I took a gander at the first ten of Billboard’s “Hot 100” for this week in an attempt to assess the state of American popular music. Although there is a separate ranking for Rap Music, what struck me was that five (that is half) of these top ten songs show the clear influence of Rap Music.
And I use the term ‘music’ somewhat advisedly. Although most would assume that I am warming-up to an insult, I mean this simply as a matter of definitional exactitude. If there is no melody, let alone harmony, it is very hard for me to conceive of something as ‘music’ – especially as a ‘song.’ Certainly Rap is out of the tradition of the classic American popular song. Being a sort of rhythmically recited poetry accompanied by drum tracks, Rap seems to me to be more in the tradition of the sort of beatnik poetic recitations accompanied by bongo drums of the 1950’s. At least, this is my off-the-cuff surmise.
At any rate, I have noticed that a sort of Rap-Hybrid music has emerged over the past several years. In fact, the top two songs, Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” and Ariana Grande’s “Problem” are both of this ilk. That is, though these songs possess what could be described as, at least, simple melodies in places, they employ the sort of rhythmic ostinati (often using electronic sounds) in the background and recited lyrics typical of Rap. Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” at #7 is similar and toward the end has a section recited rhythmically to one pitch by the Rapper Juicy J.
More on this strange phenomenon in a later post.
Also, both the Katy Perry and the Iggy Azalea songs seem to be of the “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” tradition. (Madonna’s “Material Girl” didn’t come out of nowhere.) “Turn Down for What” at #4 and “Wiggle” at #10 also fall very much into the “Rap-Hybrid” category, being performed by what even I recognize as rappers, such as Snoop Dog and DJ Snake and Lil Jon. #10 deals with that curious – to me – of all ghetto fascinations: a woman’s big derrière.
After this experience, I suppose that I have to modify some of my criticism of Adele. Compared to some of her contemporaries, she is a traditionalist romantic. Probably the most traditional, romantic ballad on this week’s top ten is John Legend’s “All of Me” (not to be confused with the jazz standard of the same name) which comes in at #3. It’s actually quite nice, despite the fact that, like much of Adele’s music, it is of that “four-chord” genre. The other non-rap influenced songs seem to be harkening back to some earlier decades and influences: Motown [Pharell Williams’ “Happy” (#3)] and Reggae [Magic!’s “Rude” (#8)].
The funniest of the bunch to me is Calvin Harris’ “Summer” (#9) which, judging by the lyrics and accompanying video, seem to be that of a young man with an excess of testosterone. I mean, I have never seen so many racecars and shapely young women before in one place – not even in a James Bond movie. He should donate some of his extra testosterone to high school nerds as an act of charity.