What amazes me the most about any movement of art is the development of different variations that are resulted from a change in perspective. These changes are made by pioneer musicians that intertwine musical conventions, to form new movements. Specifically, if one focuses on Hip-Hop, which is a musical genre that has experimented huge changes throughout the many combinations with other genres, one can have a better understanding on how diverse a musical genre can be. From Tupac, to Eminem, to Drake, to Kendrick Lamar, to Post Malone (and this is just mention a few of the most influential) Hip Hop has experimented big changes and variations. From Gangsta Rap, to Alternative Hip Hop, to Trap, a lot has happened throughout the history of Hip Hop in order to get there. And although not everyone is accepting to these variations, each and every musical genre has enough worth to take the time to appreciate its uniqueness. As any art movement, it is important to study the different variations in order to appreciate music to its fullest.
Part of the main focus of this blog is learning the different conventions of obscure Genres that are usually generalized to a more popular genre. The importance of listing the ground rules of every special class of music style, is the uniqueness and the great diversity behind every special Musical Genre. Every variation of musical convention has a specific origin and it details a result of regionalism, local color, and consciousness.
Now, each musical genre varies from a set list of elements that are composed by instrumentation, bpm (beats per minute), vocalization, lyricism, identity, musical intensity development (high and lows), accentuation and dynamics (soft, loud). This is just to mention a few, since there are more technical ones in musical notation. Every musical genre is basically a different outcome of the different musical variations.
Once you learn about the different conventions behind each Musical Genre one can appreciate every song as it is, a work of art. In order to appreciate a song one has to follow the guidelines of every work of art, set aside ones personal beliefs and elitism, and pay close attention to the different constituents that make a song have that organic unity. Do not let social barriers limit your experience with music; every song is a different experience.
Next time your coming across an obscure musical genre, think about the organic unity behind each song. Keep in mind the different elements that constitutes each song. You may find yourself liking music you never thought you would.
I took the trouble to create this short list of Rockabilly songs, just so you could get a gist of what is Rockabilly. Just as a reminder, Rockabilly is a combination of Rock N’ Roll and Country music (to learn more read my post on Rockabilly). Listen to each song, probably add it to your Rockabilly playlist (if you didn’t have one, go ahead an do it), and get your Elvis groove on!
1.Jailhouse Rock, Elvis PresleyElvis is called the King for anything, his royalties are attributed especially for his groovy music, his dance moves, his looks and his awesome vocals. It is very hard to resist tapping a few times on the table while hearing one of Elvis’s top hit, Jailhouse Rock.
2. Folsom Prison Blues, Johnny CashJohnny Cash is your Howdy kind of guy. Elvis is a bit more inclined on Rock N’ Roll in the Rockabilly scale, but Cash puts the hillbilly in Rockabilly. His music is more western than traditional Rockabilly artist. You almost get a sense of being in a horse, through the wild west, riding among the train-tracks. Yet it has those twangy guitar solos, and the accentuation of the second time measure, as seen in Rockabilly.
3. Rock Around the Clock, Bill Haley & His CometsThis power-pack-of-a-band made a movie about their most successful hit “Rock Around the Clock. Before the Comets, Bill Haley used to be a Country music performer, added with a new style and the comets, we have what is “Rock Around the Clock”.
4. That’ll Be the Day, Buddy HollyBuddy Holly oozes with Rockabilly down to his play with vocals, double bass and here-and-there intervention of Holly’s guitar solo. Holly has a more blues kind-of Rockabilly especially on his song That’ll Be the Day were he basically talks about that “I’d die for you” kind of love.
5. Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Queen“‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ took me five or ten minutes. I did that on the guitar, which I can’t play for nuts, and in one way it was quite a good thing because I was restricted, knowing only a few chords. It’s a good discipline because I simply had to write within a small framework. I couldn’t work through too many chords and because of that restriction I wrote a good song, I think.” Those are the words of Freddie Mercury on “Melody Maker” a music newspaper. This song is Queen’s attempt at a Rockabilly song. They even got the three-chord part down.
