Tag Archive | Music

The Evolution of Rap Part 2

 

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In the last post of this series we discussed the evolution of the rap from the 1980’s to the first part of the 1990’s.  This period was widely known for the subgenre of hip-hop/rap called gangsta rap, which talked about the struggles of the inner city and was much harder than previous styles.  We talked about the works and influence of artists like N.W.A., Dr. Dre, and the Wu-Tang Clan.  This post will be dedicated to two of the rap giants during the 1990’s, 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G, while exploring the West vs. East rivalry.  tupac-shakur-07

Tupac Amaru Shakur often heralded as one, if not the greatest rapper of all time, rose to fame during the early 1990’s .  His first album, 2Pacalylpse Now discussed the struggles of growing up, racism, police brutality, and urban life.  This set the precedent for much of 2Pac’s subject matter for his career as he would speak on the harsh reality of the inner city and how things must change.  The political voice associated with 2Pac’s works are reminiscent of those who came before him like Public Enemy.  His second album though would be his breakout album as it got him national atention within the rap industry with songs like I Get A Round and Keep Ya Head Up.  Keep Ya Head Up is definitely the more touching of the two as it speaks about how in recent years and in the rap game women have been pushed down.  He gives insight into his childhood and what he saw growing up.  More of his social commentary could be seen in the song dedicated to his mother on his third album, Me Against the World.  The song Dear Mama talks about and is a heartfelt homage to his mother who worked so hard to try and raise him in a world of turmoil.  This is considered one of his greatest songs and is even a work collected in the Library of Congress.

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2Pac’s fourth album was All Eyez On Me and is considered his greatest production due to the medley of rap hits it gave like How Do You Want It and the famous California Love.  This album was released in 1996 after he had joined Death Row Records with a bunch of other prominent West Coast rappers in 1995.  This album would be one of the most influential rap albums of all time as it would inspire the next generation of artists that would come up in the 2000’s.  His last album, The 7 Day Theory, was made in a relatively short time and would have massive success but unfortunately he didn’t live long enough to see it for himself.  On September 7, 1996, Shakur was murdered in Las Vegas after a Mike Tyson fight as he was the victim of a shooting while he was in the passenger seat with his friend Suge Knight.  On September 13th, 1996, he had died in the intensive care unit of internal bleeding from the gunshot wounds.  Tupac Shakur is remembered as being one of the greatest artists of all time as he rapped about the struggles of life and the tragedies of the human condition.  He also helped to bring rap and hip-hop to the mainstream public which made it more of an acceptable art form for young artists to express themselves.

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The second rap giant that dominated the 1990’s was Christopher Wallace or better known as The Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls.  Biggie grew up in New York City and helped to bring back rap music from the East Coast as previously the rap game was dominated by West Coast artists.  He started rapping as a teenager on the streets of Brooklyn and one day he was heard by Sean Combs (now better known as P. Diddy) of Uptown Records.  However, Combs would be fired from his position at Uptown and decided to start his own label called Bad Boy Records.  He continued to get exposure from releasing remixes of popular songs until he was able to release his first studio album, Ready To Die, in 1994.  He broke out as an artist with the song Juicy which had pop-like vocals and the album also had the synth heavy Big Poppa.  Juicy told the story of him trying to make it as an artist and the struggle of growing up in Brooklyn as well as trying to adjust to his new lifestyle. It got strong, positive reviews and brought attention back to the East Coast.

Unfortunately, Biggie and 2Pac would be involved in a long lasting feud that started from a misunderstanding in 1994.  2Pac was shot and mugged while in Quad Studios.  He would accuse Sean Combs and Biggie of being involved in setting it up despite them claiming to not being involved.  This misunderstanding started the intense rivalry between the two artists and the two coasts of the nation.  It was all about the West versus the East.  Death Row Records was very vocal about how they felt about Bad Boy Records.  The rivalry between the two record labels pushed their respective artists to make better music and it also spurred their fan bases to support.  However with the shooting of Tupac 1996, it came to a realization that it had gone to far as Death Row was blaming the East for the incident.  Biggie was very open about how Tupac’s loss was a tragedy and remembered the times when they were friends before the 1994 incident.  However, Biggie while visiting California to support his new album Life After Death was murdered on March 9, 1997.  The murders of Tupac and Biggie are still unsolved and there is still controversy about what just might have happened.  Christopher Wallace is considered one of the greatest rappers ever and will forever be known as the King of New York as far as rap.

