Friday, February 10, 2006

Been thinking about hip hop in C-ville

So I've been carrying this old C-ville around in my backpack for a bit now. Thinking about something I read in it. It was Spencer's article about the upcoming GZA and DJ Muggs show. It's not that I have any problem with the article itself. Something just kind of struck me for the first time. I'd never really thought about the attitude towards hip hop in Charlottesville.

Now before I go much further I feel I should make this clear: I'm not a hip hop fan. Of the 260+ CDs I own I believe 2 of them are hip hop (not counting Tricky and Massive Attack which are trip hop). There are tons of songs I like. Lots of old stuff like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and Fat Boys from the old days. I know a lot about some artists, but when you get down to it, I don't listen to hip hop on anything that would remotely be considered with even the most fleetingly scarcest of thoughts of anything that might possibly fall under or even near the vicinity of what could be defined as a regular basis. I'm a folkie. I like a lot of different types of music, but hip hop has always been on the far outskirts of my taste... much like classical music actually.

The thing that struck me most in the article was the quote from Dana Murphy, the last owner of Trax: "I think rap has a very violent crowd. I won't have it here."

I can't help but recall how many shows I wanted to see when I was 12 through 14 at Trax that my parents would not let me go to due to all the fighting that it was known for. Had this been a quote from 1996 or 97 I'd understand... but at the same time I'd be even more taken back by how dated it was.

As I said, I'm not a big follower of rap and hip hop, so maybe I'm just out of touch with this new wave of gangsta wars and massive bloodshed. The little I've followed has been all steam and no gun smoke, the way it should be. But the truth is, most kinds of music have their violent crowds. What strikes me though is that as a lyricist, I can't help but see the potential in hip hop in town. It's easy to go on and on about all the sampling and the un-PC songs. It's easy as to dismiss it for its freeform, it's absence of complex structure melody. Yet the truth is, in many ways hip hop is the highest echelon for a lyrist. In one of the more ironic observations I've noticed, a lot of white singer songerwriters tend to say they don't rap because they don't want to pretend they're black and from the hood when they're not, (the blues anyone?) but really I think a lot more of it truely is that it's too hard for most of us. We listen to Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues and can't figure out what planet he must have come back from. Nowhere else is the rhythm of words so emphasized as hip hop. Like the bebop poets, a good rapper could hold their own with the most eccentric of jazz musicians, and unlike all but a few, they could do it without the musician having to hold back. Folk artists are more and more, in the search for creative new rhymes, leaning towards the old art of slant rhyming that poets like Dickinson used. No genre has pushed the envelope for slant rhyming like hip hop. Though, the thing I have to consider above all to be incredible about hip hop is the degree of spontaneity. Most raps are improvised... on the spot. That amazes me to no end. That most of this is what you get just off the back of an artist's head.

I'm happy to read that places like El Rey Del Taco are offering venues in town for local artists. I hope with time it can be accepted by even more venues. Not just so that a good number of the kids at The Music Resource Center can have the same opportunities that my young musician friends and I in rock, punk, folk and blues do, but also so that perhaps those scenes could mix more. I think beyond all the fear of violence and crap that everyone always throws out there about hip hop, the biggest aversion to the growing scene is the fear that the current scene will be lost. The only way I honestly could see that happening is if people stop playing and sit around bitching about how downtown is not as cool as it used to be. The downtown scene isn't threatened by hip hop it's threatened by us losing are local identity in the face of the university. That identity has always been diversity and the mix that comes from it. There has always been room for a wide variety of music and there always should be. I'd love to see how the more meticulous singer songwriter genres could influence and be influenced by hip hop. Consider G Love and Special Sauce, Beck, Red Hot Chilies Peppers, Jack Thompson, Wyclef Jean, The White Stripes (Get Behind Me Satan) and Corey Harris (Down Home Sophisticate) to name just a few off my head. I really can only see good coming out of it.

Also, I'd like to know how talented and underestimated (by me if no one else wants to fess up) some local hip hop artest really are.


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