As someone has probably already realized, I have not been updating this lately. There are two reasons why I haven’t written: first, I’m taking three graduate class right now which are demanding a lot from me, and second, I’m talking to someone about writing for a magazine with similar themes as those I’ve been discussing here. Since my inspiration in the last few months has been sucked dry by school, I decided to save those few ideas I do have until I know what will happen with this writing opportunity.
Before school got into full swing I was able to start the following fragment on Hip-Hop and music in general. I decided to post in here, unedited, since I won’t be able to write anything new until some time in December. On that note, the Chapter Five that I posted before this is also for the most part unedited.
I have recently been spending some time on that great life-taker the “Internet Forum.” In particular I was involved in a lively debate over at ArtsandFaith.com—a great site. The topic got around to what makes good Christian Hip-Hop. I pointed to my previous blogs on the subject wherein I argue that there should be certain difference between secular and Christian music—a difference that must transcend lyrics. It is this idea that I am going to explore a bit more here.
One of the things that have historically held popular music in general from being treated on the same level as other Art is the fact that many musicians do not consider their works as a whole. (A Marxist would disagree with me here, suggesting that the only true separation is along class lines. Elitist members of society create Artistic rules and structures in order to systematically renounce pop music as useless. Oddly enough it is pop music that helps make the rich, richer and to establish materialistic philosophies as the norm in our culture. But that is for another post…) It is not uncommon to here a singer talk about how a lyric expresses or says this or that, but rarely do they attempt to explain what the music expresses or says. This is due, in part, to a belief that music does not have tangible communicative properties. Lyrics can speak, music can only make people “feel.” Therefore, many musicians fail to even attempt to communicate through their instruments. Another reason for this is that most popular music is made by people who do not think in artistic terms (a fault of our world’s retreat from intelligence and critical thinking). Most rock bands are made up of young teenagers, whose goals are more often than not to let out aggression, be popular, and meet girls.
For most pop music this problem of uniting the themes of the lyrics and the power of the music is very difficult. The ability to have a four piece band all understand and agree (even in a general way) on a theme and work together successfully to express that theme is daunting. The few bands that are able to do this are often headed by diabolical singers or the members communicate exceptionally well: I.E. Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins….etc. Making a song with four members of a band, where each member has an instrument, and each instrument has a part, means that there are many opportunities for the theme to be diluted.
Imagine if the theme of the song is love, as it often is. The lead singer writes the lyrics to the song and a basic chord progression on guitar and takes it into the band for them to learn. In his lyrics the focus is upon the difficulty of finding true love. Lets assume that he tells the band that this is the theme (something that in my experience is rarely done---most of the time the singer just plays and sings the song and the band ignores his words and pays attention to the melody and the music…but I’ll give our fictional rock star the benefit of the doubt.), and they each begin learning the song. Even if they are conscious of the theme, they will each have their own interpretation of what “true love” means. Thus the process of interpretation has begun before the Artist has finished the work. Sometimes this can be helpful, by “pooling” their visions of a theme together they can make a work that better communicates to the listener. But my point here is that there are several points where the theme can become watered down and diverted. In the case of Hip-Hop this problem can be minimized simply because it does not require so many people in order to produce the song. In reality, all that is necessary is a producer and a rapper, and often times these are one in the same.