Ben Dandridge-Lemco: How Loops Are Changing the Sound and Business of Rap Production (Pitchfork)
With rappers recording at a nonstop clip, and sampling more difficult than ever, hip-hop producers are increasingly outsourcing their melodies to a global network of loopmakers.
These loops are snippets of original music that Prasad composes at his computer, melodic ideas that might serve as the instrumental hook of a song—but without the rest of the song attached. They range in length and complexity: some incorporate one or two different sounds, while others are multi-layered miniature compositions. Every two weeks, he packages around 40 of his best loops to send to established producers he connected with on Instagram. If everything goes perfectly, a producer will use one of his loops in a beat—they might change the tempo, adjust the pitch, chop it up and rearrange it, or just drop it in as-is—and an artist will record a song over it.
In recent years, these melody loops, and the musicians who create them, have become a fundamental part of the way rap music is made. For up-and-comers like Prasad, supplying well-connected producers with packs of pre-made melodies has become the most effective method to get a foot in the industry’s door. And for producers working with prolific rappers, outsourcing the time-consuming work of writing a melody to a pool of dedicated loopmakers is the most efficient way to keep making hits.
The popularity of loops, on some level, is a reaction to the increasingly complex legal and financial barriers placed on sampling pre-existing recordings in new songs, a cornerstone of early hip-hop production. In the past three decades, from pivotal court cases around samples in De La Soul and Biz Markie records in the early ’90s to more recent copyright battles over “Uptown Funk” and “Lucid Dreams,” incorporating references to other songs in your music has become a risky and expensive proposition.
Within this collaborative spirit, there’s also an inherent power imbalance. When unknown loopmakers—often geographically removed from rap’s centers of industry in Atlanta, New York, and L.A.—send material to big-name producers with connections to artists and labels, the latter have far more leverage than the former for negotiation, a dynamic that can leave loopmakers vulnerable to exploitation.
Though loops have already become a music industry standard, there’s still a stigma attached to them, according to Jetsonmade. “People have a lack of respect for the loopmakers,” he says. “Some producers don’t want people to know they’re using loops.” For more traditional producers, there’s a prevailing sense that using loops is a sort of cheat code. The separation between clicking through a folder of loops and making a beat from scratch can seem like the difference between ordering from Seamless and cooking a meal. It also suggests a depressing reality for many of the most in-demand rap producers, who may simply lack the time or bandwidth to work from a blank slate on all of their beats.
Arianna Rebolini: Fighting For Hip-Hop in the Whitest City in America (Buzzfeed)
Portland, Ore., is known as a haven for progressive culture. So why does it seem like police consider rappers and their fans a threat to the city's specific brand of weird?
Veteran local performer Cool Nutz, whose real name is Terrence Scott, says that to successfully grow a music career in Portland, rappers must proactively seek out dialogue with the powers that be. “[Portland] is not New York or L.A.,” he says, talking about creating a niche for hip-hop acts in an indie-rock market. Scott’s shows go smoothly, he says, when he takes care to talk to police, the OLCC, or the gang task force in advance of a show.
That the responsibility for opening that line of communication falls on him seems tiresome at best and probationary at worst, like a child checking in with parents to assure them he’s not doing anything bad. But Scott argues his proactive approach is both empowering and effective, a way to set others up for success. “It’s about the progression of the urban music scene. When the police come in one show it doesn’t just affect that one show; it affects what everybody does.”
Mychal Denzel Smith: Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” Is Not the Capitalist Anthem You Think It Is (Pitchfork)
Twenty-five years after its release, the iconic rap group’s biggest hit remains deeply misunderstood.
If Deck’s life, at the ripe old age of 22, felt no different inside or outside of prison, Meth’s cries to “get the money” are utterly meaningless. They sound less like a rallying call and more like desperate pleas of escape shouted into a void. Chasing cash, by whatever means available, is the only option for survival, as it rules everything around us—but should it? Should a lack of money make one’s life indistinguishable from prison?
