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Does hip-hop/rap equal rock/pop as a genre that requires true musical talent?
September 28, 2012 5:59 AM   Subscribe

Help settle a contentious argument: friend argues that hip-hop/rap requires less talent than rock/pop, and that the true measure of talent is being able to stand on a stage with nothing but a guitar and microphone. This doesn't seem right to me, but I don't know hip-hop/rap well. Is this a valid position? Are there any musicians in rap and hip-hop that defy this?

I spent a while arguing that hip-hop/rap is an equal genre to pop and rock with my friend who insists that those genres require less talent than rock and pop. His position was that singing ability and ability to play an instrument are the real determinants of what a quality musician is, absent any production/voice altering like autotune/etc. But isn't rap a skill as difficult as playing an instrument? Can't hip-hop be just as quality as say, Radiohead? Are there any musicians in hip-hop/rap that are on a depth and musicianship level with rock talents like Bruce Springsteen and the Beatles? Are there any resources online that would have any analysis of this issue? Or am I completely off-base? Thanks for any input.
posted by Locative to Media & Arts (63 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's comparing apples to oranges; it's a meaningless argument. The skills required to rap are different than yhose required to play guitar. I've heard incredibly complex and affecting music of both genres from artists that i'd say had equal, but differing talents. It's just personal preference.
posted by windykites at 6:02 AM on September 28, 2012 [23 favorites]


What windykites said. Someone who claims this is never going to accept any argument. There are no data that can prove it, no randomized trial that could demonstrate it.
posted by Etrigan at 6:04 AM on September 28, 2012


I'd say there are plenty of talentless front men in rock, and plenty of musically brilliant hip-hop artists.

but it is apples and oranges. as noted above.

My advice to people who make this argument is to try rapping. It's generally humbling.

what about jazz or god forbid classical? from that perspective Rock may not even be music.
posted by French Fry at 6:05 AM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is your friend racist by any chance? A musician?

Anyhow-- sampling takes lots of research, and requires beat matching. Rapping is tough because the words must flow while also sounding original and cohesive. All genres of music require lots and lots of practice in fact, who is your friend kidding?
posted by oceanjesse at 6:06 AM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd say compare Turntablism to playing a guitar, both skilled but also very different
posted by Z303 at 6:07 AM on September 28, 2012


Play him some Aesop Rock and see what he says.
posted by DeltaForce at 6:07 AM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm a songwriter. I have actually written a rap AND performed it. It only LOOKS easy.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:07 AM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Are there any musicians in hip-hop/rap that are on a depth and musicianship level with rock talents like Bruce Springsteen and the Beatles?

Musicians who produce their own beats as well as rap to them are here. The trouble is, if they're turntablists (DJ's) or electronic musicians, it's near impossible to run the turntables/synths and rap at the same time, so live exhibitions of this talent aren't common.

More to the point, does this friend dismiss any band with a dedicated front-man as being less talented as a guitarist/frontman? Because that's pretty much the same thing as a Rapper + DJ/Producer.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:07 AM on September 28, 2012


I heard a violinist argue, somewhat tongue-in-cheekily, that guitar players were all talentless hacks because they can buy their tone off the shelf, but violinists need to earn theirs with touch and years of practice.

The rebuttal you're looking for is "freestyle". It's a different talent than guitar playing, for sure, but very impressive when done well, and no less a talent for it.

More generally, this sort of argument is pointless.
posted by mhoye at 6:08 AM on September 28, 2012


Singing ability. Ability to play an instrument.

But yeah, you're not going to change this person's mind.
posted by box at 6:10 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also: Is this a valid position?

Any position that says "X is an objectively more valid form of music than Y" is coming from a place of ignorance about music, culture and history.
posted by griphus at 6:11 AM on September 28, 2012 [17 favorites]


Television insiders have said that being a game show host is the hardest job on TV. If you didn't know what's actually required, you might think that being, say, a stand up comedian requires mores skill.

Has your friend heard Rodney Dangerfield rap?
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:13 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


See also rockism.
posted by The Michael The at 6:16 AM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, I wonder what your pal thinks of opera singers. If he thinks they're talented musicians, then he's probably just prejudiced against rap & hip hop. If he thinks they're talentless (whether or not he likes it), then, um, your friend might not be so clever.

