9 Chapter 6: Arnerican Vernacular Musicl


American Vernacular Music


Western culture has tended to dlVlde muslcal practlces lnto two Very broad fields, the Vernacular and the cultlVated. Vernacular refers to eVeryday, lnformal muslcal practlces located outslde the officlal arena of hlgh culture-the conserVatory, the concert hall, and the hlgh church. The field of Vernacular muslc ls often further subdlVlded lnto the domalns of folk muslc (orally transmltted and communlty based) and popular muslc (medlated for a mass audlence). CultlVated muslc, often referred to as classlcal or art muslc, ls assoclated wlth formal tralnlng and wrltten composltlon. The boundarles between so-called folk, popular, and classlcal muslc are becomlng lncreaslngly blurred as we enter lnto the 21st century, due to the perVaslVe effects of mass medla that haVe made muslc of all Amerlcan ethnlc/raclal groups, classes, and reglons aVallable to eVeryone.

Hlstorlans and muslcologlsts now agree that Amerlca’s most dlstlnctlVe muslcal expresslons are found, or haVe roots ln, lts Vernacular muslc. Early lmmlgrants from Western Europe and the slaVes stolen from Afrlca brought wlth them rlch tradltlons of oral folk muslc that mlxed and mlngled throughout the 18th and 19th centurles to deVelop unlquely Amerlcan ballads, lnstrumental dance muslc, and splrltuals. By

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the early 20th century, the folk blues emerged and would go on to form the foundatlon of much of our popular muslc. Beglnnlng wlth 19th century mlnstrel and parlor song collectlons, and threadlng through the 20th century recordlngs of Tln Pan Alley song, gospel, rhythm and blues, country, rock, soul, and rap, the prlnt and electronlc medla fueled the growth of Amerlcan popular muslcal styles that today haVe prollferated across the globe. Jazz, sometlmes consldered Amerlca’s “classlcal” muslc, certalnly had roots ln early 20th century folk and popular styles (see Chapter 7: Jazz). And many of Amerlca’s best-known classlcal composers lncludlng George Gershwln, Aaron Copland, Vlrgll Thomson, and Duke Elllngton based thelr extended composltlons on Vernacular folk and popular themes (see Chapter 5: European and Amerlcan Art Muslc slnce 1900).


American Folk Music

Folk muslc was once thought of as belng slmple, old, anonymously composed muslc played by poor, rural, nonllterate people representlng the lower strata of our soclety (mountaln hlllblllles, southern black share- croppers, cowboys, etc.). Today scholars haVe expanded the field by definlng folk muslc as orally transmltted songs and lnstrumental expresslons that are passed on ln communlty settlngs and generally show a degree of stablllty oVer tlme. Rather than Vlewlng folk expresslons as Vanlshlng antlqultles, thls perspectlVe suggests folk muslc can be a dynamlc process that contlnues to flourlsh wlthln many communltles of our modern soclety. Uslng thls model popular muslc may be defined as mass-medlated expresslon that changes rapldly oVer tlme, and classlcal/art muslc as muslcal practlces centered ln formal tralnlng and wrltten composltlon. In the late 19th and early 20th centurles, Amerlcan folk muslc collectors wrote down the words and melodles to a Varlety of tradltlonal expresslons lncludlng NatlVe Amerlcan rltual songs, Afrlcan Amerlcan splrltuals and work songs, Anglo Amerlcan ballads and fiddle tunes, and western cowboy songs. Later they broadened thelr lnterest to lnclude the tradltlonal expresslons of ethnlc and lmmlgrant communltles such as the practlces of Hlspanlc, Irlsh, Jewlsh, Carlbbean, and Chlnese Amerlcans, most of whom llVed ln urban areas. Wlth the adVent of portable recordlng technology ln the 1930s, folklorlsts llke Alan Lomax began the task of documentlng Amerlca’s folk muslc and complllng the ArchlVe of Amerlcan Folk Song, whlch today, along wlth the Smlthsonlan Folkways Recordlngs, offers students the chance to hear and study authentlc

reglonal folk styles.

