Monday, April 10, 2006

hip hop... please make it stop

Pianist Kenny Drew, Jr. chimes in with the umpteenth anti-hip hop screed. At least there's some wit and humour mixed in with his good-old-days sanctimoniousnes, but it's ironic he should complain about negativity right after having called for the killing of 50 Cent and Eminem.

Musically, Drew's main claim is this: "When I first started studying music I was told that music had to consist of three elements: melody, harmony and rhythm. Rap music... has basically discarded the first two elements and is left with nothing but rhythm" and therefore does not qualify as music, or at least, good music. The argument is flimsy, obviously: whether or not hip hop has harmony or melody, one can easily think of other musics lacking one, two, or even all three of these elements. Further, one can just as easily think of important elements the canonical triad leaves out (texture, tone/timbre, structure, time (different from rhythm), etc.). The one most relevant here, and which Drew tellingly leaves out of his definition of music but spends the majority of his essay discussing, is the social function of music.

Any music, in any setting, has a social function. Whether people are congregating in a concert hall or damp basement, whether the music is accompanying a raucous Balkan wedding or a worldly Uptown dinner and whether it's meant to make you feel part of a collective or enhance your already inflated sense of hip superiority. I won't argue whether Drew is right or wrong to decry hip hop's promotion of gangsters, misogyny and coke-peddling (while ignoring any hip hop that is about other things). What I'm wondering about, is why it is that while no-one seems to really believe that music can solve the world's problems, we are all so ready to believe, time and time again and despite historical precedent, that it can make the world a much, much worse place. Despite all the "We Are The World"'s and Live 8's that have been shoved down our throats, clearly, the world has not been made a better place, for you or for me. Perhaps hip hop is just as innocuous.