These are questions that arise if we’re listening to the song as a whole, but pop success alters the way music is heard. As such, “C.R.E.A.M.” has been stripped for parts: The only aspects of real interest to a mass audience are the use of “cream” as slang for money and the repetition of the hook as an admonishment to work harder, longer, and more ruthlessly in the pursuit of it.
The song has become a tool of the unscrupulous system it was meant to expose. By 2014, Drake and JAY-Z were interpolating the hook into their opulent collaboration “Pound Cake” without any semblance of the struggle Wu was rapping about, while Financial Times was using “Cash Rules Everything Around Me” as a headline for a story detailing a select few rappers’ immense wealth. At this point, there’s even a nerdy YouTube tutorial that borrows the acronym to extol the virtues of Google Instant Buy.
In this way, “C.R.E.A.M.” has become something like the hip-hop equivalent of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” Right out the gate, Springsteen’s hit was being co-opted into a bland patriotism. After attending one of his concerts in 1984, the conservative columnist George Will wrote: “I have not got a clue about Springsteen’s politics, if any, but flags get waved at his concerts while he sings songs about hard times. He is no whiner, and the recitation of closed factories and other problems always seems punctuated by a grand, cheerful affirmation: ‘Born in the U.S.A.!’”
Hanif Abdurraqib: From Vanilla Ice to Macklemore: understanding the white rapper's burden (The Guardian)
I stopped fucking with Eminem when he couldn’t stop making rape jokes in his rhymes as he approached 40 years old. There is a time when all of us have to re-evaluate the distance we actually have from dangerous moments. Eminem has a distance that never runs out. A distance that only grows wider. And there are those who would call him edgy for not realising this, while ignoring those who realise that their proximity to danger is a lot slimmer, and yet they’ve still found a way to stay alive. No one finds this funny.
What Macklemore didn’t embrace was the thing that Eminem embraced before him: if you are in a system that will propel you to the top off of the backs of black artists who might be better than you are, no one black is going to be interested in your guilt. It has played out in every genre since the inception of genre, or since the first song was pulled by white hands from wherever a black person sang it into the air. No one knows what to make of the guilt.
Macklemore did what I would have hoped he would have done, even if he did it painfully and with a tone of self-congratulation. What no other white rapper was able to do before him. He stopped just apologising for what he imagined as undeserved fame and instead weaponised it, losing fans in the process. The major function of privilege is that it allows us who hold it in masses to sacrifice something for the greater good of pulling up someone else. Macklemore, whether intentionally or not, decided to use his privilege to cannibalise whiteness, tearing at his own mythology in the process. When I saw him last year at a festival, he performed White Privilege II to a captivated white audience. Halfway through the song, he left the stage entirely empty, walking off and making room for two black poets and a black drummer to read poems about police violence and gentrification. It was a stunning image, an artist holding the mouth of his audience open and forcing the slick red spoonful of medicine down their throats.
Sheldon Pierce: With Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Win, The World May Finally Be Catching Up to Rap (Pitchfork)
“Anyone perusing the list of past winners cannot help noticing that many if not most of the country’s greatest musical minds are conspicuously missing,” composer John Adams told the New York Times in 2003, the year he won the prize for “On the Transmigration of Souls,” a commissioned reflection on the 9/11 attacks. Adams listed off many of the notable musicians who never earned a Pulitzer, from “Monk (Meredith or Thelonious)” to Philip Glass to Laurie Anderson. “Most if not all of these genuinely creative spirits have been passed over year after year, often in favor of academy composers who have won a disproportionate number of prizes.” The sentiment was clear: prize jurors prefer the safe and scholarly to the unpredictable and world-shifting.
Scott Eden: Bobby Shmurda: His Surreal Saga and Exclusive Jailhouse Interview (GQ)
One minute he was a hip-hop sensation starting a viral dance craze, the Shmoney Dance, and rhyming about guns and drugs and murder. The next he was locked up, indicted on a slew of charges involving… guns and drugs and murder. The government’s case against Bobby Shmurda, now heading to trial, raises all kinds of nagging questions, but none more troubling than this: Does the justice system fundamentally misunderstand the world of rap?