Ever wondered why Elvis Presley’s music was unique to the extent that one could differentiate his musical style from Rock n’Roll? Well its probably because The King (Elvis Presley) revolutionized Rock n’ Roll to an extent of developing another musical genre called Rockabilly. Although the name Rockabilly was not used among the mainstream, they are some specific qualities that makes this musical genre worthwhile to recognize from Rock n’ Roll.
The word Rockabilly comes from Rock N’ Roll and Hillbilly, and although it was firstly used as an insult, the artists embraced the title. As Elvis Presley’s former neighbor Barbara Pittman states in an interview: “It was so new and it was so easy. It was a three chord change. ‘Rockabilly’ was actually an insult to the southern rockers at that time. Over the years it has picked up a little dignity. It was their way of calling us ‘hillbillies’.”
Rockabilly is a Musical Genre that is generally the combination of Rock N’ Roll and country music, with the occasional rhythm blues. As Pittman said, it is usually a very simple chord progression, with the occasional rhythm blues guitar riffs and solos, the drum usually follows the traditional Rock N’ Roll rhythms, and the double bass that is distinctive of Country music. Also, as in Country music, the rhythm accentuates every two time measures, as if clapping (of course clapping is also involved also into the music itself). To get a better sense of the of the overlaying genres look at the musical genre map.
This musical genre surged around the 1950’s. Among the pioneers of Rockabilly there is Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Bob Luman, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
To get a better sense of the special peculiarities of Rockabilly, listen to Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog. The song revolves around the simple three chord progression, the second time measure is accentuated by the snare drum, the driving double bass giving it that country feel, the blues driving guitar that has a solo that just has rhythm blues written everywhere, and of course the incorporation of clapping. The rhythm is that of rock n’ roll, which pretty much sums up the whole deal behind Rockabilly.
These are trying times for Puerto Ricans, Americans, and probably the world. With the new US president that denies climate change, has segregation policies, has openly made chauvinistic comments, and other negative rhetoric. In addition, us Puerto Ricans have been imposed a fiscal control board that is failing to make decisions that have a positive impact in the economy, rather, it has focused all its efforts in cutting funds on the social entities that have proven to help economy, like education.
I took the task upon myself to create a musically diverse playlist that will set the mood for critical analysis of the current sociopolitical situation and also enticing the strength to move forward, and to not give into the negativity of the social-political chaos.
15. Latinoamérica, Calle 13Although Calle 13 definitely has a great variety of songs that help create conscious of sociopolitical problems that affect society, i.g. “El Aguante”, that talks about the many sociopolitical struggles that a human has to endure, yet “Latinoamérica” encompasses the problems that are forced by imperialism, but also offers a sign of hope and empowerment towards resistance.
“Tú no puedes comprar al viento. You can’t buy the wind.
Tú no puedes comprar al sol. You can’t buy the sun.
Tú no puedes comprar la lluvia. You can’t buy the rain.
Tú no puedes comprar el calor. You can’t buy the heat.
Tú no puedes comprar las nubes. You can’t buy the clouds.
Tú no puedes comprar los colores. You can’t buy the colors.
Tú no puedes comprar mi alegría. You can’t buy happiness.
Tú no puedes comprar mis dolores.” You can’t buy my pains.
14.Where Is The Love?, The Black Eyed PeasWith the help of other artists such as Justin Timberlake, the Black Eyed Peas made a song that discusses major world problems such as terrorism “Overseas, yeah, we try to stop terrorism/ But we still got terrorists here livin’/ In the USA, the big CIA / The Bloods and The Crips and the KKK”, the hypocrisy of the government, racism, gender inequality and war.
13. Revolution, The BeatlesThis song caused a lot of controversy, especially the lines “But when you talk about destruction /Don’t you know that you can count me out”. The songs refers to violent protests, questioning the methods the protesters were taking, enforcing a violent change. The song parallels protests such as the anti-Milo at U.C. Berkeley, which are only violence that doesn’t provoke a positive change.
