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Torch Sessions

Rap Today
by Joseph Branco

January 15, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - If you have ever turned on MTV in the last 20 years, you have, no doubt, seen and heard of a musical genre referred to as Rap or Hip Hop. The genre is usually defined by distinctive bass lines that outline the track with a great emphasis on the spoken word, generally rhymed in various patterns across the established beats. The concept of rapping or talking over a beat or melody is not unique to inner-city America in the 20th century as most give credit. In my own estimate, the true roots of the concept can be seen even in the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, several years before any urban American struggles manifested.

jpg Joseph Branco

Joseph Branco & son Wesley

The Hip Hop/Rap industry has created a massive marketing juggernaut that virtually carries the seriously overrated genre. The Hip Hop/Rap community should be thanking God for the brilliant marketing efforts supporting the music, because the music, in a word: Sucks.

As a classically trained flute player turned trance DJ, I have had unfortunate affairs with Hip Hop/Rap music. Owning more than 400 Hip Hop/Rap CDS, I am no stranger to the music, if you can call it that. Several issues should be considered when agreeing that Hip Hop/Rap no longer has a relevant or memorable voice in music or art.

At one time, Hip Hop/Rap represented the voice of the struggling lower class in America's metropolitan areas. Inner-city youth could relate to the difficulties and issues addressed through the raps constructed in the earlier days of the music. The last 10 years especially have witnessed a complete reversal in relevance and resonance in the once promising music. Rap no longer speaks to the struggles of the American minority or the urban lower class. Instead, rich, ostentatious "rap-star" uniformed performers rap by repeating their own name to the point of absurdity, bragging about money, cars, mansions, numerous women, champagne, and drugs with the lyrical prowess of a dog choking on marbles.

The consistent decay of the English language among youths can be attributed in part to the acceptance of this garbage and the marketing giants who tirelessly promote the image.

The poetry of Hip Hop/Rap music is unoriginal, pathetic, and down-right embarrassing. The words in Rap songs of today are a collection of thesaurus extracted words thrown into idiotic and elementary sentence structures. To write a successful rap song, all you need is a Mad Lib book, a thesaurus, and a third grade education.

But let's disregard the horrible poetry of Rap for a moment. One man's tedious injecting of million-dollar words into a "See Dick Run" book is another man's masterpiece. So let's assume the idiotic lyrics are, in fact, brilliant for a moment. The biggest problem that separates Hip Hop/Rap from others is the general absence of dynamics. The genre never utilizes the other human emotions to build intensity in any way. It is like eating only steak for every course of a meal. A song should offer you at least a small range of musical dynamics that interact with your emotions. Even a techno song will have a beautifully constructed symphonic breakdown and a build up that allows emotions to shift and the beat to return to add intensity when returning to the theme. In Hip Hop/Rap, no attention is afforded to the musical construction beyond the drum loop. Although the construction of a loop from scratch can be time consuming and often tedious, it takes very little musical knowledge to create. Herein lays another big problem with Hip Hop/Rap. The songs are more about selling an image than creating music. I'd be willing to bet that 99% of the rappers and hip hop artists would not even know the key of their own songs.

I admit that I have an affinity for warm rounded analog bass lines and hollowed-out mid-range bass accents on the "and" beats of common time dance tracks. These types of bass lines are ideal for sampling and looping. I also admit that the often simplistic marriage of resonating bass and sirens that create the catchy melody of some recent crunk (A sub-genre of Hip Hop) tracks also command my attention when sampling and looping.

Despite my general disappointment with the Hip Hop/Rap genre, I still own over 400 Hip Hop/ Rap CDS. In all the Hip Hop/Rap tracks and artists over the years, only a precious few have made what I consider notable and influential contributions to music and art. The only Hip Hop/Rap artists that rank among my top 300 musical acts of all time are 2 Pac Shakur, Dr. Dre, Wyclef Jean, and Outkast.

I think the original promise of the Hip Hop/Rap genre has finally died along with the creativity that birthed it. Just because it makes you move, does not mean it is a good song or worthy of musical credit. I can clap my hands in a simple four-four pattern and make you start to move. Maybe if I turn my hat backwards and read the newspaper while clapping, I could be a multi-million dollar Hip Hop artist. My new CD: "MC Ostentatious and the Sick Sycophants" will be out later this month. Don't miss it!



Jospeh Branco ©2005
All Rights Reserved

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