People like to talk about how Dilla had the best "ear" in hip hop, and they're totally right. Listen to full beat again and listen to just the bass part: it's a legitimate, brand-new bassline that wasn't in the original song. Listen to that transition between guit_lo and string_bass_1: there's a syncopated bass note right at the end of guit_lo and then bam, it segues right into that higher note (maybe a fifth interval? I suck at music theory). And you can't get that just by chopping things up randomly, even if you select good samples.
Brandon Soderberg: Is 'Yeezus' the Tipping Point for Rap Misogyny? (SPIN)
Rap music clearly has a serious misogyny problem. Admitting that won't lead to the elimination of the music altogether and it doesn't mean that all other social issues have to take a backseat. But once the problem has been acknowledged, let's don't just leave the self-evident truth sitting there. Actually continue to think about this stuff. Too often, rap's misogyny has been treated as a given. And that's just as dangerous.
Jon Caramanica: Lil Wayne and Other Rappers Run Afoul of Propriety (NYTimes.com)
these reactions are also a signal of how expendable hip-hop culture — and, by extension, black culture and youth culture — is to mainstream, predominantly white-owned corporations. These companies have been happy to associate with hip-hop while turning a blind eye to some of the genre’s rougher edges, but at the same time they have remained at arm’s length, all the better to dispose of hip-hop artists once their liabilities outweighed their assets.
Eric Harvey: Rap Genius and Technologies of Translation
81 years later, Lomax’s quandary is a different issue. Rap Genius aims for a comprehensive archive of rap meanings, while redefining the idea of “genius” altogether. The intelligence of a single person is replaced by a self-correcting form of knowledge derived from the crowd, which often leads to populist rhetoric that papers over very real power differentials and well-established hierarchies. The site’s investors invest their venture with bold religious significance, but practically speaking, perhaps the real genius is in transsubstantiation, via a technological capacity to turn pleasurable activities into value-producing labor. It’s the same logic that fuels Wikipedia and Google search results: a free market of anonymous contributors is a vastly better information aggregator and processor than an individual human brain, and a killer app is all that’s needed to derive stable meaning from the messiness of culture.
On the tons of excellent free music coming out via rappers and their mixtapes.
Rappers are very much analogous to bloggers in that both groups sort of do what they do because they want to do it, but they also know there’s not really any worth to what they’re doing - except sometimes one of their cohort gets scooped up by some faceless place with money, so there’s always a little halo of maybe-money attached to what they do. Maybe that halo’s worth more than actually making a piddly amount of money.
Jordan Sargent: Your Guide to RapGenius.com, the Controversial Rap Lyrics Site That Just Landed a $15 Million Investment (Gawker)
Well, some snotty kids got $15 million. At least the people who founded the culture that made them rich are also living on the high hog, right?
Not quite. A lot of the originators of rap music — many of whose lyrics provide part of the content that RapGenius' business model is based on — are far from rich. Kool Herc, who maybe more than any one person can be said to have invented hip-hop, can't afford required surgery, and when these kids are parading around in suits and fresh kicks it leaves a bad taste in a lot peoples' mouths.
Brandon Soderberg: Rappers and Same-Sex Marriage: How Much Do You Really Care? (Spin)
Rappers are presented as violent, vulgar sexists and homophobes, and then they're not only expected to have fully-formed opinions on social issues, but progressive ones. This is an ugly update on the always implicit, often explicit demand that hip-hop, if it is to be lauded and celebrated, must espouse a strong, left-leaning political message.
Daphne Carr: It's 2012 and it's Nicki Minaj's world to make, but this album is not going to make it (Capital New York)
Her flow, including the corny hashtag raps and the growls and all the other forms of play that make her simultaneously so old school and so fresh, have already shifted the zeitgeist and inspired a new generation of pop lovers in one short year. Now it's time for her to figure out how to step up to sound like she what she says on the album’s third track: “I Am Your Leader.”