12. Immigrants, K’naanThis song surged as a response to the recent segregation policies that promote racism in the US. The song is part of the a Mix-tape from K’Naan based from the famous Broadway musical, Alexander Hamilton. The song features four artists that are distinctively immigrants: Residente, Snow Tha Product, K’Naan, and Riz MC. The song refers to historical facts, like how the U.S. was “founded by immigrants”, and the irony on how “immigrants” has became a “bad word”.
You know, and it gets into this whole issue of border security, you know, who’s gonna say that the borders are secure? We’ve got the House and the Senate debating this issue, and it’s… it’s really astonishing that in a country founded by immigrants, “immigrant” has somehow become a bad word. So the debate rages on and we continue….
11.B.Y.O.B., System Of A DownAlthough System Of A Down is known to have many protest songs that criticize the many sociopolitical struggles of their home country Armenia and America like Boom! and Toxicity, the song that could relate the most with the current situation in America and Puerto Rico is B.Y.O.B (Bring your own bomb, instead of Bring your own booze). Although the song is a protest to the Iraq war, it does makes reference to social fallacies distributed by the media “Yet you feed us lies from the tablecloth”, and the exploitation of social classes “Why don’t presidents fight the war? / Why do they always send the poor?”.
10. The Heathen, Bob Marley and The WailersBob Marley was known for spreading positive messages throughout his music, inciting peace among humans. Yet, his song The Heathen calls people to stand up and protest for what they believe in “Rise up fallen fighters / Rise and take your stance again”. He also talks about the satisfaction that fighting for your beliefs brings “As a man sow, shall he reap /And I know that talk is cheap /But the hotter the battle /The sweeter Jah victory”. Certainly, it is times like this that we have hang onto our beliefs, and stand up for what we believe in.
9. Plástico, Rubén BladesRuben Blades’ has always dedicated his career on trying to talk about the sociopolitical issues that Latin Americans have struggled with. In his song “Plástico” he criticizes the hypocrisy of city people, calling-out to the Latin Americans to not fall into the world of consumerism, or as he calls them “ciudad de plásticos” or in English, “City of plastic people”. Although major focus is to criticize, he also gives out a message hope.
8. Alright, Kendrick LamarThe song “Alright” refers to racism in the law enforcement. He begins his song by referencing The Color Purple when he says: “Alls my life I has to fight, nigga” As Alice Walker states:
“All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my brothers. I had to fight my cousins and my uncles. A girl child ain’t safe in a family of men. But I never thought I’d have to fight in my own house. She let out her breath. I loves Harpo, she say. God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead before I let him beat me.”
He also refers to the many times the police has killed black people, to make allure the racial violence “But homicide be looking at you from the face down”. His music video captures an even more vivid message about the racial issues, and his personal struggles.
7. Critical Acclaim, Avenged SevenfoldAlthough Avenged Sevenfold usually doesn’t take a political stance, in their song, written by M. Shadows (Lead Vocalist), and The Rev(former drummer and vocalist), they express how the extreme partisanship causes more unwanted problems, instead of resolving any issue.
“Tabloid gossip queen worthless man
(there’s no need for us to bury you)
Selfish agenda once again
(right this way you’ve dug your own grave)I’ve had enough
It’s time for something real
I don’t respect the words you’re speaking
Gone too far
6. Imagine, John LennonConsidered one of the most inspiring songs of all time, John Lennon writes at the heart of the Vietnam War about unity. He states that wars are caused by belief systems, as he puts it:
“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace… You…”
John Lennon calls out for world peace, and talks about how humans would achieve peace, if they wouldn’t think of religion or nations as a division. He also talks about consumerism “No need for greed or hunger /A brotherhood of man /Imagine all the people sharing all the world”. When the need of material goods is destroyed, unity could be achieved.
5. The Catalyst, Linkin ParkWith a more apocalyptic tenor in the song than usual, Linkin Park’s “The Catalyst” talks about the decline of humanity. Specifically, the song refers to the possible outbreak of a nuclear war “We’re a broken people living under loaded gun”. Although it is not song that gives hope, but it does allude to the terror of the possibility of the outbreak of a nuclear war.
