Rap/Hip Hop and Irish Music

Rap/Hip Hop and Irish Music

First off I want to let everyone know who this is. It’s your friendly neighborhood bodhran player, Garry Walker. And yes, I’m that guy who wore a cloak and had ROCK music as my entrance theme. I’ve read a couple of posts on the thread about "being hated for Irish music part 2" regarding rap music and I wanted to talk about what to me are some offensive perceptions of rap and hip hop by some Irish musicians. I’m an emcee and a producer as well as a black Irish musician who has experienced racism in Irish music. Here’s some stuff to keep in mind as we talk about why these negative perceptions exist:

1. All popular music is not rap music. For example from what I’ve heard it’s gotten around that my entrance theme was some kind of hip hop which it was not at all. It was a rock song, which is the furthest thing from hip hop, and incidentally it was by Maroon 5 which is 5 white guys. I may be black but I listen to and enjoy all kinds of pop music as well as Irish music. I run a record label that includes hip hop, electronica, spoken word, and rock to name just a few.

2. Both Irish and hip hop/rap music were born in cultures that were experiencing extreme racial oppression. Both become like a way of life for the people who participate in them, and become like a cultural identity rather than just music, even for people who come to these genres outside of the culture.

3. Irish dance people say that tap dancing is the result of cultural interchange between Irish immigrants to the American South and the black people that they met there. At that time Irish people and black people were both the lowest rung in society and were oppressed and discriminated against.

4. Irish and hip hop songs have a lot of the same themes: love, death, wealth, pining for someone who’s dead, immigration (from Ireland to America or from a poverty-stricken place in America to New York or Hollywood), promiscuous behavior, etc.

5. Cyphers and jams vs Irish music sessions: Both traditions have spontaneous music gatherings for fun and socializing. In hip hop somebody starts a beat (beatboxing, which is vocal, or instrumental) and people freestyle which is rhyming words and phrases off the top of your head. It’s a way to put away the politics of the music and have fun, just how in Irish music sessions there is a low-pressure environment where individuality is celebrated and players can appreciate each other’s contribution.

So why is there such a negative connotation attached to rap and hip hop? Here’s some of the ideas I’ve come up with, but I want to hear your opinions, even, maybe especially, if you are someone who looks down on rap.

1. Let’s be honest: black people to this day are seen as morally corrupt, threatening, and to blame for a lot of problems in this country. And hip hop was created and is dominated by black artists.

2. The experience of black people in this country has certain consequences for artistic expression. There is anger as well as hope, and many of us experience or witness violence as a part of our life. Music has always been a way for every culture to strike out against the government, the status quo, and to express a wide range of emotions and experience as a voice for the community. Irish music was once forbidden under the Penal Laws; even now Irish music can sometimes be seen as a symbol of Irish nationalism, which has been a violent struggle.

3. I somehow doubt that this is the biggest concern of a lot of white people who dislike hip hop, but there are some negative images of black women in some hip hop. I don’t support this and I won’t allow anyone on my label to perpetuate antifeminist sterotypes. There are many artists who have great music that is very popular that kids listen to who don’t support this either, like Will Smith, Common, Kanye West, and Dead Prez. And anyway, have black women suffered more from negative stereotypes in rap or from "welfare reform" perpetrated by white republicans?

4. Furthermore, even an artist like Jay-Z, who may have a lot of things to say that people wouldn’t agree with on some topics, should not have all their work discounted. For example his latest single, 99 Problems, talks about how to deal with racism and the police. He states all the rights given to anyone in this country when the police stop you, and talks about how to deal constructively with cops that are out to get you. Sadly, this is important and useful information for black teens. Unless you have experienced being black in America you have no idea of the fear that one lives in of cops from day to day. Or unless you are a Catholic in certain neighborhoods in Northen Ireland.

