November: Hip Hop Animosity No More [Fukubukuro]

I stopped listening to hip hop back in 2003. If you asked me then, I’d probably say that it stopped being any good around then. Reality probably aligns more closely with a teenage counter-culture attitude that started to manifest not long after I hit my Junior year of high school. I’m not complaining too much; I mean, I shifted into a pure alternative rock mindset and I exposed myself to solid music from the 90s and 00s, but here I had gone and cut myself off from an entire genre of music that I deemed too mainstream.

My stubbornness persisted all through university. When asked, the only genre of music that I didn’t listen to was rap. I claimed it was artistically void, unnecessarily aggressive, and embarrassingly sexist and misogynistic. I don’t think more obnoxious words could be uttered out of a mouth that listened to, and enjoyed, the song “Under My Thumb”.

Hypocrisy aside, it took me until I started listening to NPR, of all things, to get back into hip hop. The All Songs Considered podcast mostly caters to the musical tastes of its hosts, which fall almost exclusively into the indie territory, but, in the interest of being non-exclusionary, they had a hip hop episode wherein they asked other music journalists to come in and fill in the gaps they’d been neglecting.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I’d been an idiot for a good eight years. Rap and hip hop is still just as aggressive, sexist, homophobic, and vulgar as it’s always been, but so were a lot of the other rock bands I was listening to. More importantly, this stuff was fantastic.

My listening habits tend to not cater much to lyrics. It’s what enables me to love foreign music and what gets me in major trouble when I realize that a song whose sound I absolutely love is about something needlessly graphic or vulgar. I think this also made it easier for me to forsake hip hop. When your entire genre relies more on what you say than what you play it can be easy for me to lose interest. It takes a more listens than usual for a rap track without great backing to make any impact on my brain. Imagine my surprise when two albums made a huge splash in the same month by paying way more attention to the way their music is presented than most.

Greg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, made a huge splash in the music world by releasing his finest work to date, All Day, for free on his website. For a week after the album’s release his website was so hammered with download requests that it took me several attempts just to bring up the site the day I downloaded it.

Girl Talk isn’t technically hip hop at all, but his mash-up style dance music is dominated by rap layered over music ranging from other rap songs to classic rock, pop, oldies, and modern alt rock. The beauty of the album comes from the way that Gillis stacks these songs over each other. His timings are excellent and he juxtaposes the most unlikely of songs creating a synergy that no one could have conceived of before. In a way, I felt like the attention he paid to the production of his tracks makes for a track that’s just busy enough to be interesting.

It was just what I needed to push me over the edge and back into exploring hip hop with the same vigor that I chase rock music and I resolved to pick up the next big hip hop release, which just happened to be Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

To say that anything Kanye does is surrounded by controversy would be the understatement of the year. Naturally, just about everyone loves or hates MBDTF because it is everything that Kanye has always been: loud, braggy, brilliant, complex, and humble all at the same time. Each and every track is filled to the brim with interesting musical progression, from the guitar riffs on “Gorgeous” and “Power” to the almost mournful piano in “Blame Game” and the blaring brass in “All of the Lights” Kanye brings so much more to his songs than interesting flow and solid rhymes.

Both are just so awesome. Hip hop, I’m glad to be back. I hope I never make myself leave again.

Kanye West


4 responses to “November: Hip Hop Animosity No More [Fukubukuro]”

  1. Eric Mesa Avatar

    It’s funny, we had the lyrics vs music conversation a couple days ago. I guess it’s why I continued enjoying rap even as I moved towards alternative rock thanks, in part, to your lack of rap listening. I forget if I’ve told this story before online in either of our blogs, but going into college I was squarely in the rap, ska/punk, and pop-rock fandom. (With a bit of techno sprinkled in because of living in Miami and listening to Power96 on the weekends) But over the next few years, whenever I’d come home for Christmas or Thanksgiving break I didn’t have my computer with me and, therefore, no music collection.

    The biggest breakthrough was the Christmas in which I was given SimCity 4 (or in which I brought it home). Maxis took the great step of realizing that most people would have winamp playing in the background anyway because the SimCity music, while great, is boring after an hour or so. So, like the first xbox, they made it so that if you dropped music into the right folder, the game would play it instead of the in-game music. I installed it on the family computer (which was mostly Dan’s computer) and the only music available was Dan’s music. So I listened to LostProphets, Lucky Boys Confusion (which sounds like it should be a boy band), and other alternative bands. I realized there was some good music out there. I started exploring these groups and others that Dan was into and eventually migrated towards that sound.

    I realized that, while rap tends to (on average) have better (more fun, more wordplay) lyrics, that alternative rock tends to have much better and varied music. So I was able to fill both sides and greatly expand my musical tastes because Dan had gone so far in the other direction instead of having songs I was more comfy with.

    The whole lyrical reason for listening is why I tend to love indie-rap like Taleb Kwali, early GRITS albums, and Nerdcore rap. And why I can’t stand most 50 Cent, most Lil Jon, etc

    Of course, I can also appreciate music on just a musical level as I do with my J-Rock, J-Pop, and other language tracks (indian, arabic, german, etc)

    1. Dan Avatar

      I think it’s fascinating the way that music propagates between people.

      1. Eric Mesa Avatar

        Probably not too dissimilar to other info and the meme discussion I remember reading in one of the Stephenson books (Snow Crash, I think). The key difference is that music touches us on a primal level via musical sounds as well as an emotional level based on many factors like what was going on in your life when you first heard it, the beat, and possibly the lyrics.

        1. Eric Mesa Avatar

          And, of course, the relationship to the person who introduced it to you if you didn’t just hear it on the radio.

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