4. Anthem Part 2, Blink 182Although Punk bands are known for having protest songs, this particular songs calls out on how the hierarchy fails to attend the needs of everybody, and how kids are forced to follow decisions made by adult and corporate leaders
“Corporate leaders, politicians
Kids can’t vote, adults elect them
Laws that rule the school and workplace
Signs that caution, sixteen’s unsafe”
Also calls out to how adults pass the blame for the social problems on children, when they are ones who are in charge of deciding their ruling
“We really need to see this through
We never wanted to be abused
We’ll never give up, it’s no use
If we’re fucked up you’re to blame”.
3. Downer, NirvanaThis is Kurt Cobain’s attempt on making a political protest song. He talks about the US Government hypocrisy
” Portray sincerity
Act out of loyalty
Defend every country
Wish away the pain”
Basically he is saying that even so that the US Government sells their motives for international involvement is benevolent, he argues that they have a hidden agenda. Now, the lines “Surrealistic fantasy / Bland, boring plain!” contradict themselves (very usual in Kurt Cobain’s lyric). He is basically saying how the United States is seen as a paradise, but in reality is “boring” and a scam.
2. Now, ParamoreAlthough the song isn’t technically made as a political protest, it can definitely serve as a vehicle to help understand the attitude that one has to have in times like this. “Lost the battle, win the war / Bringing my sinking ship back to the shore”, although the line reffers probably the lows the band experienced when the former band members Zac and Josh Farro left, they can attest to today’s situation with the message, that although you lost it all, one can come back stronger than ever.
1. Riot, Childish GambinoThe song “Riot” feels and sounds like a riot. The song is written in the perspective of a rioter, and although the song may seem as a song about dancing, Gambino is known to use double meaning in his lyrics. “No good’s happening / World, we’re out of captains” Gambino is calling out for people like Martin Luther King; there is a need for “captains. “Everyone just wants a better life”, the reason why people riot for, “a better life”. “They tried to kill us”, in this line Gambino refers to how the political system has tried to “kill” the voice of the people. Gambino reminds what is the importance for rioting, for a “better life”.
Music is one of the best way to approach social problems as racism, violence, gender inequality, and other political issues that today’s society is being put to deal with. Through the use music we can get a better sense of the different consciousness of different sectors of society, and how those perspectives shape their music and lyrical focus.
I’ve put together this list of songs to get a better sense of the particular conventions that differentiate Alternative Hip Hop from traditional Hip Hop or rap. These particular songs ooze with the conventions of alternative Hip Hop, that, although they rap or have electric drumming, as seen in traditional Hip Hop, they do have a clear overlay of genres such as jazz, funk, reggae, soul, alternative rock, EDM, folk, and punk, added by the absence of the gangsta vibe, and the use of more deep and abstract lyrics.
12. Ride, Twenty One Pilots
With the use of reggae organ that gives way to the offbeat rhythm known as skank with the accentuation of the second and forth time of every musical time signature, and of course the use of intricate abstract lyrics just to give away the specific gradient of alternative hip hop.
11. Too Good, Drake
Drake is know for being experimental with his rhythm, especially with Caribbean music. This song falls in place with alternative Hip Hop because of Rhythm which resonates that of Dancehall, a Jamaican musical genre. In his song he also uses the lyrics of the the song Love Yuh Bad from Popcaan when he says: “Cock up yuh bumpa, siddung pon it“. There is a clear overlay of musical genre.
10. Rock Star, N.E.R.D.
N.E.R.D. have specialized in mixing genres such as funk, R&B, rock and Hip Hop. In this song the fusion of different musical genres with the combination of funk, rock and Hip Hop, which clearly falls into the basic conventions of alternative Hip Hop.
9. Tamale, Tyler, The Creator
Tyler definitely outdid himself and possibly hit a new level of unusual with the song and the music video. The rhythm consist of kind of industrial sounds with the mixture of tribal screams throughout the whole song with the addition of his signature rap style. Definitely falls into the canon of alternative Hip Hop.
