I was having a great conversation not too long ago with my friend who runs a great site deftmag.com about the notion of a theory of Universal Hip Hop; where its aesthetic, logistics, and history makes it a universal musical form attainable by other nations and peoples across the globe. Other thoughts tossed around is that Hip Hop can bee seen as another manifestation of U.S. cultural imperialism; or as a bubble in an series of musics created by a set of shared features. Through our conversation we touched upon a lot of ideas regarding a possible thread of global music based on oppression, the easy translation of Hip Hop to other nations (in particular nations with oppressed people), amongst other factors.
To start, there are already a few dishes on this kitchen table regarding global music. One dish consists of the unfortunate genre of “Global Music” you’d find in your local Borders or Barnes n Noble stores. Oppressed music from Fela Kuti, psychedelic tripped-out pub music from Manu Chao, are placed alongside cheesy and listenable exports that blur whether the music published is authentic expressions or simply packaged goods for “First World” nations to sink their teeth into (I keep thinking of the Putomayo music series such as “this is Guatemala”, “the music of Cape Verde”, and “Music from formerly scary people” lol).
The next dish, and the one that causes me some concern, is this idea that Hip Hop music is universal. As we know the genre has taken the helm as the youth’s music since Jazz and Rock fell off in certain elements, Hip Hop is the music your parents don’t understand and think is corrupting our youth. Since its birth, it has broad-based appeal and has spread out throughout the world. We hear so much about African Hip Hop, Japanese Hip Hop, Cuban Hip Hop, British Hip Hop, where we see the culture adopting the mannerisms, attitudes, rhyme schemes and aesthetics birthed in the United States. Some see this as the great appeal and reward of Hip Hop, where folks who didn’t voice now do. And others see this as another way the United States spreads its cultural message to westernize everyone else (this aint the first time, Dizzy Gillespie was the first Bandleader for the USO Jazz band who toured throughout Europe during WWII).
But I’m a fan of the last dish. As a 2nd generation American, I fell in love with Hip Hop in the 80’s and 90’s as it did represent me in so many ways. Yet, there were pieces of it that made me feel excluded. I also fell in love with (at the time known as) Spanish Reggae, where Nando Boom and El General took Reggae music and made it their own. Then, the great move came in college where I first picked up a UK Jungle compilation where “Original Nuttah” dropped and changed my life forever. These three threads have pretty much set up my musical perspective. And it has introduced me to a series of musics that I would consider to share a set of commonalties that puts Hip Hop not at its United States imperialistic center, but alongside a spectrum of musics that come from common elements that I’d call (for sake of blogging) “Worldwide Liberation Sound”
oppression, adoption of technology, poverty, competition, communalism, escapism, “Blackness”, musical journalism, sexuality, rhythm, bass, and drums, reappopriation
Remember, Hip Hop was birthed by Kool Herc, and refined by Grandmaster Flash, both Jamaican immigrants who brought the cumulated elements of Reggae music; soundsystems, deejays, selectas, Rastafarianism, dubplates, clashes, producers, remixes, versions, and dubs… all adopted and reappropriated in the South Bronx. So, to prove my point, I’ll present samples of music that coincide with my thought of “Worldwide Liberation Sound”. Hopefully you can pick up on it and share… proving that our differences brings us all closer together, as much as our commonalities.
Here we go…
Cumbia Sonideros – “Sounidero” translates directly as “Soundsystem” which immediately gives you the Reggae connect. Here, Sonido Fantasma (Ghost Sound) brings some old school dub vibes as the selecta chats over the tunes with shout outs, boasts, and everything in between. You can find Sonideros all over Latin America. Other commonalities include Cumbia’s great basslines, and its wealth of music that goes back as far as Reggae music does. So you get to hear old tunes, new tunes, all rinsed in true clash fashion.
Kuduro – Originally from Angola, this music is pretty much a junkyard mashup of electronic dance, Hip Hop, and Angola and Portuguese traditional music all rolled up. Diplo and M.I.A. have been on this for a sec (obviously) and Buraka Som Sistema (I’d like you to guess the translation, kinda obvious too) bring some fyah with this tune.
Baile Funk – Brasil’s version of soundsystem/MC culture. This vid is nice cause I’m digging the stadium concert style approach with live instruments alongside traditional Baile beats. The MC sounds nice too. While I don’t think the vid showcases too much of the ‘dance’ element, it definitely is just a good show to see.
Grime – I could’ve gone with the roots and presented to you some Jungle, but I went with Grime because it’s the newer genre (but now being replaced in the UK with Dubstep and Funky) and it rides closer to the elements of MCing. What distinguishes it is the brutality of the beats and mid-range sounds that makes quite aggressive. Its beat patterns and love for bass keep the groove alive, preventing it from being “Industrial” music. Dizzee Rascal sucks now but I’ve been on this track from back in the day… and its got my favorite “u can bring the grime, anytime that’s fine”! Sweet!
Reggaeton – Putting together Hip Hop swagger with Dancehall influence, Reggaeton is to me the Latino version of Hip Hop… complete with concerts, beef, bling, and all that jazz. This music has its roots in Panamanian Spanish Reggae, but has moved on and embraced the dem bow rhythm. I’d put on “Pepe” which is traight fyiah, but I posted it recently and I’m not trying to double up. So, lets do the classic and bring out the King Tego on this one, which I chose for the dope dope intro… showing true Latinidad!
Hip Hop – Well, well, well for me not to place this alongside the other genres would be pretty counter to my argument, no? And who else to showcase the universality of soundsystem culture than Eric B and Rakim’s “My Melody” with its sparse beat, bombastic bass hits, and the glorious use of delays on Rakim’s punchlines, it is simply stunning. True soundclash style in a rub-a-dub style.
Reggae – Saving the mother for last. U-Roy was pretty much the archetype for toasting, rapping, MC’ing, spittin, flowing, freestyling, in any genre. He rides riddims, toasts in a fashion immediately used by Yellowman and other 80’s Dancehall artists. And what my man spits in the first 20 seconds is sicker than just about anyone rapping today.
So why are all these musics not “Hip Hop”? Because each genre pulled from their immediate musical influences, social contexts, and instruments in reflection of their surroundings and environment. Reggae was not Mento because it drew from its predecessor, added other elements, and re-presented it. Hip Hop was not Reggae as it drew from Funk, Soul, and Disco records to a different beat. Jungle took Hip Hop breakbeats and chopped them up in a super-fast syncopation. Therefore, as Hip Hop wasn’t the first to do this, nor the last, it becomes a great force amongst a sea of global music…