“Sampling”: Besides what I outlined previously, about the early Roots of music in any genre sounding similar, the other point I want to make is in regards to “Covers”. This was a heavy practice in music that most of these musicians, who were so opposed to Hip Hop, were involved in. Don’t get me wrong, there are countless Cover Songs that I love, but I find it strange that Covers are accepted, but Hip Hop was called uncreative for Sampling. At its best, Sampling is the culmination of several bits and pieces of different songs reconfigured together for a reinterpretation. At it’s most basic, it’s a simple loop, which is hardly much less "creative" than a straight Cover Song. They only notable exception is not needing years of trained musicianship to Sample as you do with learning an instrument, but that deals more with a skilled trade rather then creative nature.
The other issue, perhaps the biggest issue, was these artists were hearing Rap songs on the radio Sampling their material and they weren’t being compensated. Furthermore, these songs were gaining popularity, when many of these musicians weren’t able to get paying gigs or sustain recording careers. I can understand that frustration, but not why that anger was directed at Hip Hop artists. Hip Hop didn’t allow that to happen, that’s the result of the corporate world. It was the same industry that since the beginning took advantage of Hip Hop artists at every possible turn. Hip Hop producers started Sampling these artists because they were fans. It seems unlikely they were thinking, “Hey, let’s get over on these old dudes, steal their music and get rich!” It was an innocent attempt of evolving an artform and paying tribute to the music that initially inspired it. Let’s not forget, the moment that Hip Hop first hit the Commercial vinyl format it had already lost control over the musical backdrop. Before that point, Hip Hop wasn’t commonly presented with a live band. Hip Hop was best communicated by the raw form of the DJ on two turntables. The live band was what Record Execs came up with to make it a product and they ultimately took control over the sound of Hip Hop out of the hands out of those who birthed the Culture in the first place once it was introduced to the masses. Sampling was the first critical step in putting a fair percentage of that control back in the hands of those who deserved it. If these frustrated musicians could have looked at it with objective criticism they should have seen that and in turn directed that anger in the right place, the industry.
Plus it is worth mentioning that when artists did start get paid for Sample usage, a key reason many of these artists still didn’t see a check was because they also had a career of bad business deals themselves, so they didn’t even own the rights to their music, which meant some executive or lawyer received that money. Yet, despite a history of bad deals and horrible terms many of these musicians of the 60s & 70s (and beyond) continued to make music and accept those terms because making any money, even significantly less than you are worth or should be entitled to, was still viewed as worth it just to be able to make music. This is the same position these early Hip Hop Pioneers were faced with. It was a struggle they encountered for the first couple decades of making records at least. In fact, Hip Hop artists and these opposing musicians had much in common.
To be fair, another issue here was that Sampling was considered just an easy way out not to learn to play an instrument. I’ll accept that…sort of. It’s certainly hard to say that learning to use a Sampler is as challenging as learning to play the guitar, piano, or just about any instrument. I won’t deny that. The face that anyone can buy a computer program and pull off a decent beat in a couple weeks proves that. It’s far less likely you’ll pick up your first guitar and perform a decent guitar solo in that same time frame. However, to really use a Sampler effectively and to become a “great” producer in Hip Hop it is definitely more of a creative-trade than these musicians were giving it credit for.
-“Offensive Lyrics & Mannerisms*”: Honestly, this is the one topic where I have a hard time fully defending Hip Hop. Don’t get me wrong, I found myself enjoying a lot music that had profane and/or offensive lyrics growing up. However, I honestly was never one of those kids that were attracted to the music simply because of that**. I didn’t feel empowered by shouting obscenities in front of grown-ups. If anything I was blind to it and had to have it pointed out to me a few times. I remember being 12 years old and proudly rapping along to Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde on my front stoop, “Wham Bam thank you Maam!” and my Dad caught my attention to ask me if I had understood what I had just said. I did not. I thought they were just throwing some words that rhymed together. He explained to me it was a way of saying they wanted to use woman for sex and get rid of them and that it was disrespectful. He wanted me to be more conscious of what lyrics I was singing out loud and also understand the meanings, but he didn’t say I couldn’t listen to it…just be aware of what I was listening to and the power words can have.
My parents were huge on being respectful and not embarrassing the family name in public. I caught more than my fair share of slaps to the back of the head, glares of death, or an action freezing “Kevin!” in my childhood…ha. However, I wasn’t sheltered. As a family we would watch Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy routines. Regardless, I was raised to know the difference between partaking in entertainment and being a public nuisance.
The fact that other kids and young adults didn’t know the difference was/is an issue. I wasn’t able to see it that way at the time. I was just frustrated at the idea of anyone opposing Hip Hop, the thing I loved so much, that I mostly ignored the fact that there was a valid point, at least in some respects. It’s one of the flaws with Hip Hop, so often we create and or intensify our own demons. Immature actions reinforce the brick walls already in place to hold us back.