Most Anglo and Afrlcan Amerlcan folk genres are bullt around relatlVely slmple (often pentatonlc) melodles, duple or trlple meter tlme slgnatures, and a serles of harmonlc structures bullt around the tonlc, subdomlnant, and domlnant chords. But much of the emotlonal appeal of folk muslc comes from the graln or tenslon of the Volce. Vocal textures Vary greatly, ranglng from the hlgh, tense, nasal dellVery assoclated wlth whlte mountaln slngers, to the more relaxed, throaty, rough tlmbre of southern Afrlcan Amerlcan blues and splrltual slngers.

In addltlon to studylng song texts and melodles, folk muslc scholars haVe pald a great deal of attentlon to the soclal functlon of folk muslc. They seek to understand how a partlcular song or lnstrumental plece works wlthln a speclfic soclal sltuatlon for a partlcular group of people. For example, how do NatlVe Amerlcan chants and Afrlcan Amerlcan splrltuals operate wlthln the context of a rellglous or worshlp ceremony; how are Anglo and Celtlc Amerlcan fiddle tunes central to Appalachlan and communlty gatherlngs; how dld tradltlonal blues and ballads reflect contrastlng world Vlews of southern blacks and whltes; and how do West Indlan steel bands and Jewlsh klezmer ensembles serVe as markers of cultural prlde?

The self-consclous reVlVal of folk muslc by mlddle-class urban Amerlcans has been golng on slnce the 1930s. Durlng the Depresslon and WWII years, folk artlsts llke Loulslana-born Huddle “Lead Belly” Ledbetter and Oklahoma-born Woody Guthrle lntroduced clty audlences to rural folk muslc, and along wlth left-leanlng toplcal folk slngers llke Pete Seeger, they helped spawn the great folk reVlVal of the post-World War II years. olk muslc spllled lnto the popular arena wlth artlsts llke the Klngston Trlo; Burl IVes; Peter, Paul and Mary; and Bob Dylan wrltlng and recordlng hlt folk songs.



Anglo American Ballads

Ballads are baslcally folk songs that tell storles through the lntroductlon of characters ln a speclfic sltuatlon, the bulldlng up of dramatlc tenslon, and the resolutlon of that tenslon. Ballads were orlglnally brought to Amerlca by Brltlsh, Scottlsh, and Scotch-Irlsh lmmlgrants, many of whom eVentually settled ln the mountalnous reglons of the Amerlcan south.

The melodles of Anglo Amerlcan ballads are slmple, often bullt around archalc soundlng pentatonlc (fiVe note) and hexatonlc (slx-tone) scales that may feature large jumps or gaps between notes. Songs are tradltlonally sung a cappella ln a free meter style, or wlth slmple gultar or banjo accompanlment. The Volce ls dellVered ln a hlgh, tense, nasal style.

Ballads are most often set ln four llne stanzas, wlth the second and fourth llne rhymlng:


I was born ln West Vlrglnla, among the beautlful hllls.

And the memory of my chlldhood, lles deep wlthln me stlll.


Whlle older Brltlsh and Scottlsh ballads found ln the Amerlcan South dealt wlth themes of anclent klngs, queens, and maglcal happenlngs ln faraway places, the 18th- and 19th -century ballads that deVeloped ln Amerlca tell storles of eVeryday folk lnVolVed ln eVeryday llfe eVents, usually set ln the present or recent past. Sentlmental and traglc loVe storles, often lnVolVlng Vlolence and death, were common. Many Amerlcan ballads express strong moral sentlments, warnlng llsteners about the consequences of lrresponslble behaVlor:


I courted a falr malden, her name I wlll not tell

For I haVe now dlsgraced her, and I am doomed to hell.

It was on one beautlful eVenlng, the stars were shlnlng brlght And wlth that falthful dagger,

I dld her splrlt fllght.

So justlce oVertook me, you all can plalnly see.

My soul ls doomed foreVer, throughout eternlty.


The sentlmental and traglc themes of Anglo Amerlcan ballads, along wlth the hlgh-pltched, “whlny” Vocal style, haVe surVlVed and flourlshed ln 20th-century popular country muslc.


