I was reading the latest issue of Paste as I rode the bus to work last week and I was both impressed and dismayed.
First off I was impressed at how they framed their list of the 100 Best Living Songwriters. I dug how they emphasized that this was a “personal” list and that the goal wasn’t just to make a list but also to open some ears and create a discussion about the topic. I thought that it was bold for them to proclaim that they weren’t looking for the biggest sellers or the ones that had the largest impact, but rather the songwriters that had touched them the most.
It was refreshing to read a magazine that didn’t try to force it’s opinion down my throat. They didn’t proclaim that the list was the “be all end all” of songwriters. They just said that these were folks who made good music, and in the end isn’t that what it’s all about?
However as I delved into the list I was struck with the reality that Hip Hop still doesn’t get much respect. It’s not like I really expected too many MC’s to make the list (it is Paste after all) but I still think that people devalue the craft.
Clearly no one is going to argue that Lil’ Jon has any talent on the mic or as a producer, but I think that most people judge the entire genre based on what’s on the radio. That’s like saying that Country is defined by what’s on the local “Hot Country” station or judging rock by it’s NuMetal phase; it’s not an accurate sampling.
Apart from the art of crafting a beat (which deserves it’s own column) creating a rhyme requires actual skill. It’s the reason why Nore gets clowned while Big Pun gets praised. It’s the reason why Cam’ron has those who love him and hate him.
Clearly part of the reason why being an MC isn’t looked at as actual songwriting is because rhyming is associated with simplicity and conjures up memories of nursery rhymes. The idea being that anyone can rhyme.
But MC construct their rhymes to fit within a beat, so they’re creating within restraints. Bono might have a lyric and a melody to give to the rest of U2, but there’s that degree of freedom there. Plus there’s the matter of flow, which few outside the genre can wrap their head around.
Hip Hop also features lyrically dense songs. Your average Hip Hop song is lyrically comparable to Don McLean’s American Pie. There is much more thought put into Hip Hop than it’s given credit for.
So while I was glad to see Outkast and Public Enemy on Paste’s lists, I couldn’t help but think that Hip Hop got an unfair brush off in terms of legitimacy. Could you find two groups that are more acceptable to society?
Really aren’t Outkast and Public Enemy the musical versions of MLK and Malcolm X? When white folks want to show how down they are they namedrop Outkast (MLK) and when they want to show how cutting edge they can be they reference Public Enemy (Malcolm X).
Yeah, so that’s about it. In case you’re wondering what I’m listening to right now, I’m 100% into Death Cab for Cutie. I copped all the albums and Eps and it’s all I’ve been listening to for the last five days. Pretty good stuff.
Next week will probably see me showcasing some more skip proof albums.
Mike Eagle and I share the same opinion on the marketing of the Black Eyed Peas.
Tom continues to unearth new Classics.
Shawn is now the king of Saturday.
Kyle shows up for a visit.
Gloomchen makes me use my brain.
Wednesday and Beyond
Ian’s got football on the brain. He also has news on Bloc Party progress and a Johnny Cash tracklisting.
Five ’06 Albums I Can’t Wait To Get In My Ears
1. The Roots – Game Theory
2. Sufjan Stevens – The Avalance
3. Thom Yorke – The Eraser
4. Johnny Cash – American V: A Hundred Highways
5. Styles P – Time is Money (I can dream)