Also... your friend does know that there's rap and hip hop other than what gets played on the radio and MTV, right? That's being factored in?

Anyways, I suspect your friend is either pretty young or so set in his ways that there's no use arguing about it.
posted by windykites at 6:19 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think a definition of "quality" is in order here anyway. Anyone ever seen the film "The Devil and Daniel Johnston"? He's no great musician by objective standards, but his complete commitment and soulful investment into his otherwise low quality music gives it an undeniable sense of real "quality" that you can't help but experience and appreciate. I think people enjoy music (and all created things) where the maker has really completely invested themselves in the work (Apple, for example), and the viewer/listener/etc can experience a transfer of that commitment and investment and soulfulness in a way that resonates with them personally. I don't think talent/virtuosity/technical skill specifically must be present for this experience of quality at all, but depending on the experiencer, they might contribute to it. It's in the ear of the beholder. Folks who have read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" will likely understand my meaning here.
posted by idzyn at 6:20 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, rap is a skill as complex as playing rock music - maybe even more.

I'm no expert in this but I can speak as someone who did not "get" rap or hip-hop for most of their life. What changed my mind were these things:

1. Honestly, an argument from authority - a lot of people whose aesthetic judgement I respected in other areas admired certain tracks, and I felt like "hey, these people turned me on to [THING] that I thought was dumb and boring before, so maybe it's me.

2. Listening to a lot of proto-rap stuff like Gil Scott-Heron and paying a lot more attention to some poetry by writers of color that's often cited as an influence on rap. (Which also helped me become a better reader of poetry) I started to hear rhythms and internal rhyme and flow and stuff, and that helped me to understand what rap does and how skillful you need to be to be good. Expecting to understand a music genre without either growing up steeped in its discourse/style or learning about it - that's not going to work. If you decided you wanted to start listening to, like, American minimalist composers, you'd probably read about them first so you had some context for all that John Cage.

There's all kinds of stuff with wordplay and references and wit that is just neat. It's much more than just playing a guitar and having a lovely voice.

3. I also read a bit about the first people who are usually labeled rappers from the late seventies and started to see them as these smart, avant-garde artists doing cool stuff - these were some musically sophisticated people who listened to free jazz and Kraftwerk and James Brown. It started to seem like if they were that smart then probably I wasn't getting it. I mean, basically I like complicated nerd music - but I started to see that lots of people in rap and hip-hop produce complicated nerd music.

I'll be totally honest here, too - I grew up in a racist and segregated town in the late eighties/early nineties, home of a lot of moral panic about rap music (remember that? All that stuff about NWA and so on? It was so stupid.) I feel like as a white person I absorbed all kinds of messages about who produces worthy art, what worthy art is and does, who is an intellectual....and that really hindered my ability to hear rap. On an unconscious level, I assumed that it was all radio junk that was sexist and trashy. I would say I was so ignorant that I didn't even know I was ignorant.

I think that a lot of white folks (maybe other folks?) who make that sort of "rockist" argument are coming from a background where art by black artists was routinely devalued.
posted by Frowner at 6:20 AM on September 28, 2012 [34 favorites]


Show your friend this. If he doesn't agree that it contains "true musical talent", he's probably a secret racist.
posted by subtle-t at 6:22 AM on September 28, 2012


In my mind there is some racism inherent in segregating hip hop as "black" music and rock as "white" music.
posted by idzyn at 6:26 AM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


In this video Mike Lombardo breaks down the rhyme structure in Eminem's "Lose Yourself". It really speaks to Frowner's 2nd point - rap can be amazingly complex and beautiful.
posted by ChrisHartley at 6:26 AM on September 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Especially with regard to the roots of all rock. It's really all black music, if you want to see it from that perspective.
posted by idzyn at 6:27 AM on September 28, 2012


ChrisHartley: In this video Mike Lombardo breaks down the rhyme structure in Eminem's "Lose Yourself". It really speaks to Frowner's 2nd point - rap can be amazingly complex and beautiful.

I was just Googling for that video! It really is a must-watch.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:28 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


His position was that singing ability and ability to play an instrument are the real determinants of what a quality musician is, absent any production/voice altering like autotune/etc. But isn't rap a skill as difficult as playing an instrument?