5. Eminem: He is the most prominent rapper in hip hop, one of the most controversial, and he is WHITE. He has some of the most violent, misogynist, and homophobic lyrics out there. Could a black artist even get away with saying what he says without having hip hop outlawed altogether? However, his sheer skill, lyricism, and talent cannot be ignored. It is a whole other debate whether music that is artistically good can be divorced from distasteful associations, the classic example being Wagner’s popularity with the Nazis.

Traditional Irish music has been associated with Irish nationalism for a long time. One could argue that there is a certain political agenda in promoting Irish language and culture, and that insistance on hardcore traditionalism has more to do with politics and what the music symbolizes culturally than art. It might sound silly to politicize Irish music and dance, but there are those to whom it is no joke. Hip hop music is a cultural movement that sometimes makes political statements; in some circles, even playing Irish music is a political statement more powerful than words or lyrics. Black Americans and Irish people have a lot in common historically, and it seems that Irish musicians aware of the historical context should be the last to criticize rap and hip hop.

So now I want to know what all of you think about any or all of what I’ve said. I hope it makes sense and feel free to ask me to clarify things.

PEACE
GRY

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Re: Rap/Hip Hop and Irish Music

I’d think this’d be great info for the thread for the paper on politics and music.

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Garry,

I doubt severely that the bad opinion so many have of rap has anything whatever to do with the fact that it is primarily a black art form. I think an informal poll would tell you that the main objection to it is its lack of musicality. Melody trumps all else when it comes to music. The same is true of classical music. Schoenberg will never compete with Beethoven, I assure you. In fact, one of the reasons that Irish music is enjoying so much popularity is because it is so melodic. I could say alot about the content and performance of rap, but most of what I would say would be a personal value judgment. However, the lack of musicality is a simple fact of life, so unless you are into the form, or into the content, or both, you will likely not find it to be your cup of tea when music is what you are after.

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Re: Rap/Hip Hop and Irish Music

"I know I can, be what I wanna be, If I work hard at it…. - Naz"

"Lookin’ after babies, from the crack O’ dawn till dusk
Changin’ dirty nappies, and takin’ out the trash.
Is this what I’ve been educated for,
to wipe the wipe the arse of baaaby…in…americaaaaaa!!!"
-Black47 ( the New York based Irish hiphop rap amalgam from the early 90’s)

A big resounding whatever from the peanut gallery. I’m to tired to get into this can of worms. This Canadian born, middle class, rap lovin’ white guy who plays traditional fiddle is going to bed. But not until after I go through my whole collection of NWA, RunDMC, Alycia Keys, Stevie Wonder, Boys to men, Jay z, beyonce, maria, whitney, alya, laurenhill, tupac, biggy, fred durst, icetea, mase, beastieboys, eminem, will smith, arrested development, obi trice, de la soul, jungle brothers, egyptian lover, and pm dawn albums………..wish me luck finding something melodic.

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As a non-Irish, non-Black classical violinist/musician who loves Irish fiddling, I’d just to say I have no interest in rap at all - probably because I mostly associate with students and musicians who like classical, Celtic music of all kinds, popular music of many kinds, and some jazz. But this non-interest doesn’t mean I don’t approve of other people liking it, I’d just rather they play it where I can’t hear it.

It’s a bit like smoking, but then no, if I’m paying into our (Canadian) health insurance system I’d like if the smokers paid higher premiums than non-smokers.

As for Gry’s bit about society being down on Black music because it’s made by Blacks, I hope that’s not true. But it may depend on where you live, and how familiar the population is with various minorities. I live in Toronto, which may be the most cosmopolitan place outside of New York. I like living in Toronto partly because of the racial mix here. When I go to other places I miss the non-white groups and it feels good and "normal" to get back here.

Going to Guelph, Ontario this coming weekend for an Irish fiddle workshop. Aside: see if I pine for the racial diversity, or maybe I’ll be too occupied to notice. I hope! I’ll let you know if there’s anything remarkable.

Fiddlefingers

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I disagree with Ailin about the lack of musicality. I think if you’re going to criticize you need to remain consistent. While you may be accurate that most rap/hip hop (different but related genres, right?) lacks melody, it does not lack musicality.

