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Monday, October 3, 2016

Clipping. Rap Music Analysis

Well, clearly, obviously, there's absolutely NO way I'm NOT going to be talking about the awesome changes in meter that take place in the beat behind the rapper (whose flow I'll get to in a second.) I myself am a classically trained musician, so that kinda shit just gets me going, haha, especially when I frequently lament the lack of more musical/melodic elements in rap (complex chords, more formal orchestration, etc.) At 0:00, the song is in a feel of 12/8. This means that there are 4 beats to a measure, just like most other rap songs, such as this other clipping. song here, called "Summertime," which you might know. Here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=COSPHLq8y98

(Sorry if you know all this stuff that's about to come, but it's just easier to get it out there.) A measure is to musical time as a minute is to chronological time, which is what I call the system of time that's measured by watches and clocks. Chronological time always lasts the same amount of time, so that people can coordinate events together. But musical time, since it can be both slow and fast (which you know yourself from your own experience,) has to be able to last differing amounts of time between songs. This is the function measures perform.

And just like minutes can be broken down into seconds, measures can be broken down into beats. It's the manner in which these beats come, then, that differs over time on "Story 2," which I love.

So, 12/8 has 4 beats to a measure; nothing special. But 12/8 divides each of those beats into 3 smaller divisions of musical time, which are called 8th notes. But 4/4 divides each of those 4 beats into only 2 smaller divisions of musical time. Most rap music is in 4/4, like that other clipping. song I linked to. 12/8 is much, much rarer, so I can appreciate the creativity. Another example of a different 12/8 song is Kanye West's "Spaceship."

However, around 0:10, they change it up so that instead of 3 8th notes per beat, you now get 4 8th notes per beat. But you don't notice much, because each 8th note still lasts the same amount of time; the only thing that is different is how they're GROUPED together; i.e., where the musical accent (same thing as emphasis) falls.

But around 0:18, they started having 5 8th notes per beat. Trace the delightfully, logical progression: from 3 8th notes per beat at 0:00, to 4 8th notes per beat at 0:10, to now 5 8th notes per beat, around 0:20. This is a really complex metrical trick that is very popular even in the most complicated 20th century classical music; it's called metrical modulation, and was first named in the work of Elliott Carter.

At 0:30, they add 6 8th notes per beat; at 0:42, they move to 7 8th notes per beat.

It's important to know all of that to understand the sophistication with which the rapper on top has crafted his flow. Like I said before, there are other songs in complex meters, but they are few and far between. And when they ARE done, the rapper sometimes leaves something to be desired. For instance, check out El-P's "Dear Sirs," here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQG6urHxT0I&feature=youtube_gdata_player which has 5 beats to a bar.

Now, that's great, but El-P doesn't take advantage of what that 5/4 time signature could afford him; namely, an opportunity to craft his phrases in interesting ways. If you listen, he is always starting and stopping in completely new places that have nothing to do with where the bars behind him start and stop. You don't need to be ruled in a dictatorial fashion by those musical parameters, but you SHOULD at least acknowledge them, so that later you can play off them.

Clipping.'s rapper, though, DOES acknowledge these lines. He doesn't just float way over the beat, not interacting with the underlying pulse, like El-P does. Instead, he flows completely in time with the song, even if that time is constantly changing. In order to balance out the complexity of the meter, as I've just described it, he's simplified his syllable-to-syllable rhythms to simple 8th notes. This is a really good idea, because if he tried rhythms that were too complex, the listener probably would get lost in the music. Imagine André 3000 trying to spit the same type of rhythms he uses on OutKast's "Return Of The G" (found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFt9pJHzOAE) on clipping.'s "Story 2" song. It just wouldn't work. That's why clipping.'s balance of complex and simple is so satisfying.

So, clipping. keeps his syllable-to-syllable rhythms really simply, but his larger scale rhythms — where his sentences (same thing as musical phrases) start and stop are really complex. That's because they expand along with the expanding meter behind him. When there are 4 8th notes to a beat at 0:00, he keeps his sentences to lengths (or multiples of the length) of 4 8th notes; when it expands to 5 8th notes per beat at 0:10, he expands his sentences to lengths of 5 8th notes; when it moves to 6, he moves to 6, and so on. This is amazing, amazing, amazing. It shows a true musician who is fully in control of all the tools in the composer's compositional toolbox, and that he is incredibly self-aware of the music he's making, and how to move logically from one section of music to the next.

Thanks so much for passing this along! It was awesome. If you need a better explanation of what beats are, check out my post on Kendrick Lamar here. And if you really like this stuff, I keep a weekly newsletter that sends it out every week. I posted one other one I did, here below, on the similarities between Kanye West and classical musicians.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Logic, Growing Pains, Rap Analysis

***As appeared on last week's website e-newsletter***

Sometimes all of you guys on this newsletter just blow me the hell away, you know that?

I’m over here, sitting around, writing about rap, thinking I know what I know. And then one of you send me a song, and it makes me re-think everything, and what I used to know I don’t anymore.

Let me walk you through the entire experience of my first listen to “Growing Pains II.”

So I go to YouTube, and turn it on to get to know it, and immediately begin killing time on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Blogger, YouTube, YouFace, MyBook, wherever. I’m listening, and it’s cool, and I’m letting it sink in, but still thinking, “This isn’t anything I haven’t heard before. I mean it’s really, really good, but still pretty standard.”

And then 3:40 rolls around, and I get knocked on my ass.

I get knocked on my ass because it occurs to me that I’m not even the one person here who’s telling you that Logic’s song is a great one. Arthur gave me such a good song to analyze that he basically did my job for me, haha!

Seriously, by around 3:50 — ten seconds into this part of the song — I know I’m hearing something great. Because it isn’t just that Logic put an extended beat drop here, while still rapping — he put an extended beat drop in here at this point, while rapping…and rapping…and rapping…and still rapping…

Immediately, my mind at this point is racing to connect what Logic’s doing to other examples I might know of. Of course beat drops are classic in Hip Hop — I can right away think of a killer one from Black Thought off the top of my head, where he gives his rap the maximum punch available by inserting his best lines when the spotlight’s all on him: “Thump this in your cassette deck / Hip Hop has not left yet”, time-stamped on YouTube here:

https://youtu.be/3dNkIDPC9UE?t=135

And of course, Lil Wayne has his own greatest one, on “Got Money,” perfectly marrying the beat to the rap and the rap to the beat:

https://youtu.be/crfhQnIv9Jk?t=69

And then there are songs that might be considered just extended beat drops, where the beat never comes in. I’m thinking of Supa Nate’s verse from jail on the OutKast Aquemini album:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71jax17z2Fw

or even Big Noyd’s freestyle on Mobb Deep’s Infamous album, called “[Just Step Prelude]:”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bD1Nlhe1A0

It’s also got me thinking about some Cool Kids beats. There, the beats often drop out, but the exiting beat is simply replaced by a new beat, as different as it might be, like on “Action Figures:”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09HeBs4Fx2w

Lil Wayne’s breakdown on “Let The Beat Build” comes close to doing what Logic did, but the producer only drops Wayne down to the drum instrumental…there’s not as much there, but there is STILL something.

Even Kendrick doesn’t beat Logic to the punch. Kendrick’s outro verse on “The City,” from Game’s R.E.D. Album, is a long, LONG beat drop rap verse, almost 40 seconds long with no beat…but Kendrick never brings the beat back, like Logic does on his own track. You can hear Kendrick’s verse here:

https://youtu.be/9xN_EmhQ4hQ?t=267

This all makes Logic’s own rap verse an extremely interesting mix of musical approaches to structure we’ve seen from rappers in the past. We now have to ask ourselves: is what Logic is doing here no more than a complicated version of a verse? Is it simply a long beat drop? Is it a mini-freestyle, inserted into a larger pop song structure? Let’s try and find out.

On the one hand, someone might want to call Logic’s rap between 3:40 and 4:20 just another verse in the song. However, this particular section of the song is so unique when set against the rest of the song, that I don’t think you can call it a verse. Not only does Logic completely change his flow, he also drops the beat all the way out right behind him. Additionally, Logic raps a cappella here for a very long time, when compared to the other examples we just looked at before: for almost 40 seconds, or 14 bars in musical time.

Actually, this verse’s length isn’t exactly 14 bars — it’s 14 and a half, which is a very unusual length for a verse to be. Logic is able to make this a cappella section end at a relatively awkward stopping point, because he has no beat behind him. This means that he is using a rhythmic approach called rubato, where the music-maker is ever so slightly changing the feel of where the beat is falling behind them:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tempo_rubato

So, because it’s so different in terms of length, beat structure, and rhythmic approach, I don’t think we can call Logic’s rap at 3:40 just another verse.

I also wouldn’t call it “just” an extended beat drop, because beat drops, as the term is usually used, rely on the beat almost immediately coming back. Out of all the examples I quoted, the beat drop is never longer than 2 bars, including the Lil Wayne and Black Thought examples. Here, the beat exits for over 14 bars!

Instead, I would in the end call this a cappella section at 3:40 a nestled song-within-a-song. Yes, Logic does have the grand, unified “Growing Pain II” idea on this track, that starts and ends the song. But right at 3:40, it’s almost as if Logic has inserted what could be considered a completely new track. Because he has taken the beat out of the mix, and then gone on to rap for so long, this rap version of a musical black sheep feels like a freestyle. We almost forget that there was a chorus before this section, because it feels so very different. There is no chorus connected to this rap here, so just imagine how easy it would be for a talented producer to take his lyrics from here, put them over their own beat, and come up with a dope remix — THAT’S why it is its own song.

Logic led us down this path, by starting off the song very traditionally for the first three and a half minutes. Afterwards, though, he takes us down an unseen left turn road. We saw this before, from Kendrick specifically…but Logic once more surprises us when he brings the beat, unlike Kendrick did. That’s how Logic can actually give us 2 songs, when we think we’re hearing only one.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Excuse My French, But Is This REALLY French?

Today, I started listening to Polish Hip Hop for a graduate project I’m working on at the University of Colorado — specifically, the rhythms of the rapper’s words, not the beat behind them, the art of the video, or anything else like that. The first guy I checked out was O.S.T.R., this song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxq2N38aXGk

I was somewhat surprised to find out that the rhythms of the Polish words were extremely similar to those of English words, to the point that English words could have been interchanged into the melody, and things would still sound the same — the semantic meaning would be different, but the musical rhythms could have stayed the same.

Surprised by this, I decided to pick the language from the countries we’ve studied that is as different as possible from English and Polish, and decided on China. I did this to see if the same thing would still happen. However, the rhythms of the Chinese video here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzwNVCq9bjg

were incredibly similar to those of both English an Polish as well. How the hell could this be?

I mean, when people speak these languages in real life, their rhythms are incredibly different. Having studied French for years, I know that the accent of every grammatical clause or word in French falls at the very end. English speakers like us might pronounce the word for your state like this:

coloRAdo

But French people would say:

coloraDO

We might say:

TEXas

But French people would say:

texAS

All of this is true, even though Colorado’s accented syllable is the penultimate one, and Texas’ accented syllable is its first one. France simplifies that into the same thing: an accent on the final syllable.

But listen to where the accents fall in this French rap song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3sOlpoQYNo

Even if you don’t speak French, and they’re talking too quickly for me to understand what they’re saying anyway, you can hear that the rappers’ accents aren’t falling only at the end of the sentence; they’re falling inside as well. This makes this kind of rapped-French more similar to English than it is to “proper” French.

It seems, then, that French rappers must break the rules of speaking French in order to rap in French.  Perhaps this might be an “extension of self”, a rebellion against the norm that is acted out not just verbally (the meaning of the words they say), but phonologically (how they grammatically say those words) as well (this idea might be developed further later.)

And just in case a person might think these rules I refer to are no more than loose conventions, consider the Académie française:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acad%C3%A9mie_fran%C3%A7aise

I now quote Wikipedia: “The body has the task of acting as an official authority on the language; it is charged with publishing an official dictionary of the language.”

Could a living, breathing art like rap ever have happened in a language with such a cloistered climate? It’s no mistake that French used to be the language of diplomacy; in the future, we’ll speak of a lingua anglica, not a lingua franca.

English is so popular because it has no problem incorporating other languages’ words, like omerta, or (ironically) even French ones, like voyage. In contrast, the Academié française proscriptively decrees that French people should use the word “le courrier electronique” when referring to what we call e-mail. But what is easier for a person, no matter their native language, to say: “e-mail” (2 syllables) or “le courrier electronique” (8 syllables)? The answer is “e-mail”, obviously, so that’s the word most French people use.

Don’t doubt the power of nativist institutions like the Academie française. A certain percentage of all songs on French radios stations must be in French:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_pop_music#Radio_in_France

And the Toubon Law makes the use of French in many public instances mandatory:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toubon_Law

I mention all of this to show that these ways of speaking French from France aren’t just conventions; they’re taken as common foundations of a well-integrated social fabric, on an equal level with virtues as idealistic as France’s cherished secularism (laïcité: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La%C3%AFcit%C3%A9), which has so recently been thrown into the forefront of the world’s consciousness with the Charlie Hebdo killings.

Some other notes on the societal conventions of speaking French from France:

1.) People who speak French from France (not African/Caribbean/etc. French, which I’m not familiar with) speak more quietly than American English speakers;
2.) Such French people talk more quickly than American English speakers; and
3.) French people speak in more regular, straightforward, constant rhythms than American English speakers.

You can see all of these conventions manifested in a series of interviews with native speakers outside the abbey of St. Michel in France, here:

https://youtu.be/L_RxZc7eMeU?t=96

Listen to how quietly these francophones speak, how they never pause (even for a second) until the end of the sentence, and how quickly they speak their words. For all of these reasons, I can read and write French really well, but when I try to speak it and combine it with my nails-on-chalkboard accent, it’s almost impossible to be understood by others.

So in that rap song I just linked to, note that the francophones are variously upsetting those established conventions at certain times: they speak (yell, maybe) loudly, they speak relatively slowly, and they speak in stop-and-start rhythms, not a run of straight syllables until the end. Once again, French speakers seem to have to imitate English (or at least speak in non-French ways) for now, in order to be able to rap.

These subversions of French grammatical norms line up well with the uniquely French linguistic phenomenon of verlan:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verlan

Verlan basically inverts and reverses the rules of French. It’s not just harmless wordplay; it’s destructive wordcrime, to certain establishment institutions like the Academie francaise. Verlan is, unquestionably, a subversive reaction to such entities; disenfranchised, criminalized (not necessarily criminal) youth use it as a code (technically, an “argot” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argot) that authorities like cops don’t understand in order to communicate with each other.

Could French speakers’ conscious or unconscious imitation of English function in a similar way?

Combine this now with what I couldn’t have missed in listening to that Chinese hip hop video I linked to before: the distinguishing tones of the Chinese words — necessary in most circumstances for proper comprehension — are now completely gone! There is a minimum of “high level”, “high rising”, etc., tones:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_language#Tones

Having talked to a Vietnamese speaker — another tonal language — I found that the absence of what would seem like vital verbal information is actually, to a native speaker, not a huge hurdle. You simply need to know the language very, very well to understand the rapper, and you also have to use context clues to figure it out as well. Similar to verlan, does this function as a way to define an in-group and an out-group?

It’s my theory, then, that these languages actually now have to imitate the norms of the English language at this point in time in order to be rapped. Chinese rappers imitate English’s lack of tonality; French rappers imitate the fact that accents in English can fall anywhere in a word, and so on.

It occurs to me that this imitation of English, in at least some Chinese and some French rap, is an evolutionary stage in international rap. I draw this conclusion because I find similarities to it in the development of other musical genres when they are transported to a different country.

Consider, for instance, classical music in China. After it was eventually accepted by the Communist party there, there was a major effort to make classical the dominant music of the country. For instance, a conservatory system of teaching music, an import from Western countries, was established. Tan Dun, the most famous Chinese music composer (think of movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), is, in fact, a huge example of the success of this system. (He attended the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.)

The early Chinese composers largely imitated Western styles, often inartfully, with no originality or what I’d call artistic self-awareness, and came off as sounding like kitsch.

A modern composer like Tan Dun, however, has merged classical and folk aesthetics in his own music. For instance, he uses the traditional pentatonic scale, but he forms complete chordal harmonies behind it. This gives his music a decidedly authentic feel, while crossing the East-West divide. A great example of this is his “Song Of Peace”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbfLeFYcHhM&list=PLs0cGvZnrIeaZvPFsznyYRho9PZ7q2QqA

Compare the intro of the piece with what immediately follows. The opening is clearly in a Chinese aesthetic, with a deep sensibility for timbre (sound-color). Only afterwards is it that we get a melody in equal-tempered intonation, a decidedly Western development.

Something similar happened when Japanese classical music first came of age. Toru Takemitsu utilized traditional Japanese instruments like the biwa flute, but used it in an full orchestra.

It might be one day, then, that French and Chinese rappers can rap in ways that are not just semantically French and Chinese, but grammatically French and Chinese as well. But that day doesn’t seem to have come yet.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Bone Thugs...Explained!

So, after my incommunicado-ness over the book, here is my first original analysis, post-manuscript. It's about Bizzy Bone's verse on the singular B.I.G. song, "Notorious Thugs," and was done in response to a question from a reader like you, named Ehab.

Enjoy guys!

Peace,

Martin

Bizzy Bone, Analysis:

So, I haven't talked about Bizzy much in my writing not because I didn't think he was good, but only because I didn't know any of his stuff. Scratch that — I THOUGHT I didn't know any of his stuff, but as it turns out, "Notorious Thugz" is one of my favorite songs from that B.I.G. album. I obviously knew Biggie started it off, but I didn't realize the guy after him was Bizzy — I just thought it was some random Junior Mafia member, like throughout the rest of the album.

Anyway, "Notorious Thugz" is one of the most unique songs in Biggie's entire catalogue, in my opinion, because his flow is so much quicker here than it is on almost every other song he made. The song is in a double-time flow, so the rapper either really has to rap slow to match the beat, or rap quickly, to act as a counterpoint to it. There kind of is no in-between here.

The fact that the beat is in double-time doesn't just mean that the beat is slower, however. The fact that the beat is slower actually means that the rappers have MORE musical positions in which to place their notes. Bizzy Bone is an expert at realizing this and taking advantage of it, and I believe that this is what separates him from Twista, like Ehab said in his original e-mail to me:

>singing too fast doesn't make you a goddamn skilled rapper but when it comes to Bizzy l've always felt something different and way complicated..

That "way complicated" part to Bizzy that he mentions, I think, is Bizzy's ability to place notes in multiple rhythmic positions, each of which have various rhythmic meanings, over a double-time beat. That sounds kind of complex, so allow me to explain. To talk about this more, let me make sure that we all know what a double-time beat is.

In normal, non-double-time rap music, there are 4 beats to a bar. Beats are like the minutes of musical time, in that they're a building block for it. Just like 60 minutes make up an hour in everyday life, 4 beats make up a measure (another word for bar) in rap music. And we use beats, not minutes or seconds, to count music, because while we want minutes or seconds to always last the same amount of time so that everyone knows what we're talking about when we use them, we want something else that can be fast OR slow in music, since some music is fast, and since some is slow.

In a normal bar of rap music, beats 1 and 3 are the strong beats, while beats 2 and 4 are the weak beats. Because of this, beats 1 and 3 generally have bass kicks land on them, while beats 2 and 4 have snares land on them. This gives the music a strong, propulsive feel.

Double-time music upsets this straightforward feel a bit. In double-time music, snares happen on the third beat of the bar, not the second, while bass kicks happen on beats 1, 2, and 4. This makes the music sound twice as slow as it should be, since snares are only coming half as often as they should; hence the term double-time. For example, this exact Notorious Thugz' song could be notated in a 4/4 meter at 156 BPM (beats per minute, which is a mathematical measurement of tempo, the speed of a song), or in a 2/2 meter at 78 BPM. And if you'll notice, the snares do happen on beat 3 on it, but the rappers respond to the lower division of the quarter note (another term for a beat.) You can use the website here to track those 2 BPMs on this song, if you'd like.

This is the paradox, then: there are simultaneously 2 very obvious layers of rhythm to double-time beats. Bizzy Bone takes musical advantage of this by sometimes rapping at the faster, 156 BPM level, and then slowing things down to the lower, 78 BPM level.

For example, check out Bizzy's opening lines. They're overall pretty fast, right? This means those opening rhythms are responding to that 156 BPM speed. But throughout the verse, he ends up slowing down the overall rate of his rhythms. Take a listen to his lines at 3:14, when he raps "Beg my pardon to Martin, baby we ain't marchin', we shootin'" His rhythms are much more slower, up-and-down, and almost march-like at that point. While he's using this for expressive effect — to emphasize the poetic point he's making — it also has musical consequences: here, he is now responding to that slower, 78 BPM level. He makes this shifts in rhythmic gear all over the place, and I would now encourage you to go out and find them yourself :)

He even mixes in a third rhythmic level at certain points, when he raps in a special type of triplet flow. At2:37, he raps these words, where the accented syllables are in capital letters:

"DEEP in my TEMple and HAD to get".

That's a 3 over 2 polyrhythm, where the 156 BPM beat is divided into 2 8th notes, while Bizzy conversely divides it into 3. We can see this when we realize that every third syllable in those lines turns out to be emphasized: DEEP, TEM-, and then HAD. This means that his own rhythmic speed over that 156 BPM is actually 1.5 times faster than the beat behind him, since he's placing 3 notes where the beat places only 2 eighth notes, and 3 divided by 2 is 1.5. So, 156 BPM times 1.5 is 234, and this adds a third rhythmic layer to the rap track. This is a complex rhythmic technique called metric modulation, which you can read more about on Wikipedia here.

That got kind of technical at the end, so let me try to paint a more descriptive picture. If I were to describe this more generally, just try to follow along to the structural markers of Bizzy's phrasing. (Phrasing here refers to the building blocks of Bizzy's melody, the sentences he raps and where they start and stop, but separated from their verbal meaning.) Bizzy is awesome because he makes his melody endlessly re-listenable, and we can enjoy his rap listen after listen by paying attention to:

1.) Where his phrases stop,
2.) Where his phrases start;
3.) How long or short his phrases are,
4.) etc.,

with regards to:

1.) The start of each bar 156 BPM bar;
2.) The start of each 78 BPM bar;
3.) The downbeat of each 156 BPM bar;
4.) The downbeat of each 78 BPM bar;
5.) etc.,

and so on. See how deep this is?

Bizzy is constantly shifting the listener's interpretation of the beat behind him, and trying to track him as he does this incredibly quick is really, really fucking amazing, haha. You're right, that there is more to Bizzy as a Midwest chopper style, than some other people. This is because I think he realizes that, in rap, it's not about the notes; it's about the syllables. That is, his approach isn't to try a rapid-fire triplet flow, like Twista does. He just thinks to himself, "Where should I put the syllables?" He imagines musical time like a malleable piece of clay, whereas other, less-talented rappers see it in a more clear-cut, almost woodblock-ish way, where YOU have to do what the MUSIC wants, not where YOU have the ability to make the MUSIC do what YOU want.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Kweli Vs. Beethoven: What Does Jazz Really Mean In Rap?

After having dealt with how jazz has influenced rap in a general sense, I’ll now mention the specific, strictly musical aspects that these two types of music definitively do share.

The first is something known as “playing behind the beat.” This means that a musician plays their notes slightly later than the actual felt beat of the music. It is a very small delay, though, so it doesn’t feel like a shorter duration length of note. Instead, it’s simply expressive. In rap, you have to have a very discerning ear to hear it, but a pretty clear example is Mos Def’s verse on “RE: Definition:”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fr6SrRQnZv4

The most obvious one is at 2:10, on the “-ssem-“ syllable of “assemble it.” That syllable “-ssem-“ is still accented heavily, and it feelslike it’s on the beat, not syncopated like the word “did” back in his line “Like Moby Dick did Ahab.” But he’s actually way after it, to an almost startling extent.

This expressive delay also happens at 1:52, on the “sti” of “Palestinians”; The word “day”, at 2:00; The “syn” of “synonym” and the “fem” of “feminine”; and even others.

Compare this to a video of Miles Davis’ solo on “Freddie Freeloader”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14zAa_PBfRI

It has the notated music in the video. But, actually, that sheet music (note that it is Western music notation) is all wrong. Those notes that are written down don’t actually fall on the beat, as the notes indicate; they fall way after, as you can hear.

This is something African drumming music, and jazz, does a lot as well.

Another thing people will compare between rap and jazz or African drumming music is “polyrhythms.” But, just like jazz is being used to justify rap, “polyrhythms” isn’t really the right word, if they want to make the comparison such a commentator thinks they’re making. Polyrhythms is when more than one rhythm is being played at the same time, and since a rapper can only say one note (or word) at a time, it’s hard to see how they could ever make polyrhythms.

Instead, what I really think such commentators are alluding to is the fact that rappers can touch on many different metric divisions of the beat, all in a short span of time.

For instance, a polyrhythm, such as that from Western African drumming music, might be one where 1 drummer plays 3 notes in the same time duration during which another drummer plays 2 notes. This is what that sounds like:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8tKbd91kFA

And if rappers are using polyrhythms, they could, at most, only be switching between alluding to that level of 2 notes at a time, and alluding to that level of 3 notes at a time. But again, I’d maintain this isn’t a polyrhythm, but complex rhythmic subdivisions of the beat, since the rapper is only saying one note at a time. That is, they aren’t thinking bottom up (add 3 notes together, then 2 notes, etc.); they are thinking top down (divide the beat/bar however I want.) This doesn’t reflect how the rapper is consciously thinking at the time they are making their rap, but the different musical traditions they are working with (classical, which would be bottom up, vs. jazz/African traditions, which is top down.)

At a much more complex level, this is what Kweli is doing in that same notation from “RE: DEFinition” that we looked at last week. As a reminder, this is it:






You can hear that song here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fr6SrRQnZv4

To help you understand those rhythms, I've isolated them and had them played back by a simple triangle:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DICLoafxSag

For a while I have been notating rap rhythms exactly as they sound — behind the beat, all of these complex rhythmic subdivisions — while other people simplify them. When you simplify them into straight notes, you lose much of what I’m talking about: rapping behind the beat, displaced accents, complex subdivisions. But if you look at that notation from Kweli, you will see all of it. In order to see the complex subdivisions I’ve just been talking about, compare how many different note lengths there are. Sometimes this, (called a sixteenth note), as on the first instance of the word “is”:



Sometimes there is this other length of a note (called a dotted sixteenth note), as on the word “so”:



Sometimes there is still different length, that of the dotted 32nd note:



And still others. Again, you don’t need to be able to read music to get this; just see how many different note lengths there are, and how quickly Kweli changes between all of them. Compare this now to a zenith of Western music, the “Ode To Joy” melody from the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th’s symphony. This is the first 3 bars:

Unlike Kweli’s music, here, there is 1 length of notes: a quarter note. This is a great, physical example of the difference between Western music and African-influenced musics (like jazz or the blues.)