8. i, Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar isn’t known as the king of west coast for just rapping, his creative musical style is also part of his title. This song features elements from jazz, funk, soul, latin, and hip hop. With the driving cowbell, the jazzy piano, the funky bass, the soul vocalization and rapping, this song is a perfect combination of musical genres that form Alternative Hip Hop.
7. Sunrise, Childish Gambino
Childish Gambino has a lot of experience with infusing gospel, soul, electronic and hip hop music, which gives him a special style. In his song Sunrise he uses this perfect combination with the use of driving bass synthesizers, tribal drums, soul and gospel vocals and of course, his rapping.
6. Angels, Chance The Rapper (feat. Saba)
With the combination of soul, tropical and hip hop, Chance the Rapper hits the bulls-eye with the nice mixture of soul organ, the steel drums that give it that tropical feel, the soul vocals, the jazzy trumpets and the driving rhythm that collide at the same time at the end. In addition, Chance The Rapper uses intricate lyrics with the use of metaphors and biographical lyrics.
5. Dots & Lines, Lupe Fiasco
Aside from the fact that Lupe Fiasco incorporate a lot of sting into his album Tetsuo & Youth, his song Dots & Lines has a set of distinctive qualities that giveaway the Alternative Hip Hop stamp to the song. His song starts and ends with a jamming banjo that give it a kind of western feel, the strings and the pipa that underlay a Chinese folk music, the electric drops, the soul vocalization in the chorus, and the rapping gives this song the label of Alternative Hip Hop.
4. El Aguante, Calle 13
Calle 13 is a band formed by three siblings ( René Pérez, Eduardo Cabra, Ileana Cabra). Their music is very creative because of the combination of Visitante’s (Eduardo Cabra) extensive ability to play multiple instruments (guitar, melodica, harmonica, keyboards, cuatro, tiple, accordion, tres, banjo, lute, mandolin, oud, cümbüş, charango, erke, ukulele, bombo legüero, bass guitar, steel guitar, drum set, bouzouki, vihuela, harp, autoharp, zither, timple, guitarro, gittern, cavaquinho, bordonua, congas, trombone, saxophone, drums, percussion, trumpet, violin, clarinet, theremin, kalimba, cello), Residente’s ( René Pérez) Intricate lyrics and rap style that is distinctive for his verisimilitude and ILE’s ( Ileana Cabra) amazing vocals. In “El Aguante” Calle 13 uses a Celtic rhythm, funky bass, tribal rhythms and of course, rapping.
3. Feel Good Inc., Gorrilaz
Gorrilaz are a group that is distinctive for having an unusual musical style for the play vocal effect and their use of rock and funk. The song “Feel Good Inc.” uses vocal effects such as : laughing, whispering and other vocal effects. In addition they intertwine the vocals with a funky bass and guitar, electronic interludes, spanish guitar, rapping, and hip hop beats. This perfect and unique combination makes this song Alternative Hip Hop.
2. Pursuit of Happiness, Kid Cudi
Even so that Kid Cudi is distinctive for his vocals his music has particularity that also sets him between the artists of Alternative Hip Hop. His song “Pursuit of Happiness” features a series of musical effects that give it the electronic feel, with the combination of a drum pad with echo and the piano with kind of R & B vibe. With the combination of music and his particular vocals, Kid Cudi forms part of the Alternative Hip Hop musical artists.
1. B.O.B., Outkast
Saved the best for last, one of the pioneers of the alternative Hip Hop genre, Outkast. This particular song didn’t achieve the popularity of “Hey Ya”, but its consider Outkast’s best song with the incredible blend of musical genres. This song is the combination of a fast beat tempo, electric guitar that resemble Hendrix’s style, rock organs, gospel vocals, vocal effects, rap, funky bass, scatching, rocking guitar riffs, synthesizers, and the hip hop drum set. This song could be considered the epitome of Alternative Hip Hop, due to its huge overlaying of musical genres. It certainly marked the set point between hip hop or rap, into alternative Hip Hop.