More like *Crap*…

I found myself in the familiar position this weekend of defending hip-hop, although not nearly as familiar as it is to some people who have actually bought into the hip-hop lifestyle. I have actually gotten to the point now where I would rather listen to bad hip-hop than average pop music, I’m finding that pop music is saying less and less to me and I just cant’ stomach it.

The truth is, for a lot of my family and extended friends who don’t listen to hip-hop, there is nothing on the radio for them. It’s hard to learn to like rap music, you have to spend a few months getting what you’re listening for and for people in their thirties and forties, there really isn’t any point. Everyone in my family has a musical point where we intersect, we all tend to love jazz vocal standards, although my guess is that Ian and Kent vibrate the least in this circle. From there, we all kind of spiral off.

My Dad- loves the big boys. It’s actually from him that I get my love of hip-hop, although I’d never in a million years even try to play anything for him. He loves dynamic rhythmic beatings, he loves it when composers lay it down hard. Rite of Spring, baby, Eroica. It doesn’t need to be bombastic, that’s not what I mean, he loves the great arias as well, but not the Queen of the Night stuff as much. Gymnastics don’t mean as much to him as elegance and strength.

If he listened to hip-hop, he’d like it when people represent. He’d like Ghettomusick by Outkast, the fast switches from 4/4 to 12/8, the anti-melodic lines. He’s got Tchaikovsky, he doesn’t need Big Boi, but it’s also why he doesn’t listen to the radio.

My Mom- loves smart. Her own music is as smart as it is heart wrenching, and her love of word play is as keen as her love of melody. Her lyrics are informed on every possible level, there is never a forced meaning and there is also *never* a forced rhyme or a reversed verb-noun to get the rhyme. She is the ultimate improviser, always saying “yes, and?” at the end of a musical phrase. She loves the joke in fugues, she loves the rhythmic power of 60s guitar music, but she is demanding as hell of a higher thought applied to theory. She sweats her music like TS Eliott did his poetry.

If she listened to hip-hop, she’d like No Regrets by Aesop Rock. You’d have to explain to her that the rhymes are forced on purpose sometimes, like “Bidin’ My Time” by Ira Gershwin, but the spare strings and synth pads sneaking in and out with the layered lyrics, all the while telling the story of a single woman’s artistic pursuit, would fill her cup right up.

Kent- I’ll use his own quotes. One time he said he likes music that sounds like a dishwasher has been thrown down the basement stairs full of cutlery. Another time, he said he likes music that sounds like you’ve been sucked out the window of an airplane and went through the jet engine. He was much younger when he said these things. He seems to have taken this sensibility and married it now to melody, but he comes by it honestly. I think, while making incredible tracks of music noise, he heard my mom’s voice say “what’s next?”

Kent is hip-hop. I can’t point out anything I like that he hasn’t already heard.

Steve- likes drama. Steve is probably the best musician in the family, and the first one to be disenchanted with it. He hadn’t played violin in years when he grabbed mine and launched into the Bach Double, a piece I had struggled with for months, and played it like he was humming along with a tune in the car. It could be that the single voice of a single instrument never made enough tension for him, even multi-timbral instruments weren’t going to make the sweeping rhapsodies he heard in his head. Steve seems drawn to guys like Verdi and Thomas Newman more than Mozart. He actually has a lot in common with my Dad.

If Steve listened to Hip-hop, he’d like the entire Aquemini album by Outkast. I actually think their later stuff would be too poppy for him. He’d also like The Roots, anything by them.

Ian- The famous pop apologist. Ian taught me to love The Brandenburg concertos because he wouldn’t stop playing them, and then he’d turn around and make me listen to Utopia’s “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” when all I wanted to listen to was early Prince records. He has the same question in his head that comes from my mom when he makes music “Then what?”, which actually can be a hell of a ghost haunting your brain. After playing a song for him about fifteen years ago, he said “Why don’t you try writing in a different key” and I said, “This is just the song, I can capo it in any key” and I think we both realized we weren’t speaking eachother’s language. He was asking why I didn’t try harder, and I was wondering why he wanted it to be so hard. I sometimes wonder if I love his music because I’m hearing it through my fondness for him, or if I actually love it like he does.

If Ian listened to Hip-Hop, he’d like “Dooin It” by Common. It’s possible that the first words (mother fucker, move back…) might make him wonder what the hell I’m talking about, but actually, that whole album “Like Water For Chocolate” is all stuff he’d love. Sean Patrick dumped that on my hard drive for me, and it is the JAM.

Michelle- likes it woodsy and chunky and full of raisins and berries. This is a person who is genuinely touched to the heart by the sound of an acoustic guitar and two harmonic voices. She likes celebration, hates overt aggression, and likes the sound of ringing strings and air through brass. How do you tell a granola girl that scary black men with machines can speak to her?

The Roots. P.M. Dawn. There are a bunch of groups, new and old, that are wrapped in paisley and don’t use machines. More than that, though, Michelle could use a dose of anger in her music, and there are lots of ladies out there who are all about empowerment. If she heard the unedited version of “Work It” by Missy Eliott, I can assure you, she’d be smiling.

I don’t think any of this is going to happen. The truth is that if any of my family (except for Kent) heard these songs, they wouldn’t make it to their Ipod favorites, because it takes some inoculation, it takes some sitting in the choir listening to the sermons. It takes some getting used to. I’m grateful that friends like Mike and Ehren made me listen to stuff, Mike sometimes holding me hostage in his car until the song was over, not allowing any talking. I was converted pretty easily, but I’m also the dumbest, by a wide margin, guy in our family so getting me to drink the Kool-Aid is as hard as handing it to me.