Nitsuh Abebe: a quick addendum to that Lil B piece (a grammar)
His homemade philosophy is such that he can just wander around trying to be honest and respectful of others, and how they react to that effort is entirely their problem, not his. This is why no pockets of ickiness in the audience reaction feel particularly sad.
Brandon Soderberg: Nicki Minaj and 2 Chainz’ ‘Beez in the Trap’ (SPIN)
Nicki employs street hardness as a signifier of how great she is at rapping, not as an attempt to actually convince anybody that she's "hood" or any of that authenticity nonsense. She's successfully occupying the trap, ground zero for hardness, and calling its inhabitants "bitches," all to prove that she is the consummate rhyming bad-ass.
SPIN.com: Defending Dyson's Georgetown Jay-Z Class
‘Jay-Z’s lyrics would work just fine in a literature or poetry class (Decoded is basically his own Norton Critical Anthology of Jigga), but that's irrelevant to this discussion because, as nearly everyone who mocked the course seemed to ignore, Dyson is teaching a Sociology course! And Jay-Z's career is perfectly suited for the study of that discipline.’
Alex Pappademas: Lex Luger Can Write a Hit Rap Song in the Time It Takes to Read This
‘A few years ago, before anyone knew his name, before rap artists from all over the country started hitting him up for music, the rap producer Lex Luger, born Lexus Lewis, now age 20, sat down in his dad’s kitchen in Suffolk, Va., opened a sound-mixing program called Fruity Loops on his laptop and created a new track.’ That was ‘Hard in da Paint’.
Grantland: Hua Hsu on Kanye and Jay-Z's Watch the Throne
“What makes hip-hop such a durable form is its capacity to scramble fiction and fact; the artifice and the realities that art conceals or amplifies become one. In this way, Watch the Throne feels astonishingly different. It captures two artists who no longer need dreams; art cannot possibly prophesy a better future for either of them.”
“Still, for the Cool Kids, it comes down to one thing: Mountain Dew provides them with a fair opportunity to usher their music into the world. ‘Any other label, any other situation … you do all the work and they take all the money. I can’t sleep comfortably with that,’ explains Rocks. ‘I would take Mountain Dew any day of the week over that. Money comes and goes, you spend it stupid and it’s gone. But what we are doing, what we’ve made — no one can take that away from us.’”
Village Voice: Music: Tyler, the Creator’s Boy’s Club
“The highest points and most infuriating moments on ‘Goblin’ come from the fact that it’s a vérité depiction of the worst aspects of American boy culture. You know, hating girls because they don’t like you because you’re a weirdo, hating any and all authority figures because they try to tell you how not to be such a weirdo. But most importantly (and scarily), there’s the part that involves lashing out about being viewed as a weirdo, and being summarily rewarded—i.e. seen as normal—for doing so. (It probably goes without saying that girls don’t have the same luxury.) Nobody cares about Tyler the Creator being someone’s role model in 2011. Which in a way, is the scariest thing about ‘Goblin’—too much of his scary fantasizing, for too many boys, is all too normal.”
“A year ago, when nobody knew who they were, the demonic L.A. skate-rat rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All cranked out music at an alarming rate. And now that nobody will shut up about them, they’re still doing the same thing. Since 2008, Odd Future have released no fewer than 12 full-length albums, as well as assorted between-releases singles — all available free on their Tumblr. Some of those releases are brilliant, paradigm-shifting works of violent vision. Others are entirely forgettable. Almost all of them are worth your hard-drive real estate, and almost all of them will confound you in one way or another. Below, you'll find a guide to every single one of those albums, from their introductory 2008 ‘The Odd Future Tape’ to Frank Ocean’s ‘Nostalgia, Ultra.’, the experimental R&B tape that the crew released just a few weeks ago.”