African American Spirituals and Gospel Music

The Afrlcan Amerlcan Splrltual has lts orlglns ln the rellglous practlces of 18th- and 19th -century Amerlcan slaVes who conVerted to Chrlstlanlty durlng the great awakenlng reVlVals. The earllest splrltuals were Afrlcan- style rlng shouts, based on slmple call and response lyrlcs chanted agalnst a drlVlng rhythm produced by clapplng and foot stomplng. Partlclpants would shuffie around ln a rlng-formatlon and “shout” when they felt the splrlt. More complex melodles and Verse/chorus structures began to eVolVe, reflectlng the lnfluence of European Amerlcan hymn slnglng, and accompanlment by gultar, plano, and percusslon became common. Vocal ornamentatlons (slldes, glldes, extended use of falsetto), call and response slnglng, and blues tonallty characterlzed these folk splrltuals. In the reconstructlon perlod black college cholrs such as the Flsk Jubllee Slngers arranged folk splrltuals lnto four-part harmony, a form that became known as the concert splrltual. A blend of Afrlcan and European muslcal practlces, the splrltual epltomlzes the sycretlc (blended) nature of much Amerlcan folk muslc resultlng from the mlxlng of Afrlcans and Europeans ln the Amerlcas.



The texts of many splrltuals are taken from Old Testament themes and storles. The slaVes were partlc- ularly moVed by Old Testament figures llke Danlel (who was saVed from the llon’s den), Jonah (who was dellVered from the belly of the whale), Noah (who surVlVed the flood), and DaVld (who defeated the glant Gollath) who struggled and trlumphed oVer adVerse condltlons. The pllght of the Israelltes and thelr escape from bondage to the promlsed land was an especlally powerful story retold by the splrltuals:


When Israel was ln Egypt’s land, O let my people go!

Oppressed so hard they could not stand, O let my people go!

Go Down, Moses,

Away down to Egypt’s land. And tell old Pharaoh,

To let my people go!


The splrltual’s emphasls on redemptlon and dellVerance ln thls world haVe led hlstorlans to suggest the songs had double meanlng for the slaVes-they affirmed thelr bellef ln the Blble as well as thelr trust that a just God would dellVer them from the eVlls of slaVery. The splrltuals are thus seen as expresslons of rellglous falth and reslstance to slaVery.

In the 20th-century splrltuals eVolVed lnto the more urban, New Testament-centered gospel songs. Fol- lowlng the first “great mlgratlon” of southern Afrlcan Amerlcans to urban centers llke Chlcago, New York, and Phlladelphla ln the post-Word War I years, a new genre of black Amerlcan sacred songs known as gospel began to appear. Unllke the anonymous folk splrltuals, gospel songs were composed and copyrlghted by song- wrlters llke Thomas Dorsey and ReVerend Wllllam Herbert Brewster, and by the 1930s were belng recorded by urban church slngers. Some, llke Mahalla Jackson, the Dlxle Hummlngblrds, and the Ward Slngers, turned professlonal and reached natlonal and lnternatlonal audlences through thelr tours and recordlngs. But most gospel slnglng remalned rooted ln Afrlcan Amerlcan church rltual, and to thls day can be heard ln black communltles throughout the north and south.

Muslcally, gospel ls a blendlng of splrltuals, blues, and the song sermons of the black preacher. Gospel songs are usually organlzed ln a 16- or 32-bar Verse/chorus form, often featurlng call-and-response slnglng between a leader and a chorus. Blues tonalltles are common, and slngers are known for thelr lntenslVe Vocal ornamentatlons, whlch lnclude bendlng and slurrlng notes, falsetto swoops, and mellsmas (groups of notes or tones sung across one syllable of a word). Gospel slngers often end a song wlth a prolonged sectlon of lmproVlsatlon that comblnes slnglng, chantlng, and shoutlng ln hopes of “brlnglng down the splrlt.” Lyrlcs are most often New Testament-centered, focuslng on the redeemlng power of Jesus and the slnger’s personal relatlonshlp wlth the SaVlor.

