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Hip hop as an art form began its rise in pop culture during the 70s, gaining traction because of people like DJ Kool Herc. While hip hop can be described in many different ways, Medium.com explains that at its core, it is emotional rawness from the streets, conveyed through music. There are also other art forms seen under this cultural movement such as break dancing, emceeing, graffiti mural painting, and DJing, but music remains its most mainstream medium.
As the style relays feelings in an uncensored and unabridged manner, many people believe that hip hop songs are just a bunch of sounds and words flowing freely like a stream of thoughts. But this misconception negates the artistry behind the movement. In a past interview we did with MC Lyte on Nevernaire.com, the Grammy winner explained that music can be used to tell impactful and deeply personal stories using music. For someone to do this successfully, there are some technical aspects they must pay attention to.
Beats make an important backdrop
Beats are important when it comes to hip hop music. Like with any genre, it sets the stage, mood, and theme of the song so it is important for artists to have an impeccable foundation. I personally think that musicians need to create a beat that is cohesive and makes sense in the context of the story they’re telling otherwise its meaning gets lost on us listeners. While they can choose whatever sounds and samples to use in their songs, they can’t add noise at random and expect it to work.
A few stylistic choices I like to see are the tempo of the song, what kinds of sounds it uses (from sampling older songs to making use of noises found in nature), and what additional things can be used to create a more melodic composition (like guitar riffs or jazz note being incorporated into the song). It is important that they get the basic beats down from classic percussion instruments like a kick, snare, and bass before including other melodic elements. Without a good beat, a hip hop song is doomed, to begin with.
Lyrics are the star of the show
The second reason technical details are important in hip hop is that this genre of music is driven by emotions. If they write random words and rhymes as lyrics, then the song overall will make no sense. My personal favorite example of this is Changes by 2Pac. It serves as a poignant commentary of police brutality in the 90s— a topic still relevant to this day. True hip hop has meaning so it is important to create lyrics that tell a story. While hip hop musicians don’t need to create something completely avant-garde or politically-charged, they should still make something worth listening to.
Take, for example, Kendrick Lamar. In 2018, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his “vernacular authenticity” on his album DAMN. This changed the potential for hip hop artistry because it recognized the genre as a legitimate art form in the eyes of both the elite and the academe — an acknowledgment that is long overdue for arguably one of the generation’s best MCs. Crafting lyrics that mean something to the artist and their audience makes a song resonate deeply with listeners and should be a big goal for musicians.
Overall quality and cohesiveness matters
The last reason why technical details matter in hip hop is because they affect the overall quality and cohesiveness of a track. I find that for a song to truly resonate with people, its lyrics and musical background should complement each other. The beats and rapping should have a rhythm that goes together or else the song may sound messy and disjointed. It is also important to record vocals on a good microphone as this will affect the audio quality of the music. While lesser mics can pick up sounds, a good model will be able to record things clear and audibly. Shout4Music.com outlines that the Neumann U87 AI is an industry-standard because it can pick up crisp and quality sounds that can easily be worked on by sound engineers. Having tools like this can truly help bring a track to life as recording meaningful lyrics will be useless if listeners cannot understand the words.
The overall quality of a track is also an important factor when it comes to judges deciding if a song deserves an award. The Grammys, for example, takes into account the “excellence in performances that use the delivery of rap and melody over modern production”, as written in the criteria presented by Ecordingacademy.com. If a musician releases a hip hop track and wants it to be considered for an award, then it needs to meet the given criteria to be considered art. Though the standing of this award has been losing relevance in the past few years, those who truly want it need to pay attention to a song’s overall technical rubrics.
The technical aspects of hip hop play a vital role in creating a song that will truly resonate and matter to the public. While I know that this genre is all about soul and expressing yourself, there are still certain ways these songs can increase their artistic value. Musicians always have artistic freedom when it comes to crafting their art and paying attention to the technical details will help them create a track that people will continue listening to in years to come.
Article written by Raeana James
Exclusively for Nevernaire the Golden Era Authority
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