If being a talented rock artist was mainly about being able to play an instrument and sing at a very high technical level, then the guys on YouTube who can play flight of the bumblebee at triple speed on their guitar would be famous instead of guys like Ozzy Osbourne and Bob Dylan. Your friend is using the classic rhetorical cheat of rationalizing his arbitrary preferences by cherry-picking differences and claiming that they are the essential factors that determine quality (see also discussions about what constitutes a sport where people jump through hoops to come up with a ridiculous definition that happens to include all the sports they like and none of the ones they don't like).
posted by burnmp3s at 6:32 AM on September 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


Wow, thanks for all these great answers so far. I hadn't even heard the term "rockism" before. My friend got super pissed when I suggested that some might view his argument as racist. I wouldn't consider him a racist, he grew up outside a big city with a large African-American population and works with lots of people of color. He did make the point that he is a fanatical fan of Seal.

Saul Williams is awesome, btw, thank you for that link!
posted by Locative at 6:33 AM on September 28, 2012


(Aw, thank you windykites!)

If your friend is really sincere and just ignorant, maybe he would like to read some books?

Can't Stop Won't Stop is supposed to be very good - it's about hip-hop generally. I also remember hearing good things about Black Noise, which I think I'm going to order now...my housemate has a copy of Can't Stop Won't Stop, which I might break out tonight.

Also, reading Turn The Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco was really important to me musically because it traces a bunch of links between black and queer music genres and deals with a "despised" genre that is not supposed to be any good. I think I would not have read more about hip-hop if I had not read more about disco first - I started listening to all these offbeat disco tracks and started to be able to see how some of the canonical ones like "I Feel Love" are really brilliant and popular, and that changed how I think about music.
posted by Frowner at 6:35 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Please drop the racism derail and general chat that doesn't help answer the question. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 6:50 AM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also this kind of argument has been beaten into the ground on places like ILX. For example:

rap will never be influencial (sic)

taking sides: rap v. rock

Useful bit from the second thread that your friend doesn't seem to realise: as I may not quite have got round to saying elsewhere, I suspect (but don't know) that taste is contingent - a matter of place and time and chance - rather than justifiable by any appeal to universal, non-historical grounds.
posted by subtle-t at 6:52 AM on September 28, 2012


the true measure of talent is being able to stand on a stage with nothing but a guitar and microphone.

Does he also dismiss drummers, singers, classical violin players, etc, as not so great? How about painters? If painters and drummers are considered equal to guitar playing singers but can't be measured by their ability to sing and play guitar on stage, how is it 'a true measure of talent' in any meaningful way?
posted by jacalata at 7:12 AM on September 28, 2012


Let me fix that for your friend....

the true measure of talent is being able to stand on a stage with nothing but a guitar and microphone

Seems like his argument defeats itself.
posted by mullacc at 7:14 AM on September 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


I spent a while arguing that hip-hop/rap is an equal genre to pop and rock with my friend who insists that those genres require less talent than rock and pop. His position was that singing ability and ability to play an instrument are the real determinants of what a quality musician is

Talking points:

You can gently remind him that the same argument was used against rock / r' 'n r' when it first appeared.

Musicianship is not limited to technique. The Beatles, the Stones or the Ramones did not become famous because of their technique but because they could compose and carry a tune that people loved. By this measure, everyone woukd be listening to experimental classical/jazz.

What about hip hop musicians who produce rock or pop albums of other bands? It's an acknowledgment of their musical vision.

Life's short, so you might as well listen to everything you like without any 1-upmanship.
posted by ersatz at 7:18 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here is why your friend is wrong:

A genre is only useful for getting a general sense of what markers or signifiers a piece of work has. Everything else - everything - is up to the person or people making the song.

It is impossible to say that working in one genre requires more talent than another, because there are Godawful rock/pop songs and absolutely incredible hip hop/rap songs.

Thing is, I'm getting the sense that your friend's idea of rap is the usual bullshit "My name is x and I'm here to say," etc.

Not to disparage guitarists or anything, but your friend is being a dope if he's going to pretend that it takes more talent to strum a guitar and sing than it does to do this. And yeah, Busta makes it sound easy, because that's what talented people do.

Check it out:

His position was that singing ability and ability to play an instrument are the real determinants of what a quality musician is, absent any production/voice altering like autotune/etc.