 

The Evolution of Rap Part 1.5

If you haven’t read The Evolution of Rap Part I, it basically describes the origins of rap up until the late 1980’s where rap became more politically charged with groups like Public Enemy.  Much of rap from where we left off in the last post is rap going into two directions, one a new subgenere of gangsta rap and two rap begins its journey to making it to the mainstream audiences.  The subject matter of rap also starts to shift over to the struggles of living in the inner city.  I have decided to split up this time period into two separate post due to how I realized just how much this period covers as far as rap.

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The first group that will be discussed that follows under the gangsta rap genre is N.W.A. consisting mainly of Dr. Dre, Eazy E, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, MC Ren, and for a while in the beginning Arabian Price.  However, the first five in that list are the most popular and synonymous known for being in N.W.A.  The music of N.W.A. was heavy on verses, as is typical with rap groups, as usually every member contributes to the song.  This group started and was based in the city of Compton, California helping to get the West Coast rap game started and strong.  Their debut album called Straight out of Compton released in 1988 featured some of their most popular songs like Straight out of Compton, **** tha Police, and Express Yourself.  In Straight out of Compton, they not only introduce themselves to their audience in a dynamic, rhyme spitting way but they talk about their own struggles growing up, which will become a popular subject in verses to come.  Their most controversial track, **** tha Police, they discuss police brutality, discrimination of minorities, and racial profiling by authorities.  This was in response to claims of police brutality by LAPD of minorities which would later come to national attention with the beating of Rodney King in 1991.  N.W.A.’s controversial status to mainstream America stemmed from their use of profanity and due to the fact that they talked about violent subjects based on what was going on in the inner city or from what was going on at the time.
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Arguably N.W.A.’s most successful member, Dr. Dre started his solo career in 1991 after leaving N.W.A. and helped to find Death Row Records which would be a major player of rap during the 90’s.  Death Row records was created by Dr. Dre and Suge Knight, helping to find talents like Snoop Dogg and 2Pac.  Dr. Dre on his first debut The Chronic featured Snoop Dogg on the track Nothing but a G Thang and Dre later helped to produce his first album.  Death Row records was a major player in gangsta rap and the whole West Coast versus East Coast dispute that will later be discussed.  However, now we will shift over to the birth place of rap, the East Coast.
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One of the most prominent rap groups on the East Coast was the famous Wu-Tang Clan founded in 1992.  It was composed of RZA, GZA, U-God, Method Man, Raekwon, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Ghostface Killah, Masta Killa, and unofficially Cappadonna.  They were from New York and were heavily influenced by martial arts movies on their debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), influenced by the movie Return to the 36 Chambers.  Wu-Tang Clan’s first album featured hit songs like C.R.E.A.M., Bring Da Ruckus, and Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin ta **** Wit.  Their masterful blend of instrumentals, martial art sound samples, and thier hard hitting verses captivated the rap scene.  Up until this point, rap was dominated by the West with artists like Ice Cube, N.W.A., and Snoop Dogg.  This landmark album helped to shift the attention from the West to the East for a while as they continued to dominate.  They would later on create Wu-Tang Forever which was their second albm in 1997.

Remixing

Recently I have watched a video series called Everything is a Remix, and it got me thinking about the idea of reframing/remixing ideas.  The video explained how today’s world is greatly built on the ideas and thoughts of our predecessors.  In addition, new ideas and creations are made by the transformation of these ideas.  While watching the video, I immediately thought how hip-hop/rap music perfectly embodies this idea.  Since the earliest days of rap music, the idea of sampling beats or instrumentals was prevalent.  For example, The Sugarhill Gang used a piece of the beat from Chic’s Good Times in order to create the classic Rapper’s Delight.  The Sugarhill Gang didn’t flat out copy Chic’s song, they just used one component from the song, a part of the instrumental, and built their beat around it so they could musically innovate.

