Thursday, April 5, 2007

Rap/Pop Rapport?

Talking to Will today about turning rap songs into pop songs, I remembered this video that I wanted to share. Alanis Morissette, this is two days in a row that you're in my blog. And I'm not even an angry teen anymore either. Thank You.

Ha. If anyone else got my stupid little pun-esque joke there, I'll be your friend forever. If not, I'll just chuckle lamely to myself. chuckle chuckle.

Anyway, it's an interesting debate: does taking "inappropriate" lyrics and setting them to "appropriate" music somehow make the song suddenly "ok" or less "bad?" Isn't it ironic (damn you, Alanis) that the lyrics and music form a sort of dichotomy of in/appropriateness? Personally, I agree that it's hypocritical to say it's somehow "better" or "appropriate" when the "inappropriate" lyrics are set to nice, pleasing, non-confrontational pop music. The words are still there, and while both music and lyrics (damn you, Drew Barrymore) are essential to the genres of music in question, the lyrics are generally the way the public gets the message of the song. (If they're even listening. I have a strong feeling a lot of people hear lyrics, and learn lyrics, even memorize lyrics, without actually listening to what they say.)

So, taking the sexually explicit (degrading, racist, violent, mean, etc.) lyrics and setting them against a background that is pleasant (calming, non-confrontational, easy to listen to, beautiful, etc.) does not somehow make the general Meaning or overall Song-ness magically appropriate, says Kim. I could go into the "appropriate for whom? who decides what's appropriate?" discussion, but that's old and tired and for another day.

However, presenting the "inappropriate" song in an "appropriate" way does say something about the performer's interpretation of the song as a whole. When, say Ben Folds, sings Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit," it gives the song a different vibe. It's not harsh or off-putting, until you really listen to the words, but even then, it's funny. It's silly that someone like Ben Folds is singing about prostitutes and violence, and it makes the song not as "scary." It's somehow ironic; I would even go so far as to say, especially in the case of Alanis Morissette's cover of the Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps," that it showcases how ridiculous the lyrics actually are. Yes, many rap songs talk about serious issues such as rape and gang violence and all that...but aren't they often glorifying these things anyway? And isn't that ridiculous? (if young people didn't take it so seriously, anyway) NOTE: When I'm talking about rap music, I am aware that I am generalizing. Performers like Naz, and I'm sure others I don't know of, do progressive work that brings a good name to rap music. But the mainstream rap is the rap I'm talking about...the rap about bitches and hoes and guns and money and all that nasty stuff.

The side by side contrast of the "yucky" lyrics and the "yummy" music, I believe, make for a really interesting comment on the type of music we listen to. The type of music we deem "ok" for our society, our kids, our grandparents, our teenagers to listen to. The type of content we allow to be produced, whether obviously tongue-in-cheek or subtly horrifying or degrading or racist or comedic or sugary or whatever.

Comments? Questions? Opinions to share?


  1. have i told you that i love the way you write? you are always so funny and interesting, and it seems that i just happen to agree with everything you say.
    which just confirms the fact that we are going to be friends for a long, long time...

  2. Well, I don't know very much about American or English-language rap (though "My Humps" always struck me as a song aware of its own ridiculousness), but I can tell you who rocks (or, raps?): MC Solaar.

    You may remember him from the Sex and the City episode "An American Girl in Paris (Part Deux)." His song "La Belle et le Bad Boy" plays as Carrie runs through the streets of Paris and Miranda runs through the streets of Brooklyn. Download the song immediately from iTunes.

    After downloading this song from iTunes, I made a run to good ol' Amoeba and picked up "Mach 6,"a whole album of MC Solaar. The French lyrics sound très chic, plus if you're like me and have taken a 4-day French immersion class, you can pick up a few useless-but-encouraging vocab like "la plage" and "tout va bien."

    Plus, from what I understand, his lyrics are actually clever and innovative. There's a great review of "Mach 6" on where many of the songs from the album are summed up (in English!)

    -"Cash Money is a funny song about modern women who want big bills not small change."

    -"Bling Bling is another cool track, which has a sort of West Indies sound to it, here; he talks about people who show off with jewels and reminds people it's not that easy to make it rich. He's also saying the lifestyle in music videos is not real, and people don't usually have that much bling bling."

    Thanks, DL Productions UK, for confirming my assumption that MC Solaar est magnifique.

  3. hey, if you want mc solaar, don't bother buying it... i've got a collection of his music (courtesy of emma) that i will share on request.