This is a lot like whenever someone uses a sample and some idiot declares that hip hop sucks because its performers can't write their own music - neatly missing the point of using the sample. The music in rap comes from the words, the flow, the inflection, the rhythm. As someone mentioned up above, sometimes people freestyle unaccompanied by anything at all, and it's brilliant (sometimes it is also awful, but that's true of any form). Your friend is gauging musicianship by a completely different standard than any rappers aim for. Rather than measuring them by what they're trying to do, he's measuring them by what he feels they should be trying to do and declaring them inferior.

Imagine a proposed fight between a Bengal tiger and a Great White shark. When asked to place one's bets, your friend is insisting that the tiger would win because of its superior balance and agility, instead of asking whether the fight's taking place in a tropical forest or open water.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:28 AM on September 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


If your friend is interested in being persuaded otherwise I would highly recommend Jay-Z's book Decoded because I found it to be written for people who "don't get it".

NYTimes article:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/09/t-magazine/the-house-that-hova-built
posted by skrozidile at 7:44 AM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is it a valid position? Yes, but an incredibly narrow-minded one.

Performing with an instrument? How about this kind of guy? Does your friend mprovise his lyrics and his instrumentation?
posted by cmoj at 7:47 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


As you grow up you come to the realisation that there is Fantastic music and there is Rubbish music, and those are the only two "genres" that ACTUALLY matter. I grew up on a solid diet of "four - yes, white - lads with long hair on guitars", and I remember being cynical about sampling. Then I discovered electronic music that wasn't on Top of the Pops. Giving examples of the hip-hop etc artists that first blew my mind would be beside the point. There is a LOT of dreck out there, and a LOT of it is utterly uninspired, unoriginal, unessential guitar+songaboutlurve that gets away with murder through tradition and marketing, never mind any more sinister social factors. I used to despise jazz and country "on principle", now I have been confronted with tunes in those styles that are incredibly precious to me. I used to listen to Rage against the Machine for the lyrics, for god's sake. Your friend's argument will resolve itself as he matures. Music is everywhere and music will express itself through the medium of people however it damm well chooses to.
posted by runincircles at 7:51 AM on September 28, 2012


Get your friend to produce some rap vocals. They are not easy, and very, very challenging as I found out. To answer your question, of course it needs talent. Just a very different sort.
posted by TrinsicWS at 7:53 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hip hop and rap artists experiment in tone, rhythm, lyrics, rhyme scheme, the beauty in repetition, cleverness, projecting personality, talking oneself up. The genre has far progressed beyond sampling. There are acclaimed artists that mainly sample (like J Dilla) and other artists that use a combination or mostly compose their own music (N.E.R.D.). Even 'just sampling' requires the artist to choose the best parts and stitch them together in a wonderful way over carefully-chosen-and-programmed drums. If your friend doesn't think that rappers have talent, he should try to flow over the A Milli instrumental and see if he can make it half as catchy as Lil Wayne did. It will be really hard! :)
posted by semaphore at 7:56 AM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here is what you need to do.

Adopt, temporarily, the opinion that forget rap and forget rock - real musicanship is jazz. One guy with a guitar, playing a simple three-chord pattern in a 4/4 beat? Feh - try improvisational solos on a pentatonic scale and a 7/4 time signature. And still being able to play over a band and have the whole thing still sound cohesive.

...You know - spin it out like that. This is going to get your friend feeling very defensive, no doubt. And then when he starts to argue that "but rock is different from jazz," that's when you say "and hip-hop is different from rock. Get it?"

....Or, when he starts going on like that, just say "whatever, dude," and change the subject.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:02 AM on September 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh, yeah, another thing - he should go to some place where people really DJ - I mean, blend stuff together, mix it, put unexpected things together so that they make a new music out of all this other music. Getting the chance to hear some local DJs who do that also really expanded my mind....and when I played some music for events (with less music to choose from and no fancy equipment) I was inspired by what I'd heard and realized how difficult and exciting it was to mix things together so that they said more and said new things.

Seriously, rockist people tend to be big music nerds, and there is a whole world of music nerderie out there in sampling.

I can't express how much pleasure I've gotten out of listening to new forms of music and figuring out what makes them tick, or even imagining new mixes and uses of samples that I don't have the skills to do. It is sort of like getting a new sense - things that were right there in the world that I could not perceive, now I can start to perceive them. That is maybe the most persuasive argument I can think of: learning to listen intelligently to a new kind of music is pleasure.
posted by Frowner at 8:30 AM on September 28, 2012


If you want a bit of rhetorical (rather than forensic) jujitsu, ask your friend if he's familiar with why The Beatles stopped touring.

