Music provides an outlet for people to express themselves freely. Over time the styles and categories of music have changed. Some of the changes can be associated with the popularity of different artists branching out, by blending various genres, or is a direct result of censorship issues. Each time an artist blends a genre, adds a different instrument, breaking away from traditional “norms” etc., they are finding new ways to express themselves. This is one of the reasons why different musical genres all seem drastically different from one another. In order to study some of the differences and similarities within different genres, one can look at a few different genres and learn how they stand out from the others. By doing this, audience members can fully understand how artists follow certain musical guidelines per genre as well as how they alter them. Three genres one could examine include: disco, rap, and grunge. By looking at popular artists, their songs, the instruments used, the historical context – one can become more well-rounded when being able to identify different elements used in any song regardless of the genre or time period.
Rap music has an extremely interesting origin. The way it emerged truly stems from self expression. African American and Latino communities in New York helped with its development in the 1970’s. The way it started “as a musical form, rap was one element of a larger hip-hop culture, alongside graffiti art, street dance styles such as breaking and popping, and trends in fashion surrounding this movement”. These modes of creativity allowed artists to explore their bodies and voices in new ways. They would have break dance performances that attracted larger crowds, and often times they would have a DJ playing hip-hop music. Sometimes the DJ’s would “employ an MC, or ‘master of ceremonies,’ to comment on the music and encourage the partygoers”. Eventually, some of the earlier MC’s would slowly begin rapping which is how rap developed.
When I typically think of rap music, I usually think of gangsta rap. The first rapper that came to mind was Schoolly D. Schoolly D is considered to be the first gangsta rapper (Insert Source Here). One of his most famous songs is “P.S.K. What Does it Mean?” which was released in 1985 on Schoolly D’s independent record label.
Rhythm Composer, David Corio, writer for the Rolling Stones website writes: “the drums kept coming in off-beat at the top of each phrase ending. This was the second phase of the blues, because there was a structure similar to how the blues was structured: blues gave us 1/4/5/1 chord structure. ‘P.S.K.’ was modeled the same way” (Corio). The drums seem to set the pace for the entire song while being slightly distracting to fully listen to the lyrics, which seems to almost be done on purpose. The majority of Schoolly D’s seems to follow the example John Covach and Andrew Flory give of some gangsta rap lyrics: “they explore the same themes of urban life that had been addressed by black musicians decades earlier, although often in a more graphic and angry manner”. Schoolly D’s song contains rather explicit lyrics about prostitution, gang violence, drugs, and urban life. This was actually considered of the (if not the) first hardcore rap songs.
However, other rap songs seemed to be somewhat of a middle ground between two different genres. One of my favorite songs by the Beastie Boys, released in 1987 by Def Jam and Columbia records. Further studying music in general, I always thought of this song to be a blend between rock and punk. My assumptions seem to be valid as: “The Beastie Boys had originally been active in the New York hardcore punk scene, but transitioned into the emerging hip-hop scene in the early 1980s”. This being said, they actually fall into the category Rap Rock. Rap Rock incorporates different vocal and instrumental elements of hip-hop and tossing in various forms of rock music. This song seems to do just that by including heavy riffs and beats, yet the majority of the vocals are not sung – they are rapped. When I watched the music video, I still felt more of a rock vibe, but I can hear some of the elements of hip hop and even some of their movement on stage can slight represent breaking.
Combining different musical elements is sometimes something the artist takes on (think of the Beastie Boys), or they are attending an event that has a different image in mind. For example, “Nirvana” was perhaps the most significant of the ‘grunge’ bands that came out of Seattle in the first half of the 1990s. When they performed for MTV’s, Unplugged in New York a lot of fans (including myself) were surprised yet very impressed. Typically grunge music follows patterns of punk rock, alternative rock, and heavy metal. This is something that Nirvana seems to perfect. They tend to use loud electric guitars with high levels of distortion. They also tend to use loud amplifiers to help create the distorted sound. They also used electric basses. They also had drums. The electric basses followed a lot of the same patterns with the distorted sound. The vocals, were also a bit harsh and distorted. Nirvana’s song “Come As You Are” follows several of these patterns. It starts off with Kurt Cobain playing an unaccompanied guitar riff. The song starts off at a relatively low volume and then reaches full volume by the time of the chorus.