Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mopping Up Culture Vomit: The Exclusivity Agreement, Discovered in Rap via Country


Over a beer and a glass of scotch (I had a bad week), my dad and I continued our long-running discussion on why he just doesn't care for rap music and why I think it's the best thing since sliced-bread/whatever musical genre that came before rap that was as good as rap.

His argument centers on the concept of "technical proficiency." This argument has been running even longer than the rap argument, probably since I figured out who Brad Paisley was and took issue with how stupid his name is.

My dad argued the dude was tremendous at guitar and thus deserved at least some degree of praise. I, citing how "good" Yngwie Malmsteen was at the guitar and how much he actually "sucked balls", didn't give a shit about Brad's prowess.

I argued that somebody like Les Paul or Clapton could smoke Brad Paisley.

And even at the time, I knew that was bullshit, at least in some way. I'm not sure either of them could actually play faster that Paisley, but I thought they could beat him in terms of "technique", grandly-conceived.

I have since recanted my dislike for Brad (yup, I love him so much I'm on a first-name basis with him, even if that basis is unrequited), considering how disgustingly good he actually is at guitar and, more importantly, what a terrific songwriter he is.

(Here's where the rap comes back)

My dad was right about "technical proficiency." There is a reason why people adore "technically proficient" people so much: they appreciate how much effort has gone into the artist's product. Artists who toss off their creations aren't particularly revered, except when it's clear how great they are when they actually try (I'm looking at you, Weezy) and how good they still are when they don't (still looking at you, Dwayne).

But he still doesn't like rap. He doesn't view their art as being indicative of "technical proficiency" and thinks he can knock it off. Yes, my father is going to try to write/perform/record a rap song.

And hooooooooly crap, am I excited.

That (my excitement) is not really the point, though.

I'm not excited, per se, for my dad to record a rap song. I'm excited because I know he's going to fail at it.

That did not come out right.

I know he's going to fail because I failed to record a particularly good rap song. And yes, I wrote/performed/recorded a rap song. The results are not pretty, and nobody but myself and my closest confidantes will ever hear it. Unless they decide to embarrass the hell out of me. And frankly, I wouldn't blame them.

You, reader, should take this away. Be open-minded about what constitutes "technical proficiency." A rapper may not be able to singer (thus autotune), but a singer also may not be able to rap (thus, 311). I love them, and they've been doing it for twenty years, but neither of the dudes from 311 could rap their way out of a paper sack.

If it's not already clear: rapping is hard. To get the flow of a Jay-Z, an Andre 3000, or even just a post-College Dropout Kanye, you have to earn it.

Kanye's a good example. His lyrics, at their best, were fresh and insightful on Dropout ("All Falls Down", some of "Jesus Walks"). At their worst, they were banal and faux-misogynistic ("Breathe in, Breathe Out"). His flow could be great ("Get 'Em High", where he might even upstage both Common and Talib Kweli, the latter of whom I never did like anyway).

But, damn, has he gotten so much better. He's great on "Touch the Sky" (maybe better than Lupe, who's one of those who can phone in a verse and still kill it), spectacular on "Gone" (and complemented perfectly by Killa Cam), and uniformly excellent on all of Graduation (but especially "Good Morning" and "Everything I Am").

Rapping is hard, hard, hard. Don't blow off good rappers because they make it look easy. That's what all good musicians should do.

BONUS TRACK (i.e., appendix that didn't quite fit in, but is related):

Following up on last week: Cudi can't sing particularly well, and that makes his live performances allegedly crappy. But does that really take anything away from "Day 'n Nite?"

"Okay," you might say, "but dude didn't produce the song, so is he really responsible for it?"

Yep.

Just as few directors simultaneously write, edit, and direct (I'm not looking at you, Coen Brothers), virtually no musicians perform every duty on their songs (again, not looking at you, Prince).

I should just rename my column, "Cut 'Em Some Slack." Because that's what I tell you to do, every week.

Nobody's perfect. And collaboration's fun.