Sampling is an essential part of rap music, its not only a way for artists to pay homage to those that came before them but it allows a starting point for creation.   It is very rare that a rapper has never sampled somebody else in the slightest way, whether it be a part of the beat or background vocals.  For example, Drake has always been influenced by the music of Aaliyah and Whitney Houston so he pays homage to them by sampling them.  One critical, often overlooked, aspect of rap music is the beat because in the end of the day it’s not all just about the lyrics.  The beat adds a lot to a song; it adds rhythm, tone, mood, and atmosphere.  Thus, often rappers wish they could use a particular sound to add to what they are trying to convey with their music and if they really want to include it they can sample it.  In rap, there are two types of sampling: authorized and unauthorized.  Authorized sampling comes when the parties directly involved, as in those that own the sound being sampled, are in agreement with the person wanting to sample it.  For example, after the death of Biggie Small’s, P. Diddy (or Puff Daddy at the time) sampled the instrumental from The Police’s song Every Breath you Take to create the tribute song I’ll Be Missing You.  On the other hand, unauthorized sampling is where an artist will try to sneak in a sample and hope they don’t get in legal trouble.  One of the more notable examples is Vanilla Ice’s hit Ice Ice Baby which wrongly used the bass line from Queen’s Under Pressure.

The rap game is very competitive and with modern culture it is much more interconnected with technology and social media.  As mentioned there are different kinds of sampling, but there is a gray area when it comes to the legality of sampling in one scenario, mixtapes.  Mixtapes are a collection of songs established or aspiring artists make and distribute freely, usually by the internet these days.  As long as the artists aren’t making money from this they usual sample freely and it allows these artists to  build off something and create their own songs.  An example of this is Drake’s third mixtape Sooner than Later which sampled some artists and it helped him get the attention of the music industry while also being Grammy nominated for just that mixtape.  In addition, artists often freestyle over the beats of other artists to make their own version or to send a message to that artist.  Now, these freestyles are never released as official songs in order to avoid legal trouble.  An example of this is when various artists covered Drake’s ballad Marvin’s Room.  

-Carlos

To be or not to be…

I recently watched one of my favorite musical turned movies, Les Miserables, with my other favorite being The Phantom of the Opera.  Upon watching Les Miserables, I noticed there were two scenes very similar to that of Hamlet, which I happen to be reading as of this moment.  These two works both have the motifs of revenge and serious contemplation.  Hamlet is bent on revenge for his father’s death through killing Claudius, while the revenge in Les Miserables comes from how Javert is obsessed with catching Jean Valjean.  However, the scenes of serious contemplation really intrigue me.

There are two scenes in the beginning of the movie that are central to setting up how the audience views Jean Valjean. The first one is immediately after the police come to the church where Jean Valjean is staying and are about to arrest him for stealing but the priest clears his name.  Realizing how the priest saved him from going back to jail, he has a soliloquy where he contemplates what he is doing with his life and his character.  Now, it isn’t of the same subject matter of whether he should commit suicide or not, but this scene is important as it leads to the all important question of the movie in the next song.  The next more comparable scene is the scene where Jean Valjean has heard how an innocent man will be tried for being mistaken to be him, and he must make a decision: take action or don’t.  If he takes action he risks his life, but if he doesn’t he has the guilt of a man’s life over him.  He asks the question that will continue to echo through the play/movie: Who am I?

Toward’s the end of the movie, the scene I am about to discuss takes place, and note if you haven’t seen the movie/play I am warning you this is a spoiler.  Now, if you recall the end of the movie has the scene where Javert has failed to catch Jean Valjean ater he just watches him walk away from the sewer exit.  The next scene the audience finds Javert on top of a bridge walking on the edge.  He then continues to sing the song titled “Javert’s Suicide” where he decides what to do with his life after failing at his really own purpose for living, justice.  He believes he has failed  and contemplates whether to live or die.  This is very similar to Hamlet in the “To be or not to be..” soliloquy as he too contemplates suicide.  The only difference between the two is that Javert takes his own life and Hamlet instead takes a different action, deciding to carry out revenge.

-Carlos