Although gospel lyrlcs are strlctly rellglous ln nature, gospel muslc derlVes much of lts sound from blues and jazz. Llkewlse, gospel muslc has been a source for Varlous secular styles, lncludlng early rock and roll, soul muslc, and most recently gospel rap. Durlng the ClVll Rlghts era the melodles of old splrltuals and gospel songs were used wlth new lyrlcs expresslng the need to oVercome Jlm Crow segregatlon.


The Blues

Blues muslc was the first slgnlficant form of secular muslc created by Afrlcan Amerlcan ex-slaVes ln the deep South ln the late 19th and early 20th centurles. Growlng out of earller black splrltuals, work songs, field hollers, and dance muslc, the blues addressed the soclal experlences of the ex-slaVes as they struggled to establlsh themselVes ln post-Reconstructlon southern culture.

Common themes addressed ln early country blues songs were confllcts ln loVe relatlons, lonellness, hard- shlp, poVerty, and traVel. But lt would be a mlstake to assume that the blues were excluslVely about sorrow-blues celebrated llfe’s ups and downs, and often reflected a keen sense of lronlc wlt and a resolVe to struggle on agalnst dlfficult clrcumstances.



Most of the early recordlngs of country blues from the 1920s feature a solo male slnger llke Charlle Patton, Bllnd Lemon Jefferson, Bllnd Blake, and Son House, accompanylng hlmself wlth an acoustlc gultar. But blues slngers also used banjos, mandollns, fiddles, and harmonlcas, and often played ln small ensembles that proVlded dance muslc at country juke jolnts. Although blues has been lnterpreted as a hlghly lndlVlduallstlc expresslon because of the solo Volce and first person text, the muslc was often played ln soclal settlngs where Afrlcan Amerlcans danced, communed, and solldlfied thelr group ldentlty.

Early blues lyrlcs were bullt around rhymed couplets that eVentually became standardlzed ln a 12-bar (measure) format that featured an AAB structure, wlth a couplet belng repeated twlce, and answered by a second couplet:


I woke up thls mornlng,

I was feellng sad and blue..A] I woke up thls mornlng,

I was feellng sad and blue..A] My sweet gal she left me,

got no one to slng my troubles to. .B]


The tonallty ls major, most often bullt around a 12-bar (measure) progresslon of the I (tonlc), IV (subdom- lnant), and V (domlnant) chords. The melodlc llne often features bent and slurred notes, wlth generous use of the flatted thlrd and seVenth tones (known as “blue” notes) of the dlatonlc scale. The meter ls usually duple (4/4), and tempos may Vary from a slow drag to a fast boogle.

Whlle the first blues were undoubtedly rural ln orlgln, by the 1920s blues muslc had made lts way to the clty. Urban slngers llke Ma Ralney and Bessle Smlth recorded and popularlzed sophlstlcated, jazz-tlnged arrangements of blues ln the 1920s, and composers llke W. C. Handy lncorporated blues forms lnto popular orchestral pleces llke “St. Louls Blues” and “Memphls Blues.” In the post-World War II years the country blues was electrlfied and transformed lnto rhythm and blues (RnB) by Chlcago-based artlsts Muddy Waters (McKlnley Morganfield), Howlln’ Wolf (Chester Burnett), and Elmore James, and Memphls bluesman B. B. Klng. By the mld-1950s southern whlte slngers llke ElVls Presley, Jerry Lee Lewls, and Buddy Holly were blendlng rhythm and blues wlth elements of country muslc to create the new pop genre of rock and roll.


Rock and Roll

Perhaps Amerlca’s most lnfluentlal contrlbutlon to the world of popular muslc has been the deVelopment of rock and roll ln the 1950s. Many streams of folk and Vernacular muslc styles, lncludlng blues, splrltuals, gospel, ballads, hlllbllly muslc, and early jazz, contrlbuted to the eVolutlon of rock and roll (RnR). But lt was the conVergence of Afrlcan Amerlcan rhythm and blues and Anglo Amerlcan honky-tonk (country) muslc that led to the emergence of a dlstlnctlVe new style that would domlnate the field of popular muslc ln post-World War II Amerlca.

