Sunday, August 01, 2010

Hip Hop with Everything Please

When Hip Hop exploded in the eighties, I didn't think of it so much as urban music, but as a great enhancement to culture –it gave America flavor, and it proved the perfect sauce for everything. Later, I was lucky to find musical compatriots and colleagues who heard the world the same way I did.

That in turn resulted in a bunch of studio rats taking over a downtown million dollar studio and using it to churn out an endless procession of global hip hop symphonies, hip hop blues, hip hop brazil, hip hop liturgies, etc. You name your favorite song or musical genre and we dropped a sampled loop or an electronic rhythm track in it.

–It was like, 'Hello, we're in New York, I'll have hip hop with everything, please'.

At times, when I romanticize the past, and my own career in particular, I like to believe that one reason advertising music became so credible at the end of the Twentieth century, is because my colleagues and I were slashing and burning our way through the history of global music, pillaging the classical canon for commercial purposes, branding financial and technology giants with ethnic folk music, and wielding tons of superbly rolled loops.

And that was my job!

It was like spraying graffiti on Mahler. And we used whatever cutting edge tools and technology we had at our disposal to make every track we created sound modern, not like a jingle.

I got a bit jealous, I admit, when after we had been creating these hybrids for years, I read how some DJ was being hailed as a pioneer by a music magazine because he had layered a blues lick over a loop.

Wow, we had already been doing an awful lot of that. And I had composed and recored my first blues flavored hip hop track to analog cassette in '87! Do you suppose he got the idea from one of our TV commercials, and now it's his idea?

Is that the way it works?

Yeah, actually it is, and now it was his turn.

Funny how possessive you can be about your samples, which, uh, half of them you probably ripped off from someone else's record, ahem, because wow, great orch hit, and enough room on either side to make a clean splice.

But, it was the idea (!), of course; the concept; the 're-contextualizaton'; the resulting collage or mash up or what ever you want to call it, that you own, that allows you at some very fundamental level, to claim the work is also yours. Or if not fully your own, then you consider yourself, at the very least, a collaborator, and perhaps even a prime mover (of ideas).

And at least when we had a go of it, it felt like we had a direct pipeline –via the advertising agencies that hired us– into virtually every American television screen and the eyes and ears glued to it.

But the real funny thing was that in early 2001, after fifteen or sixteen years of producing works atop looped rhythms, I had an epiphany, that loops were dead, because if I was tired of them, then the whole world must be, too.

Well, we know how that turned out boom chick boom chick chick.

Then 911 happened, and I (along with everyone I knew) felt like what am I doing? Looking for a drum hit on an old record or a hard drive, to sell what? Like, why not just bang a drum? Not to mention that quite suddenly creating music for advertising projects seemed like a pretty vapid way to spend one's life.

But skip ahead nearly a decade to the latter half of 2010, and it feels like this whole loopy thing might just be taking off now, and I'm actually liking it.

Or do I feel that way because after a year of teaching Noah, a gifted six year old music student, how to play bongos and use Propellerhead Reason, the software has also rewired my own brain?

Either way, I think no doubt about it, we live in an age of great rhythm, whether by human hand or machine generated. And a lot of it does sounds great.

So, is it just me or is the whole world getting its groove back?

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