back and forth under the needle to create rap’s famous swishing sound (Sexton, 69). The beat can be traditional funk, or heavy metal, anything goes. The most important part of rap is “rapping,” fans want to hear the lyrics. During every generation, some old-fashioned, ill-humored people have become frightened by the sight of kids having a good time and have attacked the source of their pleasure. In the 1950s, the target was rock ‘n’ roll. Some claimed that the new type of music encouraged wild behavior and evil thoughts. Today, rap faces the same charges. Those who condemn this exciting entertainment have never closely examined it. If they had, they would have discovered that rap permits kids to appreciate the English language by producing comical and meaningful poems set to music. Rappers don’t just walk on stage and talk off the top of their heads. They write their songs, and they put a lot of though into them. Part of rapping is quick wit. Rappers like L.L. Cool J grew up rapping in their neighborhood, and they learned to throw down a quick rhyme when they were challenged (Bender, 188). But part of it is thoughtful work over many hours, getting the words to sound just right so that the ideas come across with style. As L.L. Cool J describes it, “I write all my songs down by hand. Each song starts with a word, like any other sentence, and becomes a manuscript” (Bender, 189). Many performers set a positive example for their followers. Kurtis Blow rapped in a video for the March of Dimes’ fundraising drive to battle birth defects and he has campaigned against teenage drinking as a spokesperson for the National Council on Alcoholism. On the television show “Reading Rainbow,” Run-D.M.C. told viewers how books enabled them to become “kings of rock.” On another occasion, group member Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels said, “Little kids like to follow me around the neighborhood. I tell them to stay in school. Then I give them money to get something in the deli.” Run-D.M.C. is one of the numerous rap combos advising kids to keep off drugs. Doug E. Fresh and Grandmaster Flash have each made records telling of the horrors of cocaine. On Grandmaster Flash’s hit “White Lines,” he details how the drug can ruin a life, and shouts, “Don’t do it!” The most popular and influential form of African-American pops music of the 1980’s and 1990’s, rap is also one of the most controversial styles of the rock era. And not just among the guardians of cultural taste and purity that have always been counted among rock ‘n’ roll’s chief enemies. Black, White, rock and soul audiences continue to fiercely debate the musical and social merits of rap, whose most radical innovations subverted many of the musical and cultural tenets upon which rock was built. Antecedents of rap are easy to find in rock with other kinds of music. Music is often used to tell a story, often with spoken rhymes over instruments and rhythms. Talking blues, spoken passages of sanctified prose in gospel, and numerous hits that call out slogans and rhymes, from Bo Diddley’s “Say Man” to Shirley Ellis’ “The Name Game. More direct paths leading to rap though can be found in a few of the trends of the late ’60s and ’70s. In R&B music, funk and disco stripped soul down to its most basic rhythms, forgoing much of the instrumentation and vocals habitually used as embellishments (Sexton, 167). James Brown in particular is often cited as a forefather in his use of stream-of-consciousness over elemental funk backup, and he (as well as other funk giants) has been sampled by modern-day rappers on innumerable occasions. Two much more overlooked influences originated from outside of the R&B and rock mainstream. The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, and Jayne Cortez set highly politicized tales of African American and urban life against percussive jazz tracks in the early ’70s. In reggae, the use of DJs or “toasters,” to rap over basic instrumental backing tracks when they took their mobile sounds systems to dances became widespread. New York City, particularly Brooklyn and (more importantly in terms of rap’s birth) the Bronx, was home to a large Jamaican community. Jamaican DJ’s mixed sounds from several turntables, devices that would become a rap trademark. Although mixing from large sounds systems began to be employed at New York house parties in the 1970s, it didn’t really emerge as a recorded sound until the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979. While many critics and listeners shrugged the song aside as a fluke, the early rap sound continued to spread in the early ’80s, due in large part to the efforts of the Sugarhill label. No longer could rap be ignored; here was straight up social commentary, reporting from the front lines of the ghetto with more immediacy than almost any newspaper or television broadcast. From it’s inception, rap endured a lot of hostility from listeners–many, but not all, White–who found the music too harsh, monotonous, and lacking in traditional melodic values. However, millions of others – often, though not always, young African-Americans from underprivileged inner city backgrounds – found an