Friday, February 8, 2013

Music Friday

I have never, ever liked rap.

I was one of those all too common obnoxious kids on facebook who listed my music preferences - from opera to jazz to choral music - with the caveat, anything but rap. Admittedly, I was being honest rather than trendy, as rap just didn't work for me; though I myself have a dirty mouth sometimes, the constant stream of foul language, set to predictable and over-produced beats, was just as much a foreign language to me as an unappealing example of, this is not music.

I think a lot of that comes from what kind of rap crosses over into mainstream pop music - a genre characterized by insipid and easily consumable comments on sexuality, drug use, the female form, violence, and waking up with a hangover. The rap you hear on a top forty station probably has very little to do with the real music that is being made, the stuff that doesn't make it to the radio because it is too new, on less affluent record labels, with more challenging approaches to both the content and the medium.

But it seems like the music world is changing, and changing for the better. The fact that I can turn on the radio and hear folk rock like Mumford and Sons (on Hot 99.5, no less) seems to be a sign that the kind of music that the general public listens to is diversifying. And singles like, "Ho, Hey," are making alternative music more accessible to a wider audience - and though that song, certainly, couldn't be classified as the epitome of alternative artistic achievement, it feels like a good start.

So, if alternative music is making new waves in the charts and in my head - why not rap?

I don't know how many of you have heard the song, "Thrift Shop," by Macklemore - it's been on 99.5 recently. I have to admit, the first time I heard it, I dug myself in a little hole, plugging my fingers in my ears and defending my stubbornness, repeating, that's not music. The bad words, the repeating notes, the deep voice - all of it said to me that I wasn't going to like it. That it was ugly. Another example of how rap didn't deserve my respect.

Ah, how easy it is to fall back on old opinions! How easy to deny change, openness, the spirit of exploration. How effortless, how sad.

Then, I got lucky.

A friend of mine showed me the music video for another of Macklemore's songs, "Same Love." There I was, with all of my clinging to the eighteen year old me, fingers halfway raised to ward off cursing and foreign rhythms, faced with something I didn't expect.

This rap was poetry. It was self-aware, conscious of its own message and of the rap world in general, conscious of what images it was conveying, conscious of the lasting and necessary efforts of music to make the world a better place. God, and it was beautiful, with a single female voice, pure, singing, and the simplicity of Macklemore himself telling a story which needed to be told.

I cried and cried. I watched the video again today and did the same.

Music is, at its root, transformative. I don't listen to music just to be entertained - it's not just background music, and if it is, it forms inspiration for me in my writing or cooking or dancing. I listen to music to change, to make life bigger and better and sadder, to figure out how my soul works. And that's what art is - art is a process, a holy communion between artist and observer, an exchange of ideas, emotions, the divinity of our selves. And it's an exchange of love.

I'm so glad that I have been able to feel that way about Macklemore. This song is an overt message of love, but I think it has also helped me to be more willing to enter into that relationship between musicians and their listeners, and be less inclined to close myself off to an entire genre. Yes, a lot of the rap on the radio really does center on the negative - disposable women, disposable income, disposable life - but not all rap is like that.

Here's the link to, "Same Love."

I think, if you're willing, we can enter into that communal, peaceful worship - music as the sounds of who we are - together.

Give it a try.

1 comment:

  1. I've always appreciated rap for the craft, if not for the content. *Good* rap has strong rhythms, with intricate cross-rhythms and internal rhymes (even if they're not perfect rhymes), and lashings of assonance and alliteration. There's a drive to it that draws you in. And, like country, rap is dogged by the fact that its so easy to write really bad rap. But the point (to me) of rap is that it's music reduced to rhythm, relying on speech as its sole delivery mechanism. This isn't new, of course, although it was rare: think of "Rock Island" from The Music Man ("He doesn't know the territory!"), or the "Geographical Fugue".

    I don't know that I would have called this rap if I had watched it without your intro. I would have pegged this as a melodrama: spoken words over music, which in this case are more like "Poetry" than your standard rap text. This is awfully laid back and contemplative, compared to something like "Thrift Shop Feat. Wanz" (also by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis).

    But I suppose that's boxing rap into a narrow pigeonhole, eh? I've long since given up trying to keep track of all of the variants "rock" has splintered into, so why can't "rap" shift and evolve, too?

    I've always appreciated rap for the craft, if not for the content.