I recently listened to a video on the Vox channel on Youtube called ‘rappers deconstructed: the best rhymers of all time’. It was interesting to see such a mechanical approach to the analysis of hip hop music. The narrator described her appreciation for the artist MF Doom and started breaking down the lyrics of his songs. I was impressed by the intellectual acuity showcased in his rhymes as I’ve tried to listen to his music a couple of times and I’ve never liked it.
I understand there is hell of a lot of subjectivity and nuance to music appreciation and you can’t always go with ‘what’s most popular is best’, and MF Doom is a perfect example of a rap artist who has the lyrical aspect of hip hop down to a tee, but there’s something missing from his music which doesn’t resonate. He’s not popular but from a technical standpoint, operates at an extremely high level, which the narrator hammers home throughout the video. It’s this technical prowess which sometimes is so forceful, washes away the ‘vibe’ element of music, which I think is paramount to creating a good song.
MF Doom’s music isn’t just lyrical, as there’s definitely thought that goes into the production and arrangement of the songs but it’s always seasoned with lyrical dexterity which is admirable, especially considering the popularity of the infamous mumble rap/trap over the last few years, which makes for an easy template. Rappers like MF Doom will never come close to the level of fame and financial success as mumbling rappers like Migos however the two are worlds apart in their ability to write a lyrically good rap song, but there’s more to the music. The Vox narrator also talked about rappers like Rakim, Biggie and Andre 3000 who are all proficient rap wordsmiths, the difference is their music isn’t as harsh sounding as MF Dooms hence their popularity amongst the status quo. The art is subjective yes, but it seems finding the balance between what’s technically good and what’s heartfelt of vibey is difficult, and only viable for the elite artists.
There are rappers that precariously walk the line between what they like to produce creatively and what the consumer palette finds appealing and personally seeing my music taste change drastically over the past few years I give props to artists who produce quintessentially their own music, because the music is the audible emotional imprint of the artists mind . Pusha T. Mos Def. Talib Kwali, Kendrick Lamar, varying degrees of audience acceptability but all have very distinctive styles of rap music which for the most part stay true to their roots and speaks buckets about who they are as people. The music becomes more than just rap, a song, an album, it becomes how it effects people, how we dance to it, listen to it and make it a part of our lives. Kanye West, perfect example of a lyrically dope artist who structures his raps well to synchronize with the beats, the melodies, the hooks, he obviously has a holistic sense of what good music is and how to produce it. His catalogue showcases technicality as well as vibey and that’s what makes certain artists great.
Era is important, and I know we’re in the midst of a technological revolution but it’s important to take a break for the ticking clock and stop and try to understand the feeling behind musical production. MF Doom and Madvillain provide a certain type of feeling when you listen to the music, as if they want you to stop you from connecting with the beat so the lyrics become emboldened. That’s not what I think good music is, but it can make for a great song. Biggie Smalls Hypnotize, stabs you with the beat straight away and then takes you on a ride with the flow allowing you time to be mesmerised by the lyrics, and not many rap tunes have all these elements. Commercialisation of music has now meant that rappers don’t have to put the time and effort into writing lyrics with poetic promise, and a catchy beat, becomes a repetitive beat which can make some people some money and change some lives, but the consumer experience gets short changed as the music feels meaningless.
I enjoy vibey music, certain elements of ignorant music but I also enjoy elements of rap purity. I can appreciate both sides to some extent but I’m not a fan of anything specific. The gems lie in the middle where nuance can weave from North to South without the pressure of selling or showing. Bitches and cars…maybe. Politics and History maybe…Does the beat just bang!!! maybe…The flow is important to keep the sound compelling, the lyrics give the music purpose but no one wants to dance to purpose and now we live in a society where a lack of purpose has been drummed into us so much it’s become the norm. The vibe is important, but the balance between sentence structure, beat, timing, meaning etc in any rap song is down to how an individual perceives it. This documentary made me think most about how music is made for the masses to make money, and the drift from sentiment in hip hop seems to have run parallel with the morals of society. From Afrikaa Bambaataa to KRS 1 to LL Cool J to 2pac to Three Six Mafia to Nas to Ludacris to Drake to Migos to Kendrick Lamar. There are different degrees of talent, fame, and artistry but you will always be able to find a level of excellence that resonates with your soul.