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.

Youngking11 / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

A common critique of hip hop music is to point out the violence and vulgarity in the lyrics as a sign of its lack of quality. I’ve always found this puzzling. Americans are connoisseurs of violence. We are tastemakers in this aesthetic, and we know what and where we like each particular violence.

generationbass / Flickr / Creative Commons

Our American identities are largely formed around the concept of work, both the noun and the verb, and as our national music, hip hop is no different.

Tacinsk / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. / Wikimedia Commons

Hip hop’s early appeal had to do partly with its hyper-localism—the lyrics and musical tastes were originating from particular neighborhoods in New York City, each vying to produce sounds and styles distinct from each other.

As American hip hop grew and commercialized, this organic differentiation mellowed, and as the culture spread across oceans, hip hop was reborn in much the same way as it started: block by block, hood by hood.

bennett4senate / Flickr / Creative Commons

The producer Large Professor has worked with many of the greatest names in hip hop: Nas, Busta Rhymes and Common, to name just three. While never achieving the superstar status of mainstream producers like Pharell or Timbaland, Large Professor, who is also known as Xtra P, has held his own in hip hop for nearly 30 years. Here he is with the group Main Source, from 1991:

Mikamote / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Brooklyn underground emcee RA the Rugged Man recently held a contest to find the so-called "Definition of a Rap Flow.” While we’ll thankfully never know how many thousands of very awful submissions he received, we do know who won in RA’s book: a 17-year old phenom called A-F-R-O who delivers a freestyle so far above the level of anyone walking this earth that it’s nearly celestial.

Drew Yorke-Slader / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license / Wikimedia Commons

Producer and emcee Amir Mohamed el Khalifa, who goes by the name Oddisee, writes music that lives up to his name.

Hailing from the DC-Maryland-Virginia triangle, he developed as an artist in a kind of geographic and political ambiguity. And if place truly informs who we are as people, it will be no surprise that Oddisee is a musician who has an uncanny ability to flow, navigating both space and rhyme with ease.

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

An article on the Washington Post blog at the end of last month set out to make the point that poetry is on a downward trajectory towards death, if it’s not dead already. As an example, the author points out that the only cultural activity that polls worse than reading poetry is going to the opera.

Two digs with one stone.

raaphorst / Flickr / Creative Commons

People have been playing with recorded sound since it was first possible to record sound.

What we call this process seems to depend on what we’re talking about. If we’re referring to an art piece, we might say they used a "sound collage." In radio, we’d call it a "montage." For hip hop, we generally refer to the reformatting of recorded sound as "sampling." The word is different, but the process is pretty much the same: take some sound and do something with it: mix it, change it, cut it—anything at all.

Markus Rödder / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

The turntables are to hip hop what the guitar is to rock and roll. Or, more precisely, they are what the guitar, bass, drums and keyboard are to rock and roll.

Hip hop was born from the turntables, and through hip hop, the turntables were transformed from a simple playback device into an instrument that has been featured in countless jazz arrangements and even symphonies.

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