By Akash Vasishta
I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of people gripe about music in today’s radio and on TV. Or you could possibly enjoy our current music. Regardless, understanding what’s played on the airwaves, coming from a musical perspective, can be a different experience.
I grew up listening to a lot of popular music, but that was back when rock was more prevalent. If you can understand what time signatures and scales, pitch and key are, then perhaps you can understand my distaste with modern music, particularly hip-hop.
Many of the beats you’ll hear today behind a Lil’ Wayne or Rick Ross track might sound beastly (if you’ll humor me). I mean hell, turn up a subwoofer and blast it and the whole car shakes and you have something to head bang to. But have you really paid any attention to the music in the background? I know it sounds great, but there’s more to the music.
I’m a producer, and I know my way around a program called Fruity Loops Studio, or FL for short. From it, I guarantee you I can replicate any hip-hop, house or what have you made in the last few years. It’s really not that difficult, and chord progressions and beats are recycled over and over and over and over again.
Take Rick Ross, for example. His last album “Teflon Don” featured two beats that sound virtually the same. “Blowin Money Fast” and “M.C. Hammer” are both produced by Lex Luger, a prominent producer in hip-hop. They both have the same simple orchestral-sounding progression with the same exact 808 percussion over them. Producers like Lex Luger make millions off of minute-creativity. Not to mention Ross isn’t even 1/10 of what he says he is, or eats.
There’s no accountability in rap anymore. Gone are the days when we had Biggie and Tupac— two reliably disturbed individuals who had real lives that they could express in the form of poetry, which is what rap really is. It seems like the focus on the music went down the drain with the lyrics. Another famous producer, Bangladesh, produced “A Milli” for artist Lil’ Wayne. Did you ever think “A Milli” kind of sounded like “6 Foot 7 Foot?” That’s because Bangladesh produced that too, as well as “Breakup” by Gucci Mane.
Let’s not even get started with Gucci Mane. Whatever affirmative action let the Special Olympics put this rapper out to stardom must’ve been enacted by the government to intentionally dumb down the populace. Not only is he virtually incomprehensible, he has no particularly clever lyrics to offer the world. Regardless, his fans can perpetuate the cycle of garbage by simply pointing out the ever-profound statement of our modern age: “but he gettin’ money!” I’ve seen this excuse used by plenty of his fans to excuse his existence. It’s the same excuse they use to support his cohort, Waka Flocka Flames.
I realize I’m being incredibly harsh, and I don’t mean to, but I’m just annoyed at where the general direction of music is going. I love plenty of hip-hop: Black Star, Jedi Mind Tricks, Twista, Pac, Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Common, Kanye West, Jay-Z, the Alchemist and even DMX once in a while. These artists stick to a meaning or a message. The only exception is DMX, who I mostly listen to in order to learn how to yell at people and make them scared of me. There’s an extension of themselves in their writing, and it’s apparent. I mean who can ignore everyone’s favorite unstable celeb, Kanye West? He is a godsend in terms of production. He writes beautiful orchestral pieces going to bombastic ethnic-ish percussive beats, elevating him far above his peers. And his music mirrors his stupidlife choices under the spotlight of stardom, and he tells his story it with his own unfiltered words, as well as with the music.
Regardless, there is an extremely commercial side to hip-hop, and that’s probably because record labels realized so early on that rap is easy to sell. It relates to our social media in general. Everything that’s put out sells the life of someone famous, and listening to a rap song now is like vicariously existing in that carefree lifestyle for 3 or so minutes. Then, of course, you wake up and realize that you’re not remotely that well off and go protest Wall Street or watch Entourage to dose yourself with that heroin again.
From my perspective, I think music tells a story. It can be done with the instruments as well as with lyrics. I like stories. Humans like stories. In fact we absorb them and write them even if we’re not aware of it. So if your most personal stories end up being that you get “higher than a kite,” or believed you were “Big Meech, Larry Hoover, ” or that you got ‘money on money on money on money on top of more money,” then I guess that works if you’re happy. It just doesn’t work for me because I like music that I can listen to and apply to my life. I write music in that vein.
I hope that people can listen to something I make now, or 40 years from now and still interpret themselves through the writing. Modern hip-hop artists come and go like fads, and comparing Big L and Waka Flocka is like comparing filet mignon to those 25 cent gumballs you can get at the mall. People might like chewing gum for 10 minutes, but they’re going to remember the filet mignon for a long time.
I’m still guilty of listening to plenty of these artists. I mean it’s party music. It’s great to listen to when you need to get in the mood “to do work” before heading to Chi Psi and then to Skellar to eat your emotions away from a night of failed attempts. I still think of this kind of music as creeping into all new music in general, so that everything on the billboard just sounds like a blurry mix of everything that’s been played on the radio for the last 5 years until the movie “Idiocracy” comes to fruition and we vote in Donald Trump as president.
There’s still always music you can listen to on your own, and if you’re using popular media to inform your music choices, you don’t have to. I listen to weird music, and I won’t stop. I like learning from the fringe artists, and if people at the fringe stop writing, creativity dies. In the end music is personal; listen to what you like to hear and forget what people have to say about it. Follow your heart.
I’m being facetious. Just remember that music is personal. You can learn about yourself through interpreting lyrics. And the melodies help solidify that experience for us. So this is a call to musicians I guess, don’t let the music die, I mean, MTV already took music out of its name. And whatever you do, think outside the box—it’s something the late Steve Jobs always kept in mind, and something we should never forget.