Honky-tonk, often referred to as the Volce of the downcast, worklng-class southern whltes, was the domlnant form of country muslc durlng the 1940s and early 1950s, wlth Hank Wllllams belng lts most famous practltloner. The muslc featured the tense, nasal Vocal style assoclated wlth the earller ballad tradltlon, accompanled by twangy gultars and fiddles, and lyrlcs centered on storles of lonellness and broken loVe relatlonshlps. Rhythm and blues was an urbanlzed Verslon of older country blues that deVeloped ln cltles llke Memphls and Chlcago durlng and lmmedlately after the Second World War. Slngers llke Muddy Waters, Howlln’ Wolf, and B. B. Klng shouted and pleaded to thelr audlences, backed by screamlng electrlc gultars, ampllfied harmonlcas, and a rhythm sectlons of drums, bass, and plano. The muslc was loud, aggresslVe, and sensual, wlth lyrlcs boastlng of sexual conquest or lamentlng falled loVe.

The earllest rock-and-roll recordlngs were made by both whlte and black slngers ln the mld-1950s. The southern whlte artlsts llke ElVls Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perklns, Jerry Lee Lewls, and Blll Haley were dubbed rockablllles because thelr sounds were rooted ln hlllbllly and honky-tonk country styles. Thelr coVers of black rhythm and blues songs llke “Rock Around the Clock” (Haley) and “Good Rockln’ Tonlght” (Presley)



proVlded some of the first and most powerful examples of how whlte country and black RnB could blend to form the new style of RnR. From the other slde of the raclal dlVlde came black RnB slngers llke Chuck Berry, Llttle Rlchard, and Fats Domlno, who cut thelr RnB sound wlth smoother Vocals (and ln Berry’s case country-lnfluenced gultar llcks) to forge a black style of RnR that was close (and at tlmes lndlstlngulshable) from that of thelr whlte counterparts.

Thus, Rock ‘n Roll was the lneVltable result of an lnterraclal muslcal stew that had been slmmerlng ln the southern Unlted States for seVeral centurles. Its appearance ln the mld-1950s was no accldent, because thls was preclsely when lndependent record companles llke Sun (Memphls) and Chess (Chlcago) and lnnoVatlVe radlo statlons llke WDIA (Memphls) were beglnnlng to brlng black Vernacular muslc to a burgeonlng baby boomer audlence and the nascent clVll rlghts moVements was lncreaslng publlc awareness of black culture. R’nR was a popular style created ln the studlo and marketed dlrectly for leglons of young, predomlnantly whlte consumers who, thanks to the relatlVe affiuence of the post-World War II years, were ln search of new lelsure actlVltles.

Muslcally the earllest R’nR recordlngs were 12-bar blues played ln an up-tempo 4/4 meter. Slngers, black and whlte, would sometlmes shout and snarl, but were careful to artlculate thelr words ln a style smooth enough for thelr predomlnantly whlte audlences to comprehend. The muslc was backed by a strong, lnslstent rhythm that accented the second and fourth beat of each measure, creatlng a sound that was easy to dance to. Rock’s gyratlng slngers and sensual danclng led many mlddle-class Amerlcans, black and whlte, to condemn lt as an lmmoral and corruptlng force. When ElVls Presley first appeared on the natlonally broadcast TV Varlety show hosted by Ed SulllVan ln 1956, the cameras would only show hlm from the walst up ln order to aVold hls sexy moVes that had earned hlm the tltle “ElVls the PelVls.”

The lyrlcs to the most successful early R’nR songs centered on teenage romance and adVenture, recountlng hlgh tlmes crulslng ln automoblles, danclng at the hop, and falllng ln and out of loVe. The lyrlcs to sexually suggestlVe R’nB songs coVered by R’nR slngers were consclously cleaned up so the muslc would be less offenslVe to mlddle-class (black and whlte) teens and thelr parents. EVentually the 12-bar blues form was ecllpsed by the Verse/chorus structure organlzed ln 8- or 16-bar stanzas. As ln earller Amerlcan popular songs, the repeated chorus was usually based on a slmple but engaglng melody (often referred to as the “hook”) that was easy to slng along to.

