Rockabilly: More Than Just a Hound Dog

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.

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Elvis Presley

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.

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Johnny Cash

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.

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15 Songs To Get Your Activist Jive Going On!

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 13

Although 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 Peas 

With 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 Beatles

This 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’naan

This 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 Down 

Although 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 Wailers

Bob 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 Blades

Ruben 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 Lamar 

The 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 Sevenfold

Although 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
A clone”

6. Imagine, John Lennon

Considered 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 Park

With 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 182

Although 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, Nirvana

This 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, Paramore

Although 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 Gambino

The 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.

What Musical Genre is Twenty One Pilots?

I bet that some of you have been in that awkward situation where you wonder what kind of music is Twenty One Pilots. So you start trying to explain: “I mean it’s not rap, but he raps. It’s not rock, but they do have electric guitar riffs here and then. It’s not EDM , but they do have some pretty darn nice drops.” Well as Tyler Joseph (Lead Vocalist of Twenty One Pilots) puts it in his song “Heavydirtysoul”: “This is not rap, this is not hip-hop / Just another attempt to make the voices stop.” Well he is certainly right. Along with many artist such as Kanye West, Outkast, K’naan, Chance The Rapper, Black Eyed Peas, Kid Cudi, Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco, N.E.R.D, Gorrilaz, among many others, belong in the canon of the musical genre called Alternative Hip Hop.

So, What is Alternative Hip Hop? The first thing to know about the artists of Alternative Hip Hop is that they reject the usual gangsta vibe from traditional rap. In its place, they use splinters of the different unique qualities of jazz, funk, reggae, soul, alternative rock, EDM, folk, and punk. Also, instead on having straight-forward lyrics, they rely on more intricate lyrics. To get a better sense of the correlations, take a look of the map used in this blog.

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Kanye West (Left) & Andre 3000 (Right)

Alongside with West Coast’s Gangsta Rap, alternative Hip Hop rose on what is known as the Golden Age of Rap in the 1980’s, but its appearance was overshadowed by Gangsta Rap. It is not until the late 1990’s that Alternative Hip Hop got its popularity with the boundary crossing artists of musical styles, Kanye West and Outkast.

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Retrieved from: 13thWitness/Getty Images for Samsung

The mixture of overlaying genres that slips these artists from the rap stream can be perceived in Kanye West song “Black Skinhead”. As Rolling Stone Magazine says in their “100 Best Songs of 2013”, “’Ye [Kanye West] rapping rabid over an industrial glitter-rock stomp pumped with heavy breathing and Tarzan screams. Next time someone says America is post-race, play ’em this, and watch their head explode.” If you listen closely to the song you can appreciate the industrial sounds and the “heavy breathing and Tarzan screams”, that give it that tribal feel. In addition the song name is stylized as BLKKK SKKKN HEAD, to refer to the terrorist group known as the KKK. This song has very complex lyrics (as part of the conventions of Alternative Rap) that refers to how media forms and shapes reality, as seen in the song with the depiction of the movie 300, which is far based from the reality of the Trojan wars. He also refers to himself as an ape, which is the way that media depicts him with his relationship with Kim Kardashian, as he put it “They see a black man with a white woman at the top floor they gone come to kill King Kong / Middle America packed in, came to see me in my black skin/ Number one question they asking.” Kanye West addresses the hypocritical nature behind the media.

The Grungy Feel of Nu-Metal

Continuing the subject of the particularity of Nu-Metal, I mentioned that Nu-Metal has influential musical genres as Grunge. Now, further trough the blog we will discuss

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In this picture is Kurt Cobain (Lead Singer) with his wife, and his son Frances Bean Cobain

the uniqueness of grunge by detail, but for the effects of this post, grunge is a musical genre that is oriented on the emotions of pain and angst. You may know about Nirvana, a grunge band leaded by the fellow Kurt Cobain. This band was particular for their songs with the theme of angst. On his explanation of the song to Spin Magazine he said: “It’s like she’s saying, ‘Rape me, go ahead, rape me, beat me. You’ll never kill me. I’ll survive this and I’m gonna fucking rape you one of these days and you won’t even know it.'” Which makes a huge resonance with Aerosmith’s Janie’s Got a Gun; both songs oppose rape, but through Nirvana’s song the themes of pain and angst can be perceived.

To get a visual sense of the relation of musical genres in Nu-Metal see the map that was shown at the beginning of this blog.

Now, if you listen closely to Freak on a Leash, by Korn we can listen to the infused grunge into what gives this song the specific characteristics to be labeled as Nu-Metal. There is certainly a playing around with vocals in this song, heavy guitar riffs, and heavy instrumental contrast with the effects used, but this song is considered Nu-Metal because of the grungy feeling you get; that feeling of angst you get from Grunge music is in presence throughout the song.

Now to finalize the topic of Nu-Metal, I created a song that follows some of the conventions of the musical genre of Nu-Metal. If you listen closely, you can hear some of the elements of Nu-Metal such as: the way it is centered on rhythm, the heavy riffs, the lack of a guitar solo, rather, being the guitar as a background harmony, the use of effects to generate contrast, rapping, and the playing with the vocals. Also, the use of synthesizers and the incorporation of congas (right at the end). Although American record companies may consider it a type of Latin Pop just because of the Spanish language, language shouldn’t be considered a determining factor for a musical genre, unless if it is in folkloric music, where the main focus is culture.

This track was created for the purpose of trying to explain the angst caused by the social conception that we humans don’t have any direct cause in global warming.

Nu-Metal: One Easily Misunderstood Musical Genre

This week’s musical genre is Nu-Metal. Now to start off we will talk about what is the Nu-Metal and what makes it unique. Personally I’m a huge fan of Nu-Metal because it’s basically the combination of various genres. Nu-Metal is a progressive form of Metal music, derived from the mixtures of heavy metal instrumentation, like guitars with heavy riffs, awesome beats and cool organs and synthesizers, but with the addition of hip-hop elements, as well as grunge and funk. Nu-Metal compared to other progressive heavy metal genres, doesn’t rely on the big guitar solo, rather it focuses on musical contrast, and it emphasizes in rhythm.

Now you’re probably wondering, how can that mixture add up and not be a mess? Well most people don’t know that Linkin Park is one of the most popular groups of Nu Metal. If you listen closely to the song “Castle of Glass”, you can have a clearer understanding of why it is considered Nu-Metal. The song starts with a piano riff, with a series of sounds and effects. The rhythm is very basic, but it changes from a drum pad with effects to a more acoustic drum set sound. Throughout you have guitar riffs that establish a harmony between the effects. Instead of the guitar being one of the main instruments, the guitar riffs serve just as a background.

Another thing about Nu-Metal, they usually are distinctive in their forms of vocals such as rapping, screaming, and growling. If we take a look a Limp Biskit’s most popular song, Rollin, we can appreciate the influence of rap and hip-hop incorporated in Nu-Metal. If you listen to it you can hear the heavy guitar riffs, also the sounds of what is known as “scratching” use in old school hip-hop. The drum is quite simple, and they also incorporate different sounds and effects.

Although misunderstood, Nu-Metal is a very distinctive genre, and should not be confused with metalcore and rap metal, even so that they do have some similitude. Some of the artist that gave this Musical Genre its popularity were Korn, Kid Rock and the aforementioned Limp Biskit. Hence, the popularity of Nu-Metal began around the 1990s. Since then lots of artist have played around with this genre.