(Hint: because they decided that the studio WAS the instrument. Among other things, but this is rhetoric, not logic)
posted by digitalprimate at 9:02 AM on September 28, 2012


Hi! I am a working classical vocalist. I don't play any instruments, but if your friend wants to believe I'm not a real musician, I have a handful of recordings and a whole lot of symphony performances that can argue otherwise.

Your friend's argument is bullshit.

First of all, he's using a guitar as his benchmark?! There is no instrument that it is easier to get music out of than a guitar, except possibly a ukulele. It's FRETTED, for god's sake! I am clumsy and ham-fisted, and even I can do a G-Em-C-D-G progression. No, I can't do crazy Malmsteen-style 64th-note shredding solos, but neither could Johnny Cash, so that argument's pretty much dead on its face.

Second, your friend may be making a fairly elementary mistake and mistaking a chord progression for music. Hip-hop doesn't rely on harmonic complexity, it relies on rhythmic complexity -- and rhythm is just as musical as melody. The rhythmic complexity of the beat is echoed in the often ridiculously intricate and artistic rhyming structures employed in the rap itself. Check out the Eminem rhyme scheme video linked above for a more academic discussion of this art.

Third, sampling and looping is a straight up art, with a lot of history and precedent within American art and music. (John Cage, Andy Warhol) If he disagrees, he should try it; there are free tools available. Otherwise, he's just arguing from ignorance.

Lastly, his argument pre-supposes that "rap" and "rock" are two utterly distinct genres with no crossover, which ignores all the rappers-with-guitars (Rage Against the Machine, Body Count, countless others) and rock-bands-with-DJs (NIN, Incubus, countless others) that are out there. I mean look, I pulled examples from twenty years ago, this isn't a new phenomenon.

Your friend is cherry-picking data points, artificially narrowing the scope of what is and isn't music (I mean, by his definition, Itzhak Perlman isn't a real musician ffs), and willfully ignoring decades of musical development. The dude is straight up wrong.

(drops mic, walks offstage)
posted by KathrynT at 9:05 AM on September 28, 2012 [21 favorites]


His position was that singing ability and ability to play an instrument are the real determinants of what a quality musician is, absent any production/voice altering like autotune/etc.

This is a fundamentally arbitrary approach to the question that guarantees the result your friend wants. In essence, a guitar is simply a device that one can employ to make sound. It is not meaningfully different from a computer at that level. The true measure of musicianship is not whether one uses a particular method of sound generation, but what one creates with whatever devices one employs. I know little about rap, unfortunately, but I know this: any argument that would elevate Nickelback over Aphex Twin is meritless.
posted by sinfony at 9:15 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


"The true measure of talent" is a value judgement, and therefore subjective. In other words, it's a matter of opinion, there's no "right" opinion, so the argument cannot be won by either side.

"All life is arguments over taste" -- Nietzsche
posted by rhizome at 9:17 AM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


All: I am the person in question. I would like to say that the debate was framed a bit out of context. The discussion involved out of a discussion of current day auto tuned/Justin Beiber music and the worth of it compared to say The Beatles, Springsteen, Radiohead and U2 types of bands.

My statement was that I greatly favored artists with true talent who could actually write, sing and perform with an instrument over someone whose music is written for them, played for them and in some case pre-recorded for them. I was thinking of savants like Tori Amos or Thom Yorke, Jimmi Hendrix or Paul McCartney.

I think at one point I was wondering aloud if there was ANYONE from the last 10 years that was from the Pop/Autotune culture that would be remembered specifically for their music and not their hijinks.

My friend brought up hip hop, as music that may be remembered. I said very distinctly that my *preference* was more towards the rock and pop side and that although there was talented standout hip hop bands, I would still consider someone who wrote, sang and played an instrument (not just a guitar) to have more musical cred then say a typical hip hop artist that was singing to a pre-recorded track and dancing and rapping.

I realize that that is a general statement and also admitted that I didn't know every hip hop artist and that of course there was talent present. However, I made it very clear that this was a preference of mine based on my experience of music. I never said there was no worth or talent in hip hop. I recognize that there are tons of worthless pop and rock bands as well.