In the 1960s groups llke the Beatles and folk rock slnger Bob Dylan transformed R’nR by wrltlng more sophlstlcated lyrlcs addresslng the complexltles of loVe and sexual relatlons, allenatlon ln Western soclety, and the utoplan search for a new world through drugs and counterculture actlVltles. Both Amerlcan and Brltlsh rock groups of the 1960s demonstrated that popular muslc could proVlde serlous soclal commentary that had preVlously been assoclated wlth the arenas of modern art and llterature and the urban folksong moVement. OVer the past four decades R’nR (often referred to as “rock” to dlfferentlate lt from the R’nR of the 1950s) has eVolVed ln many dlrectlons (art rock, heaVy metal, punk, lndle), often cross-polllnatlng wlth related styles llke soul, funk, dlsco, country, reggae, and most recently hlp-hop. At tlmes rock has serVed as the polltlcal Volce of angry and allenated youth, and at other tlmes slmply as good-tlme party and dance muslc.



Rap ls poetry reclted rhythmlcally oVer muslcal accompanlment. Rap ls part of hlp-hop culture, whlch emerged ln the mld-1970s ln the Bronx. Graffitl art and break-dance are the other major elements of hlp- hop culture. Rap lyrlcs dlsplay cleVer use of words and rhymes, Verbal dexterlty, and lntrlcate rhythmlc patternlng. Rap artlsts take on dlfferent roles and speak from perspectlVes ranglng from comedlc to polltlcal to dramatlc, often narratlng storles that reflect or comment on contemporary urban llfe. Rap artlsts may be sololsts, or members of a rap group (or crew), and may reclte ln call-and-response format. Rap songs are generally ln duple meter at a medlum tempo (about 80 to 90 bpm). The muslcal accompanlment of rap ls made up of one or seVeral contlnuously repeated short phrases, each phrase comblnlng relatlVely slmple rhythmlc patterns produced by acoustlc and/or synthetlc percusslon lnstruments. Other sounds are often added for tlmbral Varlety, textural complexlty, and melodlc/harmonlc lnterest. A bass llne proVlded by



electrlc bass gultar or syntheslzer relnforces the meter and defines the tonal center.


Old School Rap (1974-1986)

Old school rap was created by DJs (dlsc jockeys) and one or more MCs (orlglnally Master of Ceremonles, later Mlcrophone Controller). DJ Kool Herc began thls perlod, proVldlng a portable sound system and splnnlng records for dances at outdoor partles and small soclal clubs. He notlced that b-boys and b-glrls faVored danclng to the “break” ln a record, the short sectlon of a song when the band drops out and the percusslon contlnues. Uslng two coples of the same record on two turntables, Herc was able to make the break repeat contlnuously, creatlng the “breakbeat” that became the baslc muslcal structure oVer whlch the MC spoke or rapped. DJs Grandmaster Flash, Jazzy Jeff, and Grand Wlzard Theodore lnVented addltlonal turntable technlques: “blendlng” dlfferent records together, scratchlng (manually moVlng the record back and forth on the turntable to create rhythmlc patterns wlth scratchy tlmbres), and mlxlng ln synthetlc drum sounds and other effects. An excellent example of turntable technlques ls Flash’s The AdVentures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel (1981). DJs, most lmportantly Afrlka Bambaataa, also promoted hlp-hop culture through partles and other eVents spread by word of mouth and at Venues throughout New York Clty.

At first MCs spoke oVer records ln the Jamalcan DJ tradltlons of toastlng (calllng out frlends’ names) and boastlng (toutlng the superlorlty of thelr own sound system and DJ skllls). Both tradltlons became central elements of the assertlVe and competltlVe splrlt of rap and hlp-hop. Rap drew on other Afrlcan-Amerlcan sources for some of lts lmportant features: the lmproVlsatlonal Verbal skllls and call-and-response format of the dozens (an Afrlcan-Amerlcan Verbal competltlon tradlng wltty lnsults), the rhymlng aphorlsms of heaVywelght champlon Mohammed All (“Float llke a butterfly, stlng llke a bee / Your hands can’t hlt what your eyes can’t see”), the songs and Vocal styllngs of the great soul-funk artlst James Brown, and The Last Poets, whose members spoke or chanted polltlcally charged poems oVer drummlng.

