Straight Sound - The Future of Hip Hop

by Daredevil
from The Bomb Hip-Hop Magazine #42 (Aug./Sept. 1995)

It`s certainly reassuring to a slightly aging hip-hop fan
like myself to see the practice of freestyling once again returning
to the helm of the art form. Artist such as Lord Finesse, Nas and
Ras Kass have recently turned enough heads to re-establish rhyming
off the top a fundamental requirement to holding the title of M.C.,
and that`s the way it should be. Hopefully, this appreciation for
lyrical ability will capture enough public favor that some
no-talent, no-background, non-hip hop "recording artists" will be
filtered away, but that`s doubtful. Public appreciation has never
held originality or even talent in such high regard when judging
entertainers. Proof to that fact should be obvious.

No, this isn`t another tedious "keep it real" sermon--"real"
is about as subjective a term as "good" or "bad", so it`s uses prove
fruitless. In consequence, some people who are being praised (or
praising themselves) as "being real" are producing music I find
uncannily unoriginal, formulaic and artificial, as are some being
lambasted for not being "real" and perhaps doing something
innovative and provocative with the form.

I must say this, however, and herein lies the subject of all
this talk: that is, that too much attention is being paid to the
lyricists, and not nearly enough to the music. Not to take any
credit away from those lyrical artists which I have the utmost
respect for: Common (Sense), Kool Keith, O.C., Rakim, Melle Mel,
Caz... etc., but as the lyrical form has grown significantly,
musical growth has been stunted. The reasons for this, I see, are as

Mass popularity leads to oversaturation, which in turn leads
to redundancy, predictability and stagnancy of the form. It`s not
just Hammer and Snoop. It`s artists of real credibility such as
Gangstarr, Blackmoon, EPMD and Tribe. All have had great musical
successes, but how many feeble attempts to capture that same vibe
does one hear? Donald Byrd`s "Places and Spaces" album must be
picked bone-clean of every groove by now. Simply put, people copy
what works, as they do in anything else. But this does not help to
advance the music, it only drives something we all once enjoyed
further into the ground where it rots. A greater emphasis needs to
be placed on originality rather than simply to crush competition.
Times were easier when we only had Run DMC or Sugarhill to emulate,
and yet, the road ahead seemed so much more open then.

Another factor in hip-hop`s stunted musical growth is the
industry`s reliance on fashions, symbols and stereotypes perpetuated
through what sells so many whack records today, music videos. I
wonÕt even go into my feelings about the whole "glock, nigga, bitch"
enterprise, except to say that I`m glad the trend is dying, for it`s
overbearing glorification of it`s own ignorance is enough to make
one agree with a man I heard exclaim that that type of rap was
mischievously planted by the Klan, gave root and was now doing all
their hard work for them. It should come as no surprise that
fashions and symbols carry so much weight when one considers the
average (and dropping) age of today`s rap consumer. Being in my
mid-20`s, I`m atypical, but I know in adolescence how much can be
made of so little. What I`m getting at here, after wading through a
swamp of tangents, is that none of this has anything to do with
hip-hop. First and foremost, all music is an aural medium, not a
visual one - that is, it is to be heard, not seen. When I am
occasionally dismayed at how this or that bullshit record could be
selling as well as it is, one look at the million-dollar video tells
the answer.

My number three complaint with hip hop`s musical stagnation
is that which is closest to my heart and that which I feel
represents the key to the predicament - the DJ has been left out in
the cold. Like it or not, all you poets on "the next level" in your
various "cyphas", remove the DJ and you would fall apart.

The DJ! The spark that ignited the musical multicultural
flame in hip-hop when Jamaican expatriate Kool Herc and his
Herculordian sound system unleashed continuous breakbeats upon the
Bronx and the world. The DJ! The Great Grandmaster Flash installed a
"single pole-double throw" switch, to advance cueing and mixing
beyond all predecessors. The DJ! Grandwizard Theodore created a
percussive new instrument from the turntable when his chaotic
scratching was heard. The DJ! The Almighty Afrika Bambaataa left the
Black Spades to create Zulu Nation, based on history, love, and
understanding through the mixture of all musical forms (hip-hop, by
the way). The DJ! Charlie Chase, Red Alert, Jazzy Jay, Clark Kent,
Breakout, Jam Master Jay, Jazzy Jeff, Cash Money, Moe Love, Premier,
Scratch, Kid Capri, Marley Marl, Tat Money, The X-Men Crew, The
Rocksteady Crew, Shadow, Sinister, etc. ... the DJ represents the
foundation which holds the house of hip-hop upright. Without the DJ,
the house would crumble.

In today`s commercial (and underground, regrettably) hip-hop
venues, the DJ is allowed very little or forgone completely... maybe
a little scratching during the chorus. Of course, many DJ`s or
ex-DJ`s have become some of the most successful producers, Premier
and Buckwild for example. But the Emu SP1200 should be no substitute
for the Technics SL1200, and even these exceptions concentrate too
much on the former.

DJing, like graffiti and breakdancing, is not dead. In fact
it is far from dead--those who love it and have loved it continue to
do it, and those who love it but cannot do it will be the ones to
appreciate it, regardless of current popular trends. Indeed, in
observing the crop of talented Bay-Area DJ`s such as Mixmaster Mike,
Q-Bert, Shortkut, Disk and a few others located in odd areas such as
DJ Z-Trip down in Tempe, Arizona, one can see artists continuously
pushing the limits of the form, and elevating hip-hop towards its
true direction. If what these and other talented DJ`s are doing
isn`t as popular as the latest Biggie Smalls record, cool. It feels
good to belong to a certain group of hip-hop heads who believe in
the music`s infinite possibilities.

The turntable is the tool - an archaic one, but it must be,
in this lip-synched, pre-digitized musical era, to be truly alive,
IÕm not talking simply about scratching, body tricks (which are of
no importance to the ear), or any of the other techniques any
experienced DJ can confidently execute. I`m talking about what John
Cage performed experiments with in the 60`s and as DJ Q-Bert so
simply put after winning the world DMC finals with Mixmaster Mike in
1993,"No body tricks, just straight SOUND." Turntable manipulation
so opens the realm for a new era in hip-hop. The DJ returns!