Rap music thrives, despite absence of any logic
Why do I listen to rap music? Every time I hear the latest Dr. Dre or Eminem single, I just laugh at the simple bass line and corny keyboard loops. I make fun of the idiotic lyrics.
I realize that a well-trained ostrich could equal the musical mastery of Snoop Dogg. And then after I go through this process of criticizing and belittling the songs, I proceed to play them again and nod my head to the beat. Why would anyone in his or her right mind (including me) want to listen to rap music?
The first setback to your generic rap song is the actual background noise. (I prefer not to call it background music.) Most of the time I can't figure out where the hell these guys are coming up with these sounds.
It seems like the "ideal" mix involves an eight-bar keyboard section repeated 256 times, a bass line that took five seconds to write, a nine iron and some traffic noise. Let's take, for example, DMX's latest masterpiece, entitled "Up In Here." There is some loud horn-type thingy that blasts to start the song and shows up sporadically throughout the piece. It is really impossible to make sense of the whole mess.
I give credit to Dr. Dre because he can do some good producing work, but every one of his songs has a keyboard sound very similar to a flute. The opening keyboard/flute line to "Nuthin' But a G Thang" basically takes a new form in every one of his songs ("Dre Day" etc.)
Detroit's finest, Kid Rock, spits his rhymes over electric guitars, which is a nice change from the keyboards and samples. But it even becomes hard to decipher one of his riffs from another.
The biggest part of a rap song is obviously the lyrics. Most rappers have no musical talent (save for the Roots, Beastie Boys and Kid Rock) so they have to make it with their mouth. And boy is it a sweet ride!
Kid Rock's anthem "Drinking and Smoking" contains verse that would make MC Shakespeare proud. "I'm a pimp/ You can check my stats./ I'm in it to win it like Yzerman/ I drink about 15 Heineken's."
Now, what did I learn from listening to these words? Well, I already knew that Steve Yzerman was a Detroit hockey legend, but I didn't know that Kid Rock was a pimp! How scandalous! Wait until the papers get a hold of that one.
And Kid claims he can put a few brewskies away with no problem at all. I feel so enlightened for having learned all of this.
I think the absurdity of the rap lyric really came to my attention after hearing Dynamite Hack cover NWA's "Boyz-N-The Hood." For those of you that have not heard this instant classic, it features folk/rock guitars backing up a singer's heartfelt rendition of Eazy E's gagnsta lyrics.
Now, if you just heard Eazy E rapping the words, it would just be another rap song. You probably wouldn't pay too much attention to what he was saying because it's the same type of gangsta stuff (girls, cars, and drinks.) But when one listens to a real singer put the lyrics to music, it's easier to pay attention to the ridiculous words actually being sung.
"Cause the boys in the hood are always hard/ Come taking that trash and we'll bull your car/ Knowin' nothing in life but to be legit/ Don't quote me boy, I ain't said s***."
But through all this harsh criticism, I am a sucker for a popular rap song. I'm from the suburbs of Detroit, Mich, so naturally I follow the likes of Kid Rock, Eminem and ICP. It was absolute heaven this summer to open up the Detroit Free Press every morning and find a new story on any of these rappers.
And believe me, I've been caught singing the lyrics to "Boys-N-The Hood" maybe a couple of times (Ok, maybe about 500 times). But I still think rap music is the laughing stock of American pop culture. (See Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer, Kriss Kross.)
Now, the main argument against my reasoning is that rap music is entertainment, not art. Well I agree 100 percent with that assessment. Let me tell you this: I will be the first guy you meet to scream "Y'all gonna make me lose my mind, up in here, up in here" or "I want to be a cowboy, baby!"
But I would prefer for these people to be called entertainers rather than artists. Winton Marsalis is an artist. Eminem wears big pants.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.
All Scene Stories for Tuesday, September 12, 2000