They (rap/hip hop) are genres dominated almost entirely by rhythm. To me, great rap/hip hop has an amazing rhythmic interchange between the rapper/lyricist and the DJ (who combines scraps of sound to create a driving rhythm).

And while Irish music is melodic, I’d find it a hard argument to buy that Irish music isn’t very driven by its rhythms. To the casual listener the melodies may go by so fast that the underlying rhythm is what catches them.

I’m actually not a fan, but I greatly respect serious practitioners of the form.

Maybe I’m sticking up for it because I read a lot of angst in Garry’s post, and maybe I’m sticking up for it because I’m another bodhran player, so I dig rhythm of all kinds.\

Just my biased perspective.

DIRTYHEEL

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I’m 26 now, but I’ve been into hiphop (as a rapper) from I was 12 until the age of 23 - now i just like to listen to it 😉 But if you want some melodic rap music, check out The Roots; they also play "real" instruments 😉

/DADdyGADdy

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It is clearly ridiculous for people to say that rap or hip hop is not musical.

I would also take issue with there being a racial element to this, some people like it (like me) some people don’t - big deal.

I may not like gamelan music but that does not mean I have a hatred for all things and people from indonesia. I am no fan of wagner but that does not mean i don’t like Germans.

Different strokes for different folks thats all.

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For a little light relief, listen to The Bodhrán Rap by Gino Lupari on Four Men and a Dog’s album
"Shifting Gravel"

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I like rap because I like poetry, and I think improvised poetry is cool. I’m not that keen on popular rap’s cultural baggage - not because it’s black, but because it’s urban, and that’s not my scene.

I did find it amusing that one or two contributors to the "being hated 2" thread seemed to assume that everyone here would join in their distaste for rap, metal, or whatever. (Who was really doing the "hating" there?) And I was pleased to read that this was not the case, as lots of folk jumped to the defence of other musical forms - an importantly, everyone’s right to enjoy them.

So am I a racist? Maybe. For this reason. Because I am a little uneasy about outside "enthusiasts" for a musical style that has strong cultural and ethnic links flooding it with their input. Of course I believe that someone from Bonn has a right to play Irish music, and someone from Mexico City may play Bulgarian music brilliantly, etc. And it’s not for me to judge who should be playing what. And I have the right to be uneasy - even about what I am doing, sometimes!

To clarify, you would also need to understand that I’m uneasy about tourism and the effect that has on cultures. When ethnic music becomes trendy (as opposed to a "popular" musical form trying to be commercially successful) the question is what will happen. Cross-fertilisation or pollution?

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I agree with Kris - I suspect rap suffers from its own popularity. As soon as it’s popular you get a rash of imitators and it’s hard to tell good from bad if you’re not into the scene.

I’ve had the same experience with traditional music for many years - people only know the mass produced diddly-diddly stuff. Most of the friends I have intoduced to trad have been amazed by how good it is and how much variety there is. I still bump into them occasionally at festivals, after all these years.

I have little interest in rap, and no experience of growing up as disaffected youth in urban America, but I like Eminem’s work and can appreciate subtlety and intelligence in any art form.

I’d like to think he’d feel the same way if he came to a session.

But he’d probably think it was crap.

Eno 😉

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GRY, that was very interesting and good on ya!

My own very personal opinion:

Everyone is free that like/dislike any genre for musical reasons and people who said they "just don’t like it", well that’s fine.

However, I do agree with you that there are a lot of prejudices about rap/hip hop and that people tend to sort of lump it all with that "sex and bling dumb stuff" they hear on chart radio". It’s a kind of snobbery, though I don’t think it has quite as much to do with it being black music as you argue. For instance,country music often gets the same "Eeeeeew" reaction, and that is very pre-dominantly white genre. I think *some* people (and if you read this it and it doesn’t mean you then don’t take offense, please) in a certain group just like to think they are more tasteful than people in another group. Happens in human groups of all kinds all the time. I’d also be willing to bet that many rappers wouldn’t find diddly-i particurlarly cool.

