Saturday, March 26, 2011

music in our messge

Well, this was supposed to come out on Friday afternoon, and since the three of you reading this are probably fully occupied with work right now anyway, then let's just pretend that the time stamp above this sentence says March 25th.

It's time to get the weekend started; for me that usually means a drink or two in the kitchen, making dinner, dancing children, with some loud music coming from the family room. Which is my wonky way to segue into a little discussion about music. Prompted by my main man Madden (who, while cycling these mean streets, recently put his head through the rear windscreen of a suddenly-stopped sedan and now appears to be recovering nicely--a heartfelt  and speedy recovery to you hombre), I recently read Jay-Z's Decoded. I enjoyed his attempts to elevate the art form of hip hop; he obviously put thought into using his lyrics as meaningful points of departure toward a larger discussion about urban issues. I was impressed by the writing and I hope his book contributes to our expanding definition of English language poetry. Conversely, among the nerdy friendly culturally-sensitive yet reliably opinionated group of folks that I have been discussing books with of late, there was a general, if not universal, reactionary shrug of "meh" toward the writing and revelations in Decoded. That was a bit disappointing, but more or less expected. 

The book did inspire me to put some thought toward what makes hip-hop great, and to think about some of the most influential music from my lifetime.  So here are a few songs that i think represent the best of what hip hop has done for me, all of them from the most influential and skillful hip hop artists in the game: Public Enemy. First up from 1988's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, "Prophets of Rage". The video content is intentionally absent, we're just talking about the music today, so just press play.

I am still amazed by the intricate turntableism of Terminator X; the flawless production of Hank Shocklee, Professor Griff, and the Bomb Squad; the commentary of the the Media Assasin, Harry Allen; the politically charged jabs of Chuck D's lyrics, and the wackiness of the greatest hype man of all time Flavor Flav. Next up is from 1990's Fear of a Black Planet, a song to match our current global political climate: "Revolutionary Generation"

Lastly to wrap up today's little testament to "the Rolling Stones of Hip Hip", also from Nation of Millions, the simultaneously beautiful and chilling "Welcome to the Terrordome"

Clearly there are major differences in the musical landscape between now and the late 1980s; and certainly the process by which music labels clear samples now will never produce a (profitable) song that contains a dozen or more samples like in the so called "Golden Age" of hip hop. I do try to seek out young artists and keep an ear open for emerging forms of music; but there just seems to be very little of the skill, commentary, and content that was so powerful in PE's music making its way to young listeners today.
Rock on, and enjoy the weekend, more about bikes next week.  

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