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.

IllaDeuce / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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.

freestockphotos.biz

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.

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.

Pages