Irish music is the love of my life, but I’d prefer good hip hop with soul to some of the lame "tasteful" Irish trad. I haven’t as yet found any genre of music of which I don’t like at least some artists.

P.s. Did anyone hear that bluesy rap crossover thing? A rapper and his bluesy dad. Was it Naz? That was cool, I thought.

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GRY - help me out a bit:

You talk about people’s attitudes to rap and black people "in this country"

This site is very much a world wide forum - it would help my understanding of what you are saying if you could tell me which country you are talking about.

thanks
Dave

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Rap,not Rap music.It has nothing to do with with music.And by the way,the c in rap is silent..

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Now GRY, I suppose the appropriate response to jocklet is "…and the ‘it’ at the end of ‘Traditional Irish’ is silent". Boy, it’s been at least 15 years since I’ve heard the c is silent crack.

Honestly Basil, it’s as if he’s been beaten with a wit-stick!

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Preemigration swains and plowboys used to gather at the crossroads and compete with one another by improviseing poetry on the spot. Influence and similar cultural development in similar cultures around the world tend to prove that the human being is more alike than different from one another.

Prejudice is more often in the mind of the victim than that of the perpitrater.

John Williams recently appeared at a local festival. At the afternoon session someone, I don’t recall who, did some rap vocalizing with John to a good reaction from the group. John and the rapper later performed a set during the headline performance. It rocked dude!

Rap and Trad are compatible.

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As Theodore Sturgeon said, eighty percent of everything* is shite. This is especially obvious in the case of pop music, where sales are largely based on popularity, and have nothing to do with musical quality. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to figure out the 20% that’s worth having.

I get tired of hearing people who don’t know any better slag off Rap/Hip Hop because they’ve never taken the time to actually listen. This is no different from slagging Irish players because "it all sounds the same".

* Ok, for ITM, only 75%

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There’s not even 1/2 a percent of rap or hip-hop worth having.

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I gather that you are an entirely different jocklet than the one who was so quick to criticise folk for calling tunes "daggy" etc. - because it was eliteist, and the world would be a boring place if we all liked the same things.

See https://thesession.org/discussions/4916

if your selective amnesia isn’t better soon.

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At least what some people call "daggy" tunes come under the heading, "music".

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Garry,

Thank you for joining the conversation here at the session, and for your insights into common oppression experienced by both Irish and African immigrants to America. Not all Irish immigrants came here willingly, either, especially the 40 - 100 thousand women sent by Cromwell to be slave’s concubines. (Or so I read in Jimi Hendrix’s biography - that was his Irish ancestor, the book said)

"So why is there such a negative connotation attached to rap & hip hop?". I can only speak for myself here. To me, rap & hip hop, as well as a lot of predominantly white music categorized as heavy metal, alternative, techno (I am probably showing how dated I am just by the terms I use) just sound annoying, irritating, violent, threatening. They pull me down, emotionally, rather than inspiring me. They are not beautiful or positive or uplifting in any way. That’s how they touch me.

Fortunately, we all have the freedom to listen to whatever we want. Well, almost. Not to hijack the thread, but as an aside, I cannot count the number of times that others (whites as much or more than blacks) have willingly inflicted their loud music - all of the genres I mentioned above - on me from their car or apartment. I have NEVER once had anyone inflict either ITM or classical music on me that way.

I am white. My wife is not. We have both experienced racism against us by both of our ethnic groups. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen very often. We never experienced any racism during the 2 years that we were ceili dancing weekly. (I’m the one with some Irish ancestors, she was the one who took an interest in the dancing.)

It seemed to me that Irish music and dancing was mostly fun for ordinary folks. Some pursue technical expertise, but for most of the participants it was just fun.

What do YOU think of ITM?

