Hip Hop Culture for Grown-Ups
Words by Tony Grands
It’s a very simple question with a not so simple answer; what’s more important, the beat or the lyrics?
My memories of early day rap music fandom are filled with me reciting Ice Cube, BDK, Slick Rick, to name a few, on the school bus stop. Or in class. Or at home. There were very few times when I wasn’t bumping something fresh. The only producer I was extremely familiar with was Marley Marl, & besides, all I really cared about was what the rapper had to say to me. The beat was merely there to accompany the words as the wafted & bounced accordingly.
My attitude changed when I got a car though. All of a sudden, the 808 became much more tangible & necessary than the lyrics being applied. & it wasn’t that they no longer were an integral part of the song, but without the soothing privacy of a set of headphones, the words lost their power. Meanwhile, the louder the clap, the deeper the sub, the more awesome the song. Backpack anthems bacame rider music in a matter of one summer.
My attitude changed again when I moved out of my parents’ house, got a little older, & began collecting the life experience that would ultimately dictate what music works best for me. Also around this time, I stopped taking part in “best rapper discussions,” mostly because I concluded that no such one person will ever exist (although depending on your argument & vantage point, it’ll eventually be Shawn Carter).
After so many years of listening to rap music, it takes a lot for a specific song to perk my ears. But when the smoke clears, the beat is the first thing I notice. Without the proper musical introduction, the first two bars of lyrics (which are arguably the most important part of the song) may not even get a chance to make an appearance. Look around & notice the resurgence of the producer. This is a direct clue that other fans, listeners, haters, & “the industry” feel somewhat similarly.
Ultimately, it’s the convolution of both entities – beat & lyrics – that make the song what it is, but if I have to pick the one part with more authority, I’d have to say the it’s beat.
Words by Tony Grands