New American Songbook

"In 20 years of listening to hip hop, its music and stories have never left me unchallenged or unchanged. Throughout its history—from Kool Herc to KRS and beyond—hip hop has told the story of America through the styles of noir, memoir, jazz and rhythm and blues, comic books and blockbuster action movies. It is everything we say we are, and those things we maintain we are not. This is the new American Songbook." - KMUW commentator, Zack Gingrich-Gaylord  

New American Songbook can be heard on alternate Mondays, or through iTunes.

On Christmas Day, television viewers of the basketball game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors saw the debut of a commercial for a virtual reality headset. The ad featured LeBron James, of of the Cavs, lip-syncing the song 'Welcome to the Terrordome,' by rap pioneers Public Enemy.

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Rap super-groups—let’s say groups with three or more emcees—have been around since the beginning of hip hop. Most people are probably familiar with the Sugar Hill Gang, or more specifically, the one rap song that even your grandparents know:

bluescholars.com

Like all good religions, hip hop is obsessed with beginnings—the origin stories of both the culture and individual artists are enduring topics in rap music. These stories serve a dual purpose: to establish the credibility of the artist within hip hop culture, and to recall the past, often as a critique of the present.

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KMUW's Zack Gingrich-Gaylord celebrates the return of a master.

As we take another look into the New American Songbook, KMUW's Zack Gingrich-Gaylord revisits an example of how the poetry of hip hop is a lot more broad than some people realize.

Public Domain

Ninety percent of what I know about New York City comes from hip hop. My personal map of the Big Apple bears very little resemblance to the Rand McNally accordion—in the place of the orderly and angled streets and avenues are lanes and grooves carved by a DJ’s stylus. Brooklyn is called Bucktown, and the Bronx is oversized, spilling over into Queens and Manhattan. Staten Island is always Shaolin, with the great tower of the Wu-Tang Clan casting shadows across the entire scene.

What happens when hip hop gets weird?

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This week in the New American Songbook, KMUW's Zack Gingrich-Gaylord looks at how one building block of hip hop can reach a lot further than you might think.

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The process of making a song radio-friendly seems pretty straightforward: Replace an offending word with either a euphemism or simply nothing at all.

But determining which words are offensive turns out to be more subjective than you might expect. Beyond the obvious words that we all know are impermissible on air, other occasional edits include references to sex, drugs, guns and even the verbs associated with these topics.

Public Domain (Def Jam Recordings)

Dark and desperate, Summertime ‘06 is the new double-disc release from Compton rapper Vince Staples.

It’s a study in American dystopia. The tone of the record is steeped in classic gangsta rap tropes—street crime, drugs and bravado—but Staples manages to use these well worn ideas as a way to support an elegant narrative that avoids the typical cartoonish depiction of the gangsta rap artist.

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