🙂

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"Black Americans and Irish people have a lot in common historically, and it seems that Irish musicians aware of the historical context should be the last to criticize rap and hip hop. "

I would argue that the criticizm being referred to is either racially, culturally or socailly motivated. Based on the past several months of my partcipation in this discussion group, I find little evidence that views of music in general, expressed here, are movtivated by biogtry.
Deb.

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Garry, you raise some good and difficult points.

I semi-agree with Debwah, at least as regards the folk on the session. I’ve heard racially-motivated negativity about rap, but not here. I think in this case it’s a cultural gulf. We all tend to overrate the music we love and underrate the other guy’s. That’s just human-normal.

Myself, I have very mixed feelings about rap. Some of it is unquestionably good, and done by talented people. Some is lousy; see the very apt Ted Sturgeon quote. (Except he said 90%. Ted wasn’t prone to soft-pedal!) My major problem with rap is the extremely hard beat; I find that physically difficult to endure, and after listening for any length of time end up feeling stunned and ill. My lesser problem with it is the violence in much of it, but again that’s not a universal in the genre.

I also wouldn’t classify it as music, not because I feel it has no music to it but rather because I think of it as a form of theatre —- music, poetry, spoken word, etc, all happening together. Like all theatre, it’s best live, but in the modern world most of it comes from a can instead.

Just my 2c.

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Ragtime & Blues were primarily created by Black Americans, and both were loved by the younger generation of White Americans in their day. Jazz has strong Black roots and was loved especially by the younger generation of White Americans in it’s early days. Rock has some roots in the blues and was the music of choice of most of the baby boom generation. I am way outside of pop culture, but doesn’t rap / hip hop sell well in today’s white youth market? Didn’t the older generation find all of the above musical genre’s offensive, or at least irritating, when they originated?

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The point of my last post being that I believe that older generation white America’s distaste for rap / hip hop is not racially motivated.

On another note, when I read Fiddlemouse’s last post, I was reminded of the talent show at my son’s high school last year. 2 white kids presented a very entertaining rap. Several black vocalists gave outstanding performances of white movie tunes. the audience loved all of these performances.

Garry, I am glad to hear that you are promoting a higher artistic level of lyrics than what is usually associated with a lot of rap, and I hope that higher standards breeds higher success. Also, I agree that lyrics that degrade women should be intolerable from anyone, regardless of their race. Freedom of speech, like all freedoms, should be appreciated and used to improve life / society etc. Those individuals and societies that do not appreciate their freedoms and use them wisely and constructively surely lose them.

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i have a huge problem with some of popular raps degradation of women. but thats not my problem with rap. i dont like how angry and harsh a lot of it is. i guess i dont like the beat structure they use, either. i just dont like the hard beat. to me it seems to be one metre and rhythm that they keep rehashing. i know that is not true, but it is what it seems to me. if i was black myself i guess i would like it, i dont know, but there are a lot of things i force myself to like even though i dont (i am still trying to figure out if i like green tea cuz i like it or cuz i am obsessed with japan). i dont have any problem with its "blackness". i do like freestyling tho, i think that is a real skill and its awesome to go watch it.

gilberto gil does some interesting rap. but i like it cuz its different. if you dont know who he is, he’s a black brazilian musician who started the tropicalismo genre of music, a samba / rock / jazz / folk / rap kinda thing. its very interesting. when he raps he doesnt have that harsh, urban feel. i would not have even considered it rap, thats how un-rap-ish it is, but most people consider it rap.

rap comes from the a low economic urban culture, where to survive you have to be a lot tougher and harsher. that’s just not who i am. i like gilberto’s rapping because it is a lot smoother, and lyrical. now, i dont understand what he says cuz he’s speaking in portuguese. of course his style has a lot to do with his personality, cool, smooth independent, thoughtful, and tropical (hence tropicalismo) . if you want a good gilberto gil song download "haiti" if you can find it. maybe amazon has some sound clips of his. he doesnt rap in every song, though. its pretty even accross the board.

he was actually kicked out of the country for his music too, it was too radical. so, i guess its still harsh (as i so meanly called rap music) but its harsh in that it was progressive, challenging all of society and the government, and it mixed together all musical art forms. haha, although now he’s a very important, powerful politician in brazil. haha, and he’s still got dreads.