I assure you all, Im not a closet racist, I enjoy all kinds of music including rap and hip hop and this is not a case of secret or closet racism. It's simply my viewpoint based on my experience.

I'd love to respond to all the previous posts, but there are too many...
posted by Kerborus at 9:23 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Genres and instruments have different barriers to entry. E.g. (Rap, Rock) < Improvisational Jazz. A lower barrier to entry means there will be more rubbish on the low end and even successful career musicians may not have a lot of technical talent. Rock/pop is an example of this.

Progression from"competent to good to great is not linear and varies from genre to genre (and among instruments that dominate genres). It is super easy to be competent at rock and blues guitar. It takes more work to be competent at classical guitar. I imagine it takes much more effort to just not suck at violin.

Musical depth within a genre doesn't really have a talent limit. That includes rock. Blues improvisation is another example. Great musicians will push the genre and create great music.

Also, if you're going to be genre-ist, rock really isn't the best hill to stand on.

On preview: Kerborus, thanks for the clarification.
posted by stp123 at 9:40 AM on September 28, 2012


The thing is, though, the talentless blandies you're referring to? They've been around FOREVER. There has been a tradition of finding some attractive young thing with a minimum of talent and having them creak out saccharine ballads written by focus group since there's been recorded music. Pre-Autotune, it was more important that they could sing and less important than they could dance, but still. Comparing Thom Yorke with Justin Bieber and saying the difference is one of "era" is being willfully blind to the reality that OK Computer was released in the same year as the Spice Girls' Wannabe.

I would still consider someone who wrote, sang and played an instrument (not just a guitar) to have more musical cred then say a typical hip hop artist that was singing to a pre-recorded track and dancing and rapping.

There are a lot of great musicians who don't compose, and a lot of great musicians who don't sing. Also, that "pre-recorded track"? Was put together BY a "typical hip hop artist." You can't leave that guy out of the picture any more than you can leave out the songwriter in any other band.

I appreciate the clarification also, but I still think you're being reductionist.
posted by KathrynT at 9:50 AM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Kerborus - I wonder if you saw the FPP a while back in which was discussed the in-studio creation of the song Mama Said Knock You Out? I'm curious as to your thoughts about the musicianship evidenced therein.

It's a different KIND of musicianship to be sure - but I would argue that it is still musicianship, as there is still a consideration of which sounds sound good together.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:00 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seconding Can't Stop Won't Stop as a superb chronicle of Hip Hop. A+.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 10:24 AM on September 28, 2012


All: I am the person in question.

So you're mixing apples and oranges right out of the gate. Why aren't Bieber/autotune songwriters considered in your argument? Are the covers that the Beatles did invalid? How about all the gimmicky effects on Sgt. Pepper? Your position is a non-starter. You're annoyed at pop culture and think that it reflects shrinking talent rather than the shrinking territory of your taste. What a drag it is getting old.
posted by rhizome at 10:45 AM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's a great article about what goes into creating a pop smash hit, along the lines of that LL Cool J video.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:56 AM on September 28, 2012


Yes, I'm sure a lot of this comes down to taste. My opinions and how I value what I consider to be worthwhile music is and should be as valid as the next persons, however.

I watched some of the scratch artists and links above and I find it amusing that this is considered 'worthwhile' music. A person who sits down and learns and shows skill on an instrument, who can also truly sing and writes a brilliant song. Then he gets a backing band and producer to collaborate with his talent and vision.

Are some here trying to tell me that the music produced by a guy with four turntables, taking already recorded music and spinning the records backwards and forwards is as great a creation? No matter how showily they do it, it's a manipulation of music and not creation. While there is talent and entertainment value in this, I for one, don't consider it a higher art music art form than the first example I gave.

Again, I am not saying that there is no talent in the second example, in the making of LL Cool J music (which I liked), or in a focus group of executives writing a song for Bieber to sing and dance to. There is definitely talent and entertainment there. I guess it comes down to what *I* respect most. I'm trying to learn an instrument and I like to sing myself. In doing these things I realize the extreme talent that some of the musicians I mentioned possess and thus, they have my respect. Seeing a cute kid sing and dance to a pre-written song or watching a guy dance and scratch records holds my interest less. But that's JUST ME.