immediate connection with the style. Here was poetry of the street, directly reflecting and addressing the day to day reality of the ghetto in a confrontational fashion not found in any other music or medium. You could dance to it, rhyme to it, bring it most anywhere on portable cassette players, and, in the best rock ‘n’ roll tradition, form your own band without much in the way of formal training (Barbour, 87). The basic workouts of early rappers like Kurtis Blow and the Fat Boys can sound a bit tame today. Many were still expecting the music to peter out before Run D.M.C. came along. Rap was, and to a large degree still is, a singles oriented medium, but these men from Queens proved that rappers could maintain interest and diversity over the course of entire full-length albums. Combining hard beats and innovative production with material that emphasized positive social activism without ignoring the cruel realities of urban life, they found as much favor with the critics as the street. Among the first rap groups to climb the pop charts in a big way, they also were among the first to make big inroads into the White and Middle-American audiences when they teamed up with Aerosmiths’s Stephen Tyler and Joe Perry for the hit single “Walk This Way.” The mid- and late ’80s saw rap continue to explode in popularity, with the birth of superstars like LL Cool J and Hammer (the latter is often accused of providing a safe rap- pop alternative). Although most early rap productions originated in New York City and its environs, the music took hold as a national phenomenon, with strong scenes developing in other East Coast cities like Philadelphia, as well as West Coast strongholds in Los Angeles and Oakland. Production techniques became increasingly sophisticated; electronics, stop-on- a-dime-editing, and sampling from previously recorded sources became prominent. The increased emphasis on electronic beats led to the popularization of the term “hip-hop,” a designation that is by now used more or less interchangeably with rap. The Beastie Boys, obnoxious white ex-punks from New York, brought rap further into the Middle American mainstream with their vastly popular hybrids of hip-hop, hard rock, and in your face braggadocio (Barbour, 92). While rap had always forthrightly dealt with urban struggle, the late ’80s saw the emergence of a more militant strain of the music. Sometimes advantaged neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles, although performers like Philadelphia’s Schoolly D probed that the genre was not specific to the area. Boogie Down Productions laid down a prototype that was taken to more extreme measures by N.W.A., who reported on the crime, sex and violence of the ghetto with an explicit verve that some viewed as verging on celebration rather than journalism. Enormously controversial, and enormously popular with record buyers, several N.W.A. members went on to stardom as solo acts, including Ice Cube, Eazy-E, and Dr. Dre. The most popular and controversial of the militant rappers, the New York based Public Enemy, were perhaps the most political as well. Their brand of activism, like that of Malcolm X’s two decades earlier, made a lot of people, including liberals, pretty uncomfortable, with their emphasis upon Black Nationalism and careless anti-Semitic, homophobic, and sexist references. Groups such as Public Enemy ignited an ongoing debate in the media. Activist-oriented critics and audiences found a lot to praise in their music. At the same time, they could not let the xenophobic tendencies of these acts pass unnoticed, or ignore the frequent quasi-celebration in much rap music of misogyny, drugs, and violence, and the status to be gained in the urban community by the practice thereof. Passionate advocates of civil liberties and free speech wondered, sometimes aloud, whether rappers were taking those privileges too far. Newly emerging gangsta rappers like Snoop Doggy Dogg, Slick Rick, and 2Pac not only take the violent subject matter of their lyrics to new extremes (and to the top of the charts), but also have been accused of enacting their scenarios in real life, landing in jail for manslaughter or fighting similarly grave charges. These performers often unrepentantly contend they are only reporting things as they happen in the ‘hood, of a culture that not only shoots people, but also is being shot at. Many critics find their line between art and reality too thin, and hate to see them spreading their gospel from the top of the charts (2Pac’s 1995 album “Me Against the World” debuted at No. 1 even as he was serving a prison sentence), or serve as role models for international youth. Gangsta rap may have gotten a lot of the headlines in recent years, but the field of rap as a whole remains diverse and not as dominated by the shoot-’em-out mini-dramas of gangsta rap, as many would have you believe. De La Soul took rap and hip-hop productions to new heights with their 1989 debut Three Feet High & Rising, an almost psychedelic sampling and editing of a wildly eclectic pool of sources that would do Frank Zappa proud. Their humorous and cheerful vibe inspired a mini-school of “African” acts most