I wasn’t completely blind to it growing up. I remember hearing or reading certain things and thinking, “Well, that’s a bit ridiculous”. LL Cool J was famous for this. It seemed like every other interview he made some “ignant” (rap talk) remark purely to be shocking. For example, I recall an interviewer asking him what he thought about Female MCs and he replied something to the effect, “I would like to have sex with them” and laughed. Certainly he had something better to say, but this child-like response took over. He definitely wasn’t alone, there were countless artists pushing the limits of what they could say in their music, interviews, and whenever they got a chance. Similarly I remember N.W.A on a video show around the “100 Miles And Running” push and the last question they were asked was their prediction for a upcoming boxing match and the response was something to the effect, “We don’t care, we just like to see two black men beat up on each other”…with stone-cold serious faces. That was the first time I ever thought about not buying an artist music based on not appreciating them as human beings. To me, examples like these were worse than the song lyrics. It was one thing to say something in a song and another to actually present it as your view in an interview. Although, I continued to listen to these artists music, I lost lots of respect for them as people when I witnessed these things. The unfortunate side is that I’m willing to bet there were many people that heard those comments and thought they were great or funny. That speaks directly to the concept of the Hip Hop Microscope and how this society has become so numb and insensitive to being a good person that some of us consider it acceptable or a right of expression and here comes Hip Hop to magnify it for all to see.
Just like I know the arguments against these lyrics and offensive commentaries, I know the points in favor also; “Freedom Of Speech”, “They were pushing boundaries”, “Years of oppression”, “Marketing images”, etc… I’m not under-mining any of those points because I believe there to be some truth in some of them. However, I also know some artists just like the idea of being shocking. It’s to that point that I can understand the criticism of Hip Hop on this particular subject. Am I happy that the 2 Live Crew won their court case supporting Freedom Of Speech? Absolutely. Do I think the lyrical content of the most explicit 2 Live Crew songs was something we needed more of in this society? Nope. Was I a fan of the 2 Live Crew? Sure, they had some stuff I really enjoyed, but it was never the XXX material. I personally thought it was a bit corny, but some people really enjoyed it. It made them feel free, bold, rebellious, or just entertained.
Let me be clear, I’m not encouraging censorship. I’m not one of those bitter Old School dudes who believes Hip Hop is dead or every new artist sucks or that Mainstream rap is all terrible. What I am encouraging is an inner consciousness and responsibility for each of us, artists and fans, to be aware of the messages we push out, endorse and make our daily soundtrack. Anyone who truly knows Hip Hop Culture is aware there is great diversity in Hip Hop and there is plenty of music that counters this way of thinking, offers different perspective and much more. However, it’s no coincidence that the most so-called offensive and negative Rap music is what floods corporate mass media (radio, tv, etc…). They push it to world all day long to earn another million dollars and then condemn it on their News programs as a poison every chance they get, but rarely show the other side of Hip Hop because they haven’t figured out how to get rich off that yet. That means it is up to us within the Culture to help create that balance.
As beautiful as this Culture is, it also embraces artists who make careers, often the most successful ones, out of being obnoxious, disrespectful, and plain out “ignant”. I’m not even completely saying that as a critique, many of these artists wear those labels as badges of honor. As a result, it’s certainly not a surprise that the older generation saw that as offensive. I mean seriously, isn’t that what those artists were trying to do? Isn’t that what being rebellious is about? You want to offend, shock and anger those you are rebelling against. That is the goal, so I don’t understand why so many Hip Hop people responded with confusion and frustration of why parents, police officers, politicians, older musicians, and whoever else were opposed to them. That was the mission from the start and ultimately we can consider it mission accomplished. The unanswered question is there a point where it goes to far or is it anything goes? And is there a time when artists should grow out of it a.k.a grow up? It seems the jury is still out on that one…
I’m going to be writing more of these types of articles being more critical of Hip Hop because I think it’s healthy to engage in these discussions. We can’t always just praise Hip Hop for why it’s great without sometimes pointing out its flaws or perceived flaws…
*These antics were not limited to MCs either. The B-Boys made it an international stance to grab your crotch. DJs loved to scratch the most offensive soundbytes they could find. That is going to shock some people…ha
**I do have one memory of being 12 years old and walking around with my Box and rocking out to some Blowfly “Rap Dirty” and other XXX Blowfly misadventures, but as confident as I walked like I just didn’t care, I recall lowering the volume if I say any Adults in the area. I was just trying to impress my peers and the older kids. I didn’t care about adult approval or disapproval because I wanted to be a “rebel”. I was a rebel simply by being myself.