For the Beatles reference, the Beatles created the modern R n' R industry out of what existed at the time, including all those 'gimmicky' (some would call groundbreaking) effects. Their covers are great and of their time.

For the last comment about getting old, we are all getting older day by day. I hated shallow music just as much when I was 16 as I do now in my late 30's. However, I still keep up with bands today and frequently enjoy them - inside of and outside of my wheelhouse.
posted by Kerborus at 11:32 AM on September 28, 2012


Is there maybe more commodification of music now than there was in the past? Like, has that big budget mass production of the hit machine that is pop music become more prolific and maybe even better over the years? My somewhat self-important perspective is that I don't listen to the garbage produced by the hit machine, and therefore all of the music I listen to has the quality that the op's friend is lamenting the lack of, but it seems like that is the crux of the argument: aww geez, music produced for the masses by the machine sucks, if you compare it to music that's crafted by a person or a few with real love and passion. But if you just don't listen to that junk, who even cares about it. That's my solution.
posted by idzyn at 11:32 AM on September 28, 2012


Even with the clarification, the disagreement is still full of classic logical fallacies. I point you both to this nifty poster: http://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/
posted by desuetude at 11:34 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nevermind - I see now that the crux of the argument is some arbitrary idea of some instruments being harder to play than others. I'm out.
posted by idzyn at 11:40 AM on September 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


I thought that it was pretty cool that Kerborus came to the thread and explained his position.
posted by onlyconnect at 11:42 AM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ater suggesting a quick look at Duchamp's Fountain, for a reminder once again on the need to define quality in this thread.
posted by idzyn at 11:43 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


My opinions and how I value what I consider to be worthwhile music is and should be as valid as the next persons, however.

It's only worthwhile if you can back it up. Saying "I don't like it" is fine, saying "it's not worthwhile" is going to require some more citation.

Is Johnny Cash worthy of respect? Aretha Franklin? Elvis? Joshua Bell? Glenn Gould? Charlie Parker? Frank Sinatra?

I've tried my hand at both guitar and turntabling, and I will tell you, playing the guitar is emphatically NOT harder than scratching records. Feel free to dislike hiphop, but saying "it's not worthwhile" based on what you've said so far is nonsense.
posted by KathrynT at 11:43 AM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm trying to learn an instrument and I like to sing myself. In doing these things I realize the extreme talent that some of the musicians I mentioned possess and thus, they have my respect.

Have you also written and performed some raps and figured that your lyrics and cadence are as good or better than Nas (or Rakim, or insert acclaimed rapper of your choice)? If so, you have my respect.
posted by subtle-t at 12:03 PM on September 28, 2012


Jimi Hendrix was certainly not afraid of playing music that other people had written. I don't think he would agree with your argument.
posted by Quonab at 12:07 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would still consider someone who wrote, sang and played an instrument (not just a guitar) to have more musical cred then say a typical hip hop artist that was singing to a pre-recorded track and dancing and rapping.

But how much do you actually know about hip hop/rap? If someone is a connoisseur of rock/pop and has a deep and broad understanding of it, they certainly can claim some authority on cred and talent. Just as someone is is a connoisseur of hip-hop and has a broad and deep knowledge of it can claim that same authority. You can claim some serious cred when you know your stuff on both fronts.

That you think that hip-hop is just about music produced by a guy with four turntables, taking already recorded music and spinning the records backwards and forwards betrays a deep ignorance about the medium.

Don't make judgments on things you don't understand. Really, just don't. I've made an ass out of myself enough times doing this to know what I am talking about.

It's not just apples and oranges. It's eating every variety of apple on Earth and declaring apples superior after only a sip orange juice from concentrate.

My opinions and how I value what I consider to be worthwhile music is and should be as valid as the next persons, however.

Well no. Not all opinions are equally valid and valuable. You get to decide what you value and find worthwhile to you. You are the authority on your tastes, sensibilities and values. However, you get into trouble when you start to make sweeping claims about what is Talented, Valuable and Worthwhile in music when you don't fully understand the mediums you are comparing.

Said differently, the more informed the opinion and taste, the more weight it carries and the more value it has. Without that quality, discussions about any art pretty much boil down to "I like it!" "I don't!"
posted by space_cookie at 12:21 PM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that what we tend to forget when comparing "old" music to "new" music we tend to forget that a huge proportion of what was popular "old" music, we never hear. We get a distillation of the best, most affecting, and most popular works of time gone by, as long as they're universal enough to stay relevant through the passage of time. It's easy to forget that music in the '70s or '60s or '50s was just as trite and trasy as music now- but time has erased most of what wasn't able to keep people engaged. A lot of music is like fashion; people don't expect it to last forever. It's something to pay attention to right now, that's all. If you want the good stuff, you have to seek it out.

We're also going to have a special affection for older or more familiar forms of music simply because they've become part of the cultural landscape; culture is highly self-referential, and the more we're exposed to something, the more we'll normalize it. The Beatles, for instance. Sure, the Beatles put out a lot of fantastic and innovative music. But they also put out a lot of shitty pop music, and if they hadn't changed their style, they'd probably have been forgotten. But now, because they made such a big impact, they're with us as definitively "good" music, regardless of the fact that a lot of their music was really nothing special. So if we're exposed to music that follows in the tradition of the Beatles, we're likely to assume that it has some merit, even though it's no longer innovative or exciting or unpredictable.

Another important factor to consider is that because all forms of culture are highly self-referential, and that quality has become something that we look for in culture (for example, jazz artists singing eachother's songs, or guitar soloists playing a few riffs of something familiar before weaving it into their own song, or poets using lines from older poems, or tv shows doing a gag from an older tv show or referencing a song, or a novel alluding to a poem, or etc etc)

and that it gives us a little thrill when an artist or piece of media does this- thrills us because they're speaking to us in a special way, giving us the chance to be in on culture's in-joke with itself-

since this is such an important, even neccessary, part of culture, I'd argue that the ability to compose an entire work made out of nothing but other works that refer to or connect with one another in a way that the audience can appreciate is actually the pinnacle of artistic achievement.

To be less philosophical and more practical, at the end of the day, using turntables is an equally valid kind of instrumentation as playing a guitar. It's just a different set of skills. Instead of having a vast repository of chords and fingerings, the player needs to have a vast repository of coordinating and contrasting beats, rythms, vocals and melodies available to them. It's a different process, but it doesn't require any less skill.

I mean, take a person who weaves fabric and a person who makes beautiful quilts out of scraps of fabric cut from worn out clothes and blankets. You can't say that the quilt-maker is less talented than the weaver, just because the weaver starts from scratch. In a way, the quiltmaker starts from scratch too.
posted by windykites at 12:32 PM on September 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


> Is there maybe more commodification of music now than there was in the past? Like, has that big budget mass production of the hit machine that is pop music become more prolific and maybe even better over the years?

Oh, I don't think so. It's got nothin' on the early 60s.

> For the Beatles reference, the Beatles created the modern R n' R industry out of what existed at the time, including all those 'gimmicky' (some would call groundbreaking) effects. Their covers are great and of their time.

The Beatles certainly did not create the modern rock and roll industry, they were a product of it.
posted by desuetude at 1:50 PM on September 28, 2012


This type of shit happens every day.
posted by box at 5:47 PM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Piggybacking on windykites comment, I am surprised that no one has mentioned Girl Talk. As a valid and successful musical artist who has also created new songs entirely out of samples from other songs, they seem to embody the exact musician that Kerborus would love to despise, but even then, Girl Talk accomplishes something that most people would not be able to do. How many people could honestly say that they could listen to all the songs in their itunes library and then compile them together to create entirely new songs? As someone who identifies as a musician (I play many instruments, including guitar and being able to carry a (mostly in) tune) I can say without hesitation that there is no way I have the skills to accomplish that. It is just a totally different skill set than performing on an instrument. In a similar way that shooting and editing digital photography is an entirely different skill set than shooting and developing analog photography is. I think that what has happened to music (and art in general) is that with the advent of new technology, we have created new and interesting ways to express ourselves and our scope has increased exponentially. Perhaps so much and so fast that is is hard to wrap our brains around some of this technology as being in the same category as music that we have been listening to for 50 years.

Also, I must say, Kerborus, I am pretty impressed that you identified yourself in a thread that started out as a total pile on.
posted by ruhroh at 8:06 PM on September 28, 2012


Yeah, 2nding freestyling, is your friend aware of this? You have to make up rap lyrics on the spot.
posted by Tom-B at 6:49 AM on September 30, 2012


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