Music Diary Songs of Note: When Even ‘Hardcore’ Rap Followed Standard Song Forms

Music Diary Songs of Note: When Even 'Hardcore' Rap Followed Standard Song Forms

The prevailing pop music form these days seems to be a combination of a singer and rapper, with randomly free-flowing male rap verse and largely disconnected melodious warbling from a female songbird like Rihanna. It has become such a formula that for Katy Perry’s E.T. music video Kanye West was brought in to ramble on top of the track in order to give it ‘cred’ or something. It is as though the big industry execs are afraid to let either genre stand on its own – pop-rappers and pop-singers are being melded as they fear losing the cross-over appeal of the combination, or that they fear the ability for a single performer to carry the entire song.

But it wasn’t always that way. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s hip-hop groups like A Tribe Called Quest called upon classic jazz songs for inspiration, creating melodic and harmonic styles that were at once modern and classic – which is why when you ask a jazz fan about hip-hop they will be fans of groups like ATCQ, Black Sheep (The Choice is Yours), and so on.

But there was a darker side to that era – so-called Gangsta Rap. When we think of that time, we think of urban violence, police brutality, gangs, ‘cop killers’, music bans, the advent of music warning labels for lyrics, Frank Zappa in front of Congress, Tipper Gore, and so on. We think of a resurgence in the use of ‘the N word’ – ironically by those who should be the most opposed to its use! We had songs with more foul language than ever before – used for the expression of anger as well as to evoke a shock response.

Yet what seems to have been overlooked it that the songs themselves were pretty standard song forms with AABA verse-chorus and a depth of melody and harmony missing form later recordings in the genre.

Specifically I am thinking of N.W.A.’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’. The recordings have lost some of their edge since most of the members have been in either bad comedies or one or another Dick Wolf procedural crime drama, and with time the 80’s musical influence has become more apparent. But the songs are edgy, still not something you will be hearing played as Muzak in your local Wal-Mart.

The song ‘Gangsta Gangsta’ is very typical of N.W.A.’s stuff, and is extremely infectious with the ‘I’m the type of N that’s built to last, if you F with me I’ll put a foot in your A.” And so on … leading into the ‘Gangsta Gangsta’ chorus. And just when you think you have the pattern, Easy-E breaks in just before the chorus and restarts the whole thing again. There are sirens and samples dropped on top and other voices, but ultimately what you have is a reinterpretation of every pop song format since the mid-50s with a verse that leads into a chorus before jumping back to a second verse and so on. Cleverly done in that the songs feels very comfortable in form while the lyrics were decidedly UN-comfortable.

Obviously there is a ‘explicit lyrics warning’ needed for the entire song, to the point that many should just leave it alone. But if you are curious about a well formed song hidden underneath a ‘Gangsta’ veneer, this song is very well done and is actually more fun than shocking at this point.

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About the Author

Michael Anderson
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!

15 Comments on "Music Diary Songs of Note: When Even ‘Hardcore’ Rap Followed Standard Song Forms"

  1. Gary Bunker | August 12, 2011 at 11:52 am |

    I like the little sample of Doug E Fresh toward the end. That was an act that had a very short lifetime, and integrated a lot of old songs into West Coast rap.

  2. I bought this CD when it came out, and it was one of the first CDs I ripped. I’m pretty sure I know all the words to most of the songs … about to play it now, just because you brought up some memories. =)

  3. Hmm – I should specify: NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton”. =)

  4. Try to avoid singing it aloud when the grandchild is around! ๐Ÿ˜€

  5. Gary Bunker | August 12, 2011 at 12:20 pm |

    I have a hard time picturing you singing along to F The Police, for some reason.

  6. ๐Ÿ˜† Good thing you weren’t in my house about 5 minutes ago. ๐Ÿ˜‰ hehe

    “right about now, nwa court is in FULL effect, judge DRE presiding … in the case of nwa versus the police department, prosecuting attorneys ARE — mc ren, ice cube, and easy m-f e!

    order! order! order!

    ice cube, take the m-f stand!

    do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nuthin’ but the truth so help yo’ black a?

    you’re g-d right!

    well won’t you tell everybody what the f you’ve got to say!

    f tha police comin’ straight from the underground, a young n got it bad cuz i’m brown!”

    Summer 1988: I was in the middle of my 21 year old goth period when I started listening to this … and I loved it! Be afraid! ๐Ÿ˜†

  7. Gary Bunker | August 12, 2011 at 12:38 pm |

    I was known to quote heavily from Slick Rick in high school, and play Public Enemy quite loud when I was in training at Goodfellow a few years later. I cannot judge. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Oh, I know how to turn it off, and I also have the Wiggles on iTunes. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. Gary Bunker | August 12, 2011 at 12:41 pm |

    I used to ride my bicycle to my friend’s house in Compton, back in 1987. I didn’t realize I was supposed to be petrified of the city then.

  10. It was funny a few years ago my wife had her iPod on and the boys and I came in from errands and she was singing along with ‘Sex Dwarf’ by Soft Cell … let’s just say that ‘Tainted Love’ was not indicative of their catalog ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. Gary Bunker | August 12, 2011 at 12:51 pm |

    Whenever someone gets all righteously offended at the latest Katy Perry or Nicki Minaj, I can’t help but wonder what they listened to twenty years ago. Erotic City wasn’t even the dirtiest song of our era.

  12. I’ve been vocal through my posts – I object to the ‘pop music as product’ thing, fueled more potently than ever by desperate record companies willing to dump cash, and propped up by a deregulated industry that means the same folks own the artists, records, publishers, radio stations, and ‘charts’.

  13. Gary Bunker | August 12, 2011 at 1:26 pm |

    Courtney Love’s essay from 2000, detailing exactly how screwed artists are even if they become wildly successful, paired with TLC going bankrupt at the top of the charts, really drove home to me how dysfunctional the music industry is. Clear Channel, payola, all that junk – it makes me think of Norman Spinrad’s novel “Little Heroes” as a piece of incredibly prescient writing.

  14. “Erotic City wasnโ€™t even the dirtiest song of our era.”

    Nope! Not by a long shot. heh ๐Ÿ˜‰

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