So ideally, this is my last prediction for “the Future of Music,” since no doubt within the next week (or even the next few days), blogs and download sites will start popping off with some of the first “leaks” and singles of the new year. If you’ve been following along thus far, then you may recall my first two predictions (and even if you haven’t, I’ve provided links that’ll take you straight back to both)-
So what’s my final thought on “The Future of Music” with regards to R&B and rap?
Prediction #3: Changing times = changing sounds.
I think it goes without saying that you can pretty much tell what year or time frame a given song came out based upon the way it sounds. This was especially true in terms of R&B and Rap/Hip-Hop, because there appeared to be genres and subgenres emerging left and right. You may not entirely agree with me, so we’re going to have a pop-quiz of sorts. Yes, right now. I’m going to post three songs and you tell me if you know, off the top of the dome, which year or time period said song could be associated with.
Well, how well did you do? I’m sure the youtube links made it a tad easy. The first song, “Motownphilly,” is from the early 90s; its sound is often categorized as part of the “New Jack Swing movement” (fellow #ThreadBlogger UTpipeline actually paid homage to New Jack Swing in an earlier post on here). New Jack Swing was mostly R&B music that made you want to get up and dance, with no restraint. Its beats were uptempo, mimicking the unrestrained flow-with-the-rhythm-even-though-the-rhythm’s-a-little-unpredictable sound that jazz had in the early 1940s and 1950s. New Jack Swing was also highly characterized by popular dances that involved mostly swift movement of the feet and legs.
The second song is of course, Lil’ Jon & The EastSide Boyz’s now classic “Get Low,” featuring the Ying-Yang Twins. “Get Low” was associated with the “crunk” movement that swept rap music, especially from 1999 until about the end of 2006. Songs of the crunk movement tended to have throbbing, head-bobbing riding beats that were heavy on the bass, and Lil’ Jon was considered a pioneer of the genre, as most of his beats were associated with “crunk music.” Most of the music from the crunk era came especially out of Atlanta, Georgia, and was often associated with its strip club scene. While rap music had for years been getting play in strip clubs (word to Uncle Luther Campbell. Y’ALL’S Uncle, not mine. lol), around 2002-2003, music producers and promoters especially started to notice a song’s potential based on how well strippers moved to and patrons got into a given song. It thus became an accepted industry standard that, if you wanted to measure a song’s potential as a single or a “banger,” a strip club was an ideal place to test the waters. *sidenote: “crunk” would have a cousin/stepchild, “buck,” that had crunk beats coupled with a background synthesized drum bassline, a sort of “echo” effect, and building intros as if to signal or introduce a fight or major event. Rap group Three 6 Mafia out of Memphis is especially associated with “buck” music. Examples include Big Tuck’s “Tussle” and Crime Mob’s “Knuck if You Buck”*
The last song is “I Like The Way You Work It (No Diggity),” by the R&B rap group Blackstreet. This song is associated with the trend emerging in mid-90s up into the present, when R&B and rap collaborations (as ThreadBlogger chadstanton refers to it, the “hybrid model”) were becoming more commonplace, and tended to especially drip sex. These songs often seemed to have a “pulse” going on in the background, and a beat that easily had the side-effect of making one sway their bodies or heads from side-to-side. Another example can be found in Notorious B.I.G.’s collabo with R. Kelly, “Fuckin’ You Tonight.”
Each of these songs were part of a particular era or “sound” that emerged most in the 1990s. You had specific music producers who could be associated with certain sounds, as well, such as Dr. Dre’s subtle instrumentals accompanied with rolling basslines and Timbaland’s “weird” (read: unique) throbbing beats that seemed almost liquid in nature. I believe each of these sounds could be associated with society’s, or perhaps Black people’s feelings at the time. In the early 1990s, with gangsta rap, the sounds were raw and hard-hitting, signifying the people’s unrest and desire to be heard. In the mid 1990s, as RnB caught on and also as contemporary African-American films became popular, music became more slowed down yet listenable, with a “sit back, relax and enjoy the show” type feel.
In the 2000s, we saw a lot of sub-genres emerge, such as:
- * the “cRunk-n-B” fusion of RnB singers over a crunk beat, on tracks such as Usher’s “Yeah” and Ciara’s “Goodies”
- * “snap music,” a cousin once removed from crunk, found on tracks such as “Laffy Taffy” by D4L and “Buy You a Drank” by T-Pain featuring Yung Joc
- * and “Auto-Tune,” which was basically the resurfacing of a popular beatmaking machine of the 80s, which allowed for distortion of a singer’s voice to where it had a sort of echo/whine. Singer T-Pain is most notably associated with Auto-Tune in the 2000s. Examples include T-Pain’s “I’m Sprung” and Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown”.
In my opinion, music of the 2000s tended to be a mix of either the extravagant or the futuristic. People, Black people especially, were enjoying prosperity in some areas; the youth itself was driven by material wealth and attraction to expensive lifestyles they dreamt of or tried to live (“Gucci dreams on a Dollar General budget”). Additionally, the prospect of the new millennium, of flying cars and new technology, almost certainly required a new sound.
This new sound is techno-ish in nature. RnB especially has started to follow the sound of “Euro-pop,” which has tinges of an echo and a throbbing beat that’s almost robotic in nature. Consider recent “across-the-pond imports” Jay Sean’s “Down” (featuring Lil’ Wayne) and Mr. Hudson’s collaboration with Jay-Z, “Forever Young.” Both of these certainly sound like something you would expect to hear “in the future.” Lloyd’s recent smash single “Lay It Down,” borrows the same techno, Euro-pop formula but infused with the energy of new RnB. My prediction is that RnB will continue on this path of a futuristic sound. Producer Timbaland will lead this new breed. His beats, which were somewhat unconventional in the 1990s and 2000s, seem almost prophetic and fit right in with the current trend of music. (Compare this track to this, both produced by Timbo. Hear the resemblance?)
Rap is slow to adopt this futuristic sound, but will become more fully involved in it by 2012. We’ve already seen this coming a little bit in Kanye West’s productions “Love Lockdown” and the more recent “Power” (which itself samples a European rock band); the efforts of Kid CuDi and B.o.B.; and in rapper Lil’ Wayne’s current “Martian Movement,” as evidential in songs such as “Phone Home” and “I Am Not a Human Being.” Emerging producer Boi-1da (Drake’s “Over”) will fit right at home. We KNOW Lupe Fiasco has designs on it. Look for “the sound of the future” to really take off from a rising up-and-comer (I call Diggy Simmons… living up to his “Great Expectations” against his elders on at the 5:12 mark on this track).
Sure, the old-school sound and classics will always have a nostalgic value. But for rap & RnB to stay relevant… eh, I’ve talked enough. I’ll let Lupe say it for me.