but, bottom line, american rap just doesnt speak to me. just like not all jazz speaks to me. its easier for me to listen to hindustani classical music (which is very difficult to listen to) than many types jazz, even though they are both improvisational music, and hindustani uses notes and microtones that literally we have never heard before (between our tones, and they have no absolute pitch, only relative); for some reason its easier for me to appreciate and understand the alap of hindustani (slow… no time signature, bent notes) than it is for me to understand really freefrom jazz (like miles davis’ kind of blue) even though the latter is more accessible to the uninitiated ear. though i love bebop to death. i am going to start going to a jazz class one of my band teachers teaches after school once a week cuz i really want to learn more and get into it.

but i do agree with gary, i think there are some people out there who hate it because its by black musicians. though its complicated. a lot of people did hate jazz when it came out because it was black. but jazz also was highly connected with pot smoking and drinking. its twofold, some of it is the culture the music seems to create, and some of it the race. how much of each is dependent on the person. though there are a lot of people out there who dont like it because of their musical tastes.

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My problem with rap and hip-hop has nothing to do with race.Idon’t care if the people making it it are black,white or green with purple stripes.It’s just a horrid noise. It’s not music,I suppose that it could be called a form of folk poetry,with a certain generosity of spirit,although to call it poetry would be stretching a point.I think that’s it’s a way for people with no talent to make some money in the music business.Would you call Eminem,Snoopy Dogg Dogg et al talented?The only talent that they posses is a talent for self-publicity.

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Eminem is unquestionably talented, and you’d be surprised at how sophisticated his lyrics are - certainly in form, if not to your taste in subject matter and attitude. I don’t listen to his music much at all, but the times I’ve sat down and specifically gotten to know a song, I’ve been very, very impressed.

I’ve been reading a lot about Eminem on the one hand, and Robbie Burns on the other - and I think it would not be unfair to either of them to draw parallels between their talents, nor their circumstances.

put that in yr pipe and smoke it.

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I posted earlier in this thread. In the earlier post, I said that an informal poll would probably bear out my assertion that many find rap to lack musicality, or at least any semblance to a melody line.

This time around I want to make a more personal observation. The ghetto image that rap has creates, in my opinion, the impression that all blacks are uneducated hoods. There are few popular black recording artists that I would trust standing near my car, and that’sa terrible state of affairs. It also does not help that black culture has become so steeped in sounding and dressing as a low-life that young black kids coming up can’t mix in sophisticated company. I’m white, but people like Bill Cosby and the Reverend Jesse Jackson have said much the same.

I am 52 years old, and grew up with music by the likes of the Four Tops, Leadbelly, Jimi Hendrix, Lou Rawls, Louis Armstrong, Joe Williams, Cleo Laine, Ella Fitzgerald, the Supremes, Booker T and MGs, BB King, Lionel Richie, and Chuck Berry. Where are their like today? Does rap speak for all blacks? I don’t think so, and that’s a big part of what I find so off-putting about it.

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A really horrible session also lacks muciscality. But as we always say on the yellow board - its takes all kinds to make an interesting place - and fortunatly there are people on the site who like Hip Hop - so there is hope for us yet. (Thankfully)
PS - When slagging off other kinds of music because you may think they are cr*p, just think to yourself ‘when was the last time I player Drowsy Maggie’.? If it was in say the last 5 years then you really dont have any right to be slagging others off for their musical tastes.

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They won’t be quoting Emimem’s lyrics in 200 years time,while Burn’s poems will still be remembered.

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Ailin makes a good point.Muddy Waters had more talent in his little finger than all the rappers put together.

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Maybe they wont be quoting Eminem in 200 years time, but I bet they will still be quoting Hitler. Just because things get mentioned generation upon generation does *not* make them good.

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Nice to talk to such a sophisticated person.And it’s spelt "bollocks",by the way.