notably the Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest. Arrested Development, Digable Planets, and Digital Underground also pursued playful, heavily jazz- and funk-oriented paths to immense success and high critical praise. The work of rap is a highly macho (some would say sexist) environment, but some female performers arose to provide a much needed counterpoint from various perspectives: the saucy (the various Roxannes), the pop (Salt-N-Pepa), and the feminist (Queen Latifah). It is a measure of rap’s huge influence that the style has infiltrated mainstream soul and rock as well. Producer Teddy Riley gave urban-contemporary performers like Bobby Brown a vaguely hip edge with his brand of New Jack Swing. White alternative rockers like G. Love and most notably Beck devised a strange hybrid of rap, blues, and rock. Vanilla Ice probed that Whitbread pop-rap could top the charts, though he was unable to sustain his success. More than most genres’ rap/hip-hop has become a culture with its own sub-genres and buzzwords what can seem almost impenetrable to the novice. Despite this proliferation of schools of production and performance, many rap records can appear virtually indistinguishable from each other to a new listener. And there’s no getting around the fact that a lot of them are. The market is saturated with repetitive beats and monotonously uncompromising slices of urban street life, to the point that they’ve lost a lot of both their musical novelty and shock value (Barbour, 93). Rap music has lost none of its momentum as we head into the last half of the 1990’s. Scenes continue to proliferate, not just on the coasts, but also in Atlanta, Houston, and such unlikely locales as Paris. It may appeal more to inner-city adolescents than anyone else may, but gangsta rap may be bigger than anything else in R&B music may commercially, and there are more multi-platinum rap/hip-hip acts than you can count. Shinehead, Shabba Ranks, and less heralded performers like Sister Carol have fused reggae and rap. And the jazz and rap worlds are being brought closer together than ever through the efforts of Gang Starr and their lead Guru, US3, and the landmark Stolen Moments: Red, Hot + Cool compilation, which united many of the top names of hip-hop and jazz (Barbour, 94). Rap is still a new music form. It is expanding every day, and the sound has grown wide enough to include scores of future stars. Some rap is rock-based, some is funk, and some is very close to the original “street” sound. A few of the present stars will definitely have a noticeable impact on the future of rap. Themes that are found more and more in rap lyrics are: pride in an African heritage and the call for harmony between men and women. Queen Latifah and MC Lyte are working hard to open doors to women in the music business. Rap fans are also starting to accept more white artists. 3rd Bass and Vanilla Ice are new white rap acts with promise. The time is near when all of America will be bopping to rap. Rap has already shown signs of crossing over to a new audience. A Grammy category was added for rap music in 1989. D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince were the first winners for their single, “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” In 1990 Young MC took home the prize for “Bust a Move.” And with real proof that rap is reaching more people, Tone Loc became the first rapper ever to reach number one on the pop charts. He did it with his hit single “Wild Thing” in 1989. Of course, there are still plenty who are afraid of rap and won’t listen to its message. Along with the birth and growth of rap comes censorship. This has become a big issue within the music industry, and rap music is at the center of the controversy. Some people want to put warning labels on certain rappers’ albums and newspapers and magazines have been printing articles about the bad influence that some rappers have on kids. What is it about the music that people find so troubling? Some rappers use strong language. Others are accused of writing racist lyrics, or lyrics that are insulting to women. As with all kinds of music, the more popular it becomes, the more likely you are to find both good and bad sides. But the positive side of rap greatly outweighs the negative. And its positive messages seem to be spreading. The number of new rappers that grows everyday will hopefully bring about new forms of rap and constant changes on the old school versions of the music. With these new versions and variations comes new fans and renewed faith from old fans. Regardless of how many rap artists land in jail or end up dead, this music will live on. There are plenty of enough fans will make sure of it.
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 the artist sees it. Jazz and hip-hop also share many of the same African 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 with music, or without 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 that were talented musicians with little or no training. The popularity of rap has 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 opportunities 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.