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March 14, 2010 11:31 AM   Subscribe

What is it I like about these hip-hop musicians?

I'm not very well versed in rap and hip hop, though i like it. I'm very picky about it too. I really like what I like and don't care at all about the other stuff. Examples:

I love Busdriver, but don't care for Abstract Rude, the group from whence Busdriver came.

In the same vein, but different style, Wu Tang doesn't do a lot for me, but Gravediggaz definitely does.

Another. I can't even stand most "90's sounding" rap... Kriss Kross, Ice T, whatever, but Utramagnetic MCs are awesome.

I have the vague idea that I prefer some qualities of people's tracks to another's, but I can't articulate much about it. I'm not really used to be unable to talk about art, and it's frustrating and slightly embarrassing when people recommend that I try, say, Jay-Z because I like Kanye and Kid Cudi and I literally never like their suggestion enough to bring it into my musicsphere. I mean, I can talk about why I prefer Neil Young to Bob Dylan, or Megadeth to Metallica, but not these.

My real hope is that someone can help me identify what it is about these artists (I've pretty much used my current favorites as examples) that differentiates them from others like them and/or ties them together, but accurate recommendations would also be nice.
posted by cmoj to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do you like Public Enemy? or Top Back from TI
posted by Rubbstone at 12:05 PM on March 14, 2010

You could try creating a "station" on Pandora starting with Busdriver, then manually add Gravediggaz and the other artists you like. I believe there's a button somewhere that will then tell you what factors the artists have in common.
posted by aheckler at 12:07 PM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are there any other artists you can cite that you like/don't like? Are you focusing on the music or the lyrics. The delivery? The flow? I don't know a lot about busdriver and abstract rude, but I have heard a song or two. It seems to me you favor more creative, more laid back stuff.

Maybe you can go into some of the lines you like and we can compare line vs line.
posted by cashman at 12:12 PM on March 14, 2010

Response by poster: I do like Public Enemy, though they're not in rotation now. I like the track you link to pretty well, too.

sheckler: I'm pretty sure I've done that before without much success. Maybe I'll try again.

I thought of something that might indicate something. I find that the sound of groups that rely heavily on (the aesthetic of) extemporaneous flows gets homogenous and old quickly. That said, I'm pretty sure that there's a lot of improvisation in Beneath the Surface, which is what sucked me in in the first place.

It's easier for me to talk about artists that it's apparently unusual for me not to like. Tupac is the main one. I recognize his skill as a wordsmith, but I've never heard a Tupac track that grabbed me. ODB is usually the same, though I've heard tracks I like okay. I don't care for most of the big names now, like Jay-Z or R. Kelly. The Roots have gotten stale, as have The Black Eyed Peas. Years ago I liked Outkast, but now they seem cheesy to me.Oppositely unusual, I kinda like Soulja Boy.

I'll try to think of more specific lines I like. I do hear people complain sometimes about forced rhymes, like, say, "finish" with "isn't it", but I like a pseudo-rhyme shoehorned in there. Also, a good turn of phrase is always nice, but there's a line in some Gorillaz song, "dig it like a spigot," which is an almost cringeworthy rhyme that means nothing , but I like anyway.

In the case of my favorite for a while now, Busdriver, I can hardly ever even understand him, but when I can finally pick out what he's saying it's always surprising and satisfying. One that sticks in my mind is, "When i hear a wack tape I tend to lactate a milk that's luke warm."

I wonder if this is helping...
posted by cmoj at 1:02 PM on March 14, 2010

With the possible exception of the wiggedy-wiggedy stuff, the '90s sound' seems to me to be more about the production than about the emcees. Do you like both Gravediggaz albums equally (I don't count Nightmare in A Minor), or do you prefer one or the other?

Honestly, I'm having some trouble finding the common factor. Just for shits and giggles, why do you prefer Neil Young and Megadeth to Bob Dylan and Metallica?

To reiterate for the benefit of people who are trying to find commonalities: you like Kanye, Kid Cudi, Busdriver, Gravediggaz and Ultramagnetic, but you don't like Jay-Z, Wu-Tang, Abstract Rude, Ice-T or Kriss Kross.
posted by box at 1:07 PM on March 14, 2010

Hmm. Do you like Aesop Rock? When do you think the Roots became stale, and why? What about the Black Eyed Peas?
posted by box at 1:21 PM on March 14, 2010

Response by poster: The Pick, the Sickle, and the Shovel is the Gravediggaz I prefer. But yeah, that's my problem. These guys are only vaguely related by genre. I just know what I like when I hear it, but I can't just listen to every single rapper out there to find new hip-hop.

I prefer Neil Young because at his best writing he's equal to Dylan in the same way that at his best musically (playing with The Band, and mostly due to The Band) Dylan is equal to Young. The difference is Young always puts out a good song while I feel like most of Dylan's stuff, especially later, is a good poem slapped on top of some music. More abstractly, Dylan's songs are about what they're about, and he explores whatever that is thoroughly, but Young's songs are about whatever they're about (if they're "about" anything AND everything else. "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat" is about his relationship with a woman who he likes for her style, a complicated enough subject. "After the Goldrush" is about some kind of fair, being high, and a spaceship, but also about wildly different but equally acceptable things for different people. I find a very satisfying interpretation to be that it's about Kennedy, the space race, and the Cold War, but I've never heard this interpretation elsewhere.

I feel like Metallica perpetuated their own cliches, doing damage to popular hard rock/metal that is probably irreversible. They wank in almost every song... complicated, difficult rhythms and riffs for the sake of showing their chops and not for the song. Megadeth stumbles into difficulty when the song calls for it. The singer's voice is un-self-consciously nonconforming to the metal cliche. Also, I'm still mad about the whole Napster thing.
posted by cmoj at 1:35 PM on March 14, 2010

Response by poster: Ah, Aesop Rock was the one i was trying to think of writing my OP. I don't care for Aesop Rock, but love The Herbalizer.

The Roots became stale when ?estlove seemed to lose interest. I saw "them" at Coachella a few years ago and it was just ?est, a bass, a keyboard and some kid with a tuba. It was awesome, but it felt like an unrelated side project arbitrarily billed as The Roots. Jimmy Fallon isn't helping either.

The Black Eyed Peas, I think I just drifted away from in the same way as Outkast.
posted by cmoj at 1:39 PM on March 14, 2010

I am thinking you like the sing-songy, loose style of the 80s, and of people influenced by that era, rather than the tighter, more "flow" oriented stuff of the 90s and later which is designed to sound effortless and show off the rapper's skills.

Tell me what you think of these tracks:
Run-DMC, Rock Box
Master J and Michael Dee, TSOB
Rakim, When I B on Tha Mic
posted by shadow vector at 1:42 PM on March 14, 2010

Best answer: I really think the answer is you like the kind of rap where the rapper's delivery is just another instrument reinforcing the music. The soulja boy and Tupac clue nailed it for me. You want the way the rapper delivers to intensify the perceived qualities coming from the music itself like Turn my Swag on from Soulja boy does a good job of. Jay and Tupac do follow the beat but they don't mimic or add to the musical qualities of the song. They have an almost percussive rap without any melodic or harmonic qualities. Is this close?
posted by Rubbstone at 2:20 PM on March 14, 2010

The Busdriver track made me think of this DJ Format track.
posted by thecjm at 2:26 PM on March 14, 2010

Response by poster: shadow vector, All three are just okay to me. Of those I like the Run DMC the best.

thecjm: I like that.

Rubbstone! Yes! That clicked. I think you're exactly right. Now, is there a term or something that applies to this quality?
posted by cmoj at 3:02 PM on March 14, 2010

I went to wikipedia and just none of the descriptions really fit. I guess Harmonize could work.
posted by Rubbstone at 5:49 PM on March 14, 2010

I think those terms thecjm used would be the best. What a rapper does as a vocalist versus what a singer does is generally a completely different artform. Even those who rap, sing and blend them know that they're blending different artforms.

The role of rapper is more theater (writer/director/actor) and spirit guide. In Hip Hop culture, words are sacred and a rappers approach to the craft is more an expression of how he can captivate an audience and deliver something significant with his words.

This might come from writing something with an extremely intricate rhyme structure or writing something simple and catchy. They may captivate by the words that they use or how they use those words. Because most of criticism which falls on rappers regards writing, it may be best to specify when you're not talking about the rappers lyrics so much as delivery. Apparently you specifically like when a rapper can utilize his vocals as an instrument accenting the music. You should say it just like that.

Hip Hop music is big theater. In the same way that all singers, bands and comedy acts are essentially "artists" playing a role, this theater is very played up in Hip Hop music. The actual music is not a group of musicians performing live (with exception) but rather music beds orchestrated by a creative engineer. Instead of singer/songwriters and studio singers, for vocals you have street poets and party hosts. Essentially Hip Hop music is about beats and rhymes which means stage and dialogue!
posted by justflux at 5:51 PM on March 14, 2010

I thought about it and for some reason the word for the raps you don't like it perhaps monotone so the opposite would be vibrato. Which to my mind sounds right.
posted by Rubbstone at 10:06 AM on March 21, 2010

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