Instrumental Hip-Hop Sucks? Sort of. Possibly

An article by Philip Mlynar generated a great deal of fuss on Twitter  a while back – yes I KNOW they say respond quick or its old news, but I have a life & a day job!! Plus while everyone was foaming at the mouth, I took a step back, a deep breath & took my life & reputation in my hands for my measured response:

He had a point – sort of. (You can read his original article here).

Allow me to clarify:

Having actually read the article ( I know some people get wound up over a lot of thing without actually reading said quote/article or watch said broadcast/footage), in my opinion, some of his arguments (or rantings) make some broad, valid points.

 

His argument seems initially to be based around the proliferation of downtempo experimental hip hop, colloquially referred to as ‘trip hop’.

He then, rather bafflingly, seems to then take aim at hip hop as a musical genre as a whole, seemingly including the very period which he claims to love.

As an old school DJ, I love instrumentals. Most hip hop wouldn’t exist with instrumentals. Indeed there are rumours that the instrumental to RUM D.M.C’s Peter Piper will be played at my funeral to check I’m dead (if there’s knockin’ from the coffin, dig me up!). Being able to mix & mash up different tunes is a staple of the (hip hop) DJ & the instrumental is erm, well, instrumental to what they do.

Indeed, one of my abiding memories was at an all-dayer in Nottingham’s Rock City club. Inbetween the (largely imported) soul tunes & hip hop/electro, one of the DJs put on the Dub version of ‘Cosmic Blast’ By Captain Rock.

At this point, something remarkable began to happen. Jazz dancers, who’d been in the side room listening to latin & fusion began doing their thing to this track in the Main Room on various spots on the dancefloor. Very slowly, many of them ended up trading moves with the b-boys who were equally getting off on the now-classic track.

 

Whilst I agree that much of this meandering, psuedo-psycadelic, beat-laden music from the early 90’s labelled ‘trip-hop’ was indeed self-important, self-indulgent, pretentious pap, there was a lot of genuinely original music being made that was based in the genre

 

However, this is true REGADRLESS of musical style. For every classic Oasis track or Kasabian tune, how many guitar bands have you seen with skinny jeans & terrace-style singalong riffs that are utterly forgettable? How many people go to a rock concert to here a 10 minute guitar solo, unless you can (barely) remember Woodstock. I love my jazz, but if I’m paying money to hear interminably long, tooth-grinding sax tootling then you’re sadly mistaken.

For every classic track, there’s dozens of tuneless, pretentious cow-pats touted as the ‘Next Big Thing’.I’ve lost count of the amount of material I’ve been sent that has been absolute self-indulgent, crap, or bland anodyne musical wallpaper.

 

The term ‘trip hop became a catch-all term for all downtempo music with a beat, made by some spotty indie kid with rich parents, quoting obscure, long-dead Russian authors, to justify their meaningless, pretentious audio wee.

 

Remember – ‘trip hop’ like ‘techno was essentially a marketing term, dreamt up/seized upon by some Nathan-Barley-esque Shoreditch t$£t, trying to be achingly hip. Also, even though PCs & computer music was becoming cheaper, there was no download culture as such & releases were still mainly physical. This still made it  costly to put out music so it was still very much in the hands of rich kids (possibly called Roderick) than your average street kid back then.

This dictated the material made & released (to a point).

Also, as with techno many artist originally classed as trip hop, never used the term themselves to describe what they did.

 

Prior to trip-hop there was Acid Jazz.

What started as an in-joke quickly became a movement than a cliché describing any track with

  • A Hammond ogran
  • Trumpets (or JB’s horn sample)
  • Some lame ‘MC’ (I use the term advisedly), trying to sound like some trendy ‘Sarf Lahndan Geezar’

 

I admit, I was initially taken in by that one, however were I to take his rather ‘passionate’ stance, I’d have to throw out most of my collection including tracks I personally championed – not because they were trendy but because they were bloody good.

‘Clubbed To Death’, by Rob Dougan is a classic example of a blindingly good track from ‘trip-hop’ label ‘Mo Wax’ I’d happily drop that in any of my sets & Mo Wax illustrates the 2 sides for me very well.

The label actually straddeled the Acid Jazz/Trip hop thing, & while their latter output was more like high falutin’ navel-gazing cobblers, it cannot be denied that on balance, they had a diverse output with some genuinely exciting music from a range of artists..

 

 

People will always push the envelope.

Yes, hip hop originally started out a party music, but has evolved & morphed in  many directions All music has conventions or at least certain stylistic cues that help us identify what’s happenning. If he hates experimentalism, he may wish to get rid of his Mantronix records (if he has any). DJ Mantronik himself once said he wanted to take hip hop out of the clubs to explore its possiblities, (Get Stupid Fresh? Hardcore Hip hop? Scream?) yet still put out bangers such as ‘Bassline’ & seminal B-boy classic ‘King of The Beats’.

 

Now, rather than some spoilt little Johnny-come-lately-with-his-parent’s-trust-fund, anyone with a PC internet access & a hacked version of the latest DAWs can get their material potentially to almost anyone else on the planet (not that I’m advocating copyright piracy, but you get the point).

This means more great music is out there, but conversely, there’s more ‘pooh in the pool’, as it were.

 

For example, currently the buzzword in the music press is (still) ‘dubstep’. Take a handful of releases at random & I guarantee, most of it will be woolly, badly produced cack that simply has a deep wibbly bass & some screechy synths, sounding like an unholy union of a goose & a cat thrown into a tumble drier.

Does it mean dubstep’s crap? – NO; what it DOES mean is that you now have to wade through more crap to get to the genuinely good stuff.

 

Also, the unfortunate, sad reality is that mainstream Hip Hop is pop music. This the way it is. It’s become a victim of its own success – deal with it.

However, the REAL argument is even though my timing to respond is later, his decision to rail against this music is even later; had he been making his points during the 90’s when this stuff was clogging up the airwaves & clubs, getting journos all hot & bothered for cool points, he would’ve leant more weight to an ‘Empoeror’s new clothes’ argument’.

Instead he seems to come across as  a ‘bit of a grumpy old man’. While this  seems to be his schitck, the problem is, sometimes the need to maintain one’s image sometimes overshadows any reasonable arguments you may have.

Ultimately if he doesn’t like it, he can always do what I do – exercise my democratic right not to listen/buy/play/own/download the stuff.

It REALLY is that easy.

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