(A Couple Reasons) Why I Love Hip Hop

Posted on September 1, 2012 by


Last week, a friend of mine asked me to give him a little schooling on Hip Hop. The dude knows a lot about EDM and Jazz, but wanted guidance on where to get started in the world of beats and flow. We both agreed that I’d help teach him about the music I love by sending him one track a day (if you have recommendations of what to share with him let me know, it’s kind of like a deaf guy hearing music for the first time, but only Hip Hop).

This wasn’t easy, particularly in the first couple days when I knew I had to send quality stuff to win him over. As the process went on, it made me realize a lot of things about Hip Hop from his perspective, and why I love Hip Hop. (Speaking of loving Hip Hop, happy 16th anniversary ATLiens!)

When I was younger my mom told me that the reason I like Hip Hop is that I’m Punjabi, so it’s in my blood to like the beats. I think the blank stare I gave her in response might still be on my face. But in all seriousness, there’s some element of truth to what she said. I really do love the percussive integrity of the genre, present even today as emcees rap over womping dubstep or acoustic guitar. Even in the absence of drum or bass the  necessity of flow brings a percussion section with the human voice.

Of course, more often than not, rhythms and syncopation are skillfully placed underneath the vocal line. Often, this comes in the form of a sample. In some (non-Hip Hop) circles sampling can be a pretty contentious issue, but for us almost every track samples something classic or obscure. (Side note: Can we talk about how even a Paula Abdul sample can make for one of the best tracks of 2011?) Where some other genres talk about sampling like its cheating or inauthentic, in Hip Hop a sample is the number one way to show respect to work that came before you. (Okay, okay, maybe not in every case).

The fact is, even if a sample is done mockingly in Hip Hop, it’s always socially motivated. Hip Hop is music of the people. By the people, for the people. In a 21st century world where music plays such an important role in defining communities this may not seem noteworthy, but if you look at music history it really is. There was a time where music was composed simply to be enjoyed by a king and his court (WHATTUP T-TALLIS??). Even as music became available for enjoyment by the masses, the common image of the musician was the individual sitting alone at his piano or guitar marking up sheet music by candlelight.

The original emcee, on the other hand, didn’t have time for paper, he* needed to responded in a lyrical conversation with an actual person–an actual person standing right in front of him. Just as, in a battle, a freestyle is a direct response to whatever string of insults the guy next to you just spat at your face, a sample is often a direct response to a track that moved you. Hip Hop is inspired by so many genres, and so many people. Maybe every genre has just as many sources of inspiration, but in Hip Hop we make it fully clear what (and who) those were by actually using the sounds. Imitation is the highest form of flattery.

Up until I got to college I was a singer. Mostly working in classical, I sang in choirs essentially my whole life. I really didn’t like singing on my own, and I didn’t like singing solos over the chorus. Maybe this was cause I sucked (nah, we all know I’m da bes), but one of my reasons for always singing in an ensemble is that, to me, singing vocal music is a highly vain thing. Not that everyone who sings has a big ego (some do and some don’t, and some do for a good reason), but if you do sing solos you have to be highly confident in yourself, at the very least. Emcees and rappers might have a reputation for being self-centered and arrogant, but they’re not arrogant enough to think that they’re too good for a Marvin Gaye (or Paula Abdul) sample.

On that note, I think it’s time for a quick round of one of our favorite games here at Da What… NAME THAT SAMPLE.

1. Nobody’s Perfect, J. Cole (had to do just one more from Cole). Answer…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yH9UjzTfR5M]


2. Stronger, Kanye West. Okay, yeah obviously we all know that the answer is it’s a Daft Punk song, but do you know what Daft Punk sampled? This gem…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3AKrwna2C8]


3. Through the Wire, Kanye West. YEAH SORRY HE’S REALLY GOOD AT SAMPLING, OK?!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QUwDBF53bc]


4. Big Poppa, Notorious B.I.G.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glhdcJ7K3XM]


5. The Light, Common

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPgMjXhqmfw]


6. Big Spender, Theophilus London ft. A$AP Rocky

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjnyDrqdASE]


* note: I’m not just using the pronoun “he” here for linguistic simplicity. I’m also not trying to say that all emcees are male, some of the best are female. But the truth is, one of the (sad) things I noticed through this experience is that emcees are and always have been overwhelmingly male.