December 22, 2006

Is Rap Music?

Now we come to the age old fight, is Rap music by definition? Is Rap in the same category as, say, Jazz or is it something else entirely, such as another form of poetry?

To start with we need to answer two questions, what is music and what is rap.

What is music? Wikipedia defines it as

Music is a form of art that involves organized and audible sounds and silence. It is normally expressed in terms of pitch (which includes melody and harmony), rhythm (which includes tempo and meter), and the quality of sound (which includes timbre, articulation, dynamics, and texture). Music may also involve complex generative forms in time through the construction of patterns and combinations of natural stimuli, principally sound. Music may be used for artistic or aesthetic, communicative, entertainment, or ceremonial purposes. The definition of what constitutes music varies according to culture and social context.
This gives us three major criteria to discern whether anything is music.

  • Melody

  • Harmony

  • Rhythm
And then what is rap? According to

A form of popular music developed especially in African-American urban communities and characterized by spoken or chanted rhyming lyrics with a strong rhythmic accompaniment.
So according to its definition a rap song does not need harmony or melody. But does that mean rap is not music?

Before we jump to conclusions let us take a closer look at harmony and melody.

The Free dictionary defines Harmony as:
a. The study of the structure, progression, and relation of chords.
b. Simultaneous combination of notes in a chord.
c. The structure of a work or passage as considered from the point of view of its chordal characteristics and relationships.
d. A combination of sounds considered pleasing to the ear.

And the Free dictionary defines Melody as:
1. A pleasing succession or arrangement of sounds.
2. Music
a. A rhythmically organized sequence of single tones so related to one another as to make up a particular phrase or idea.
b. Structure with respect to the arrangement of single notes in succession.
c. The leading part or the air in a composition with accompaniment.

Now that we have gotten all our definitions done lets go on to the synthesis and my opinion.

In my opinion rap is music and rap is just the next evolution of music, one that has since been replaced by what The Mars Volta are doing now, but that is a discussion for another time. Rap is lyrically focused and the beats that the lyrics go over are generally created in the studio by producers, but it's still music. A lot of what is musically popular today isn't very good, in the opinion of many other people, when compared to other forms of music, but it's still music.

Listen to a rap song without the lyrics and you get a rhythmic beat that is more often than not very appealing to the ears. If you look at the lyrics, some are down right awful but others are actually well written. Unlike most other types of songs written these days, rap songs are filled with slang, which often causes confusion for those who are unfamiliar with it. Most people consider it misogynistic, but the context of the slang makes a big difference on whether or not it actually is misogynistic. Although there are many rap songs that are misogynistic, you can by no means characterize the entire genre as exploitative.

Some of the rhymes in today's rap are actually rather inventive and creative, while others are dull and unoriginal. Sadly, consumers don't often encourage originality. In fact they often punish creativity, which is sad, and lessen the quality of the music, but this doesn't change it to non-music.

What do you think?

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