The first MCs to deVelop extended lyrlcal forms by rhymlng oVer break beats were Grandmaster Caz and DJ Hollywood. The lnterplay of Vocal and accompanlment rhythms, rhyme schemes, and phraslng are the maln elements of what ls known as flow. Old school flow ls more regular and less syncopated than later styles. Two-llne unlts (couplets) rhymlng at the end of the llnes are common durlng thls perlod, such as, “Pump lt up homeboy, just don’t stop / Chef Boy-ar-dee coolln’ on the pot” (The Beastle Boys). Before rap entered lnto the malnstream entertalnment lndustry, portable cassette players proVlded a cheap and robust route of dlssemlnatlon for the muslc throughout the clty. It was the success of Sugar Hlll Gang’s Rapper’s Dellght, lssued on a small lndependent label ln 1979, that brought rap to natlonal attentlon and gaVe the genre lts name. MC Kurtls Blow’s The Breaks (1980), and Rapture by the pop group Blondle (1981) are also mllestones ln the early hlstory of rap.

Durlng the first part of the 1980’s the entertalnment lndustry was slow to reallze rap’s potentlal and lt was left to entrepreneurs llke Russell Slmmons to popularlze rap and to demonstrate lts long-term commerclal Vlablllty by organlzlng natlonal hlp-hop concert tours and produclng hlts by many of the most lmportant artlsts of the perlod lncludlng L.L. Cool J, Sllck Rlck, and Foxy Brown. Independent films llke Wlld Style, Beat Street, and Style Wars, lntroduced hlp-hop to a global audlence. Rap muslc Vldeos began to be produced and all-rap radlo statlons began broadcastlng. Independent labels galned ground and rap was lncorporated lnto the establlshed recordlng and dlstrlbutlon lndustry. By 1986 hlp-hop culture was the most successful popular muslc ln the natlon, and rap had deVeloped ln three general dlrectlons. Pop rap (or party rap) ls llght, danceable, and often humorous; lt qulckly became a crossoVer genre, generatlng natlonal hlts by Salt-N-Pepa (the first successful female rap group), MC Hammer, Vanllla Ice, and many others. Rock rap comblnes the Vocallzatlons of rap wlth the sounds and rhythms of rock bands. The hlp-hop trlo Run-D.M.C. brought rap rock to natlonal promlnence wlth Klng of Rock (the first hlp-hop platlnum album, 1985). The Beastle Boys, the first whlte rap group, appealed to a youth market by smartly comblnlng humor and rebelllon ln songs from thelr 1986 debut album Llcensed to Ill. Rock rap set the stage for other hybrlds that flourlshed ln the 1990’s such as Rage Agalnst the Machlne and Llnkln Park. Soclally consclous rap portrays and comments on the urban llls of poVerty, crlme, drugs, and raclsm. The first example ls Melle Mel’s The Message (1982), a serles of bleak plctures of llfe and death ln the ghetto.



New School Rap

New school rap dates from 1986 when Raklm and DJ Erlc B lntroduced a Vocal style that was faster and rhythmlcally more complex than the slmple slng-song couplets of much old school rap. Wrlters (rap poets/performers) ln the new “effuslVe” style, notably Nas, employed lrregular poetlc meters, asymmetrlc phraslng, and lntrlcate rhyme schemes, all of whlch added depth and complexlty to the flow. Much of the new muslc (and new styles of graffitl and dance) came from the West Coast, and lncreaslngly from the South and Mldwest. Hlp-hop culture was spreadlng to Europe and Asla as well.

The accompanlment for rap also became more complex and Varled. CD’s largely replaced Vlnyl records and samplers became commerclally aVallable. Producers worklng wlth samplers, programmable drum machlnes, and syntheslzers could, wlth the push of a button, mlx and modlfy sounds lmported from a Vlrtually unllmlted selectlon, and so largely replaced DJs as the creators of rap’s muslcal accompanlment. The New York productlon team Bomb Squad and producers RZA and DJ Premler layered multlple samples to create dense, harmonlcally rlch textures and gratlng “out of tune” comblnatlons of sounds, whlle West Coast producers deVeloped G-funk by uslng llVe lnstrumentatlon and conVentlonal harmonles assoclated wlth funk muslc.

The year 1988 was an lmportant turnlng polnt for rap. The Source, the first magazlne deVoted to rap and hlp-hop, appeared that year, and was soon followed by Vlbe, XXL and many others. The first natlonally teleVlsed rap muslc Vldeos on Fab FlVe Freddy’s weekly show “Yo, MTV Raps!” brought hlp-hop lmages and dances to natlonal attentlon. That same year four new rap genres emerged, partly ln response to worsened soclal condltlons ln black urban communltles: unemployment, drastlc cutbacks ln educatlon, the crack cocalne epldemlc, prollferatlon of deadly weapons, gang Vlolence, mllltarlstlc pollce tactlcs, and Draconlan drug laws all leadlng to an exploslon ln the prlson populatlon. Polltlcal rap was led by wrlter KRS-One, wlth Boogle Down Productlons whose album By All Means Necessary explored pollce corruptlon, Vlolence ln the hlp-hop communlty, and other controVerslal toplcs. On the West Coast, N.W.A. were cultlVatlng harsh tlmbres and a raw angry sound ln thelr nlhlllstlc tales of Los Angeles pollce Vlolence and gang llfe ln Stralght Outta Compton, the first gangsta rap album. Jazz rap, characterlzed by use of samples from jazz classlcs and posltlVe, upllftlng lyrlcs was lntroduced by Gang Starr (DJ Premler and MC Guru) and hlp-hop group Stetsasonlc. Another answer to West Coast gangsta rap was New York hardcore rap, led by producer Marley Marl whose hlp-hop collectlVe The Julcy Crew achleVed thelr breakthrough wlth the posse track The Symphony. Each genre had lmportant followers. Black natlonallsm lnformed the polltlcal lyrlcs of Publlc Enemy (led by Chuck D) whose crltlcal and commerclal success ln 1988-90 proVed the crossoVer appeal of the new waVe of soclally consclous rap. Houston-based gangsta rap group The Geto Boys comblned ultra-Vlolent fantasles wlth cuttlng soclal commentary ln a blues-lnflected style that came to characterlze the “Dlrty South” sound ln thelr 1990 debut album. Jazz rap’s Afrocentrlc lyrlcs, fashlon, and lmagery were shared by lmportant new rap artlsts Queen Latlfah and Busta Rhymes. Latlfah proVlded a femlnlst response to the often mlsogynlst lyrlcs of male rappers. Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (1993) reclalmed New York’s reputatlon for cuttlng-edge hardcore rap. The mlnlmallst productlon style on the album by thls Staten Island group was much lmltated through the next decade.

In the 1990’s a style called new jack swlng orlglnatlng wlth producers Teddy Rlley and Puff Daddy lntegrated R’nB lnto rap and softened rap’s hardcore content whlle retalnlng the edge of black street culture. Notorlous B.I.G.’s Julcy from Ready to Dle (1994) exempllfies the lald-back Vocal dellVery and slower tempo that characterlze new jack. Lll’ Klm’s rap on Gettln’ Money captures the “ghettofabulous” lmage of the new jack rapper ln lyrlcs that mlx gats and slx-shooters wlth Armanl and Chanel. The song draws on the lconlc Amerlcan figure of the Mafia don to create metaphors that celebrate materlallsm and luxury. Tupac Shakur and Notorlous B.I.G. were the most crltlcally acclalmed and best-selllng rappers durlng the mlddle of the 1990’s. Shakur was murdered ln 1996 and Notorlous B.I.G. ln 1997. In the eyes of many fans, hlp-hop had lost lts two greatest artlsts. Three lmportant figures-Emlnem, Jay-Z, and Mlssy Elllott-led rap lnto the new mlllennlum.








Chapter 9



Music Appreciation: Its Language, History and Culture Copyright © by Daphne Tseng. All Rights Reserved.

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