Dear Rappers: Get some friends

6 11 2009

I was flipping through my Jay-Z playlist this afternoon in the LeSabre, and for some reason a thought popped into my head that I couldn’t shake: Jay-Z doesn’t do his choruses. This isn’t to say that he never sings/raps his chorus, but that he usually lets someone else to the heavy lifting.

So I went through the songs again to make sure I wasn’t making it up. Does he sing/rap his own choruses? “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)?” Nope. “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)?” No. “Girls, Girls, Girls?” He helps, but he doesn’t sing the name of the song. “Jockin’ Jay-Z?” Nyet. “Change Clothes?” Nein.”Oh My God?” “Brooklyn Go Hard?” “Never Change?” “Lucifer?” 0-4.

Granted, I’m not saying he never is responsible for all of the lyrics of an entire song. Certainly “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” “Threat,” and the god-awful “Show Me What You Got” are examples of him recording a track solo, but it got me thinking and after a little research I discovered something interesting.

Jay-Z has had 10 songs in the top 25 Billboard’s Hot 100, and only two of them consisted of Jay-Z only (“Dirt Off Your Shoulder”, “D.O.A. Death of Auto-tune”). The rest had either a featured artist or a sample that made up much of the chorus.

Then I looked at other rappers: T.I., Nas, Ludacris, Kanye West, Young Jeezy, 50 Cent and Eminem. Of these rappers, only Ludacris (7 of 14), Eminem (10 of 14), and T.I. (4 of 8 ) had at least half of their top 25 songs featured only one artist’s voice in the song. [Side note: did you know that Nas has only had two songs crack the top 25? That was unexpected.] In case of Ludacris and Eminem, this makes sense, considering their cadences from one track to another can vary greatly (Think “Kill You” vs. “The Real Slim Shady” and “Southern Hospitality” vs. “Number One Spot”.)

I think we can all agree that of all musical genres, no genre brings multiple voices onto a track more than hip-hop. Why? My theory: Rapping is an amazing skill. No doubt it takes an incredible amount of talent. But at the end of the day, rapping isn’t singing, it’s rhythmic speaking. Rappers use more words and express more thoughts than any other genre despite their amelodical scheme. This can lead to monotony, and nothing will get people to tire of your music faster than droll, repetitiveness.

Yet hip-hop is the most popular genre of music in America. (Which also raises the question, did the increase in featuring and import of different sounds on one track lead to the increase in popularity?)

This could be why Auto-tone became so prevalent in hip-hop, because it allows to both bring melody into rapping and create enough distortion for choruses and such to create a “featuring artist” effect. Obviously who’s using it dictates how successful it will be (think Kanye vs. some random Young Money rapper), but it certainly is plausible that this idea led to some of it’s usage.

What does this mean? Why is this information important? It tells us that collaboration is key to the success of popular hip-hop. Different tones, different cadences, and different rhythms help keep hip-hop from getting stale. Basically, my point is this: If you’re a rapper, know a rapper or know someone whose cousin’s brother’s best friend is trying to become a rapper, tell them to get another voice on their track. You can thank me later.

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