Bob Dylan, The Clash and Arcade Fire have played the soundtrack to my college career, but hip-hop made me the Album Analyzer.
I never thought of music as more than a filler for awkward silence, and country music composed my entire CD collection until I heard Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” the summer before seventh grade. In a three-minute snippet, West crafted a beat with more layers than an onion, incorporated more references to outside sources than an academic, and put his personal spin on the song’s topic through concise anecdotes.
West wasn’t the only one — not even close. Jay-Z’s charisma, The Game’s grittiness and Lupe Fiasco’s street-spun introspection made for what I thought was music’s most diverse, ever-evolving and best genre.
Most people on Dixie State University’s campus wouldn’t agree.
As the Album Analyzer, I don’t seek to belittle people’s music taste or even change my readers’ preferences. I do, however, encourage people to listen to all genres with an open mind; that’s why I don’t immediately put earplugs in when my roommate blares today’s top country hits.
So here are four qualities to listen for next time you hear hip-hop:
Critics tied the writing styles of literary rivals Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner to their home regions in the mid-20th century; Hemingway opted for to-the-point conciseness as a Midwesterner, they said, while Faulkner’s Southern roots had him deploying 100-word sentences.
The work of these two giants seemed to uncover more information about their stomping grounds than an atlas, and hip-hop accomplishes the same thing.
A$AP Rocky’s 2013 posse cut “1Train” exemplifies rap’s numerous regional flavors in one track. Here, Rocky, Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson represent the East Coast; Yelawolf and Big K.R.I.T. add Southern flare; and Kendrick Lamar and Danny Brown hail from the west and Midwest, respectively — each incorporating elements of culture from those areas in their verses.
“There were empires in Africa called Kush / Timbuktu, where every race came to get books / to learn from black teachers who taught Greeks and Romans,” NaS spits on 2002’s “I Can,” disproving opinions that hip-hop is all cars, money and weed.
Through hip-hop, I learned of Malcolm X, Fred Hampton’s murder and other significant events not in this sheltered state’s history curriculum.
Rap’s critics say you shouldn’t take anything a hip-hop artist raps seriously. But what makes rappers’ takes on history less valid than that of the racist, older family member or history teacher with a conservative agenda those same critics say you should respect?
Producers receive a ton of flack for sampling other artists’ work from hip-hop haters. “Why can’t they be original like yesterday’s rock ‘n’ roll groups?” they ask.
To that question, I laugh.
If you can find a Led Zeppelin or Eric Clapton track that doesn’t borrow early blues artists’ music, I will give you $10. Also, sampling is like sources for a research paper: Rap producers utilize them to mesh with their own ideas, showing their influences and expanding on those influences’ ideas at the same time.
Kendrick Lamar should’ve won a Pulitzer Prize for 2012’s “good kid, m.A.A.d.city”; that’s how much appreciation Album Analyzer holds for MCs who incorporate literary techniques into their raps.
“Now I done grew up around some people living their life in bottles / Granddaddy had the golden flask, backstroke every day in Chicago,” he opens in “Swimming Pools (Drank).”
In just the track’s first two lines, listeners gain a sense of place, conflict and character development.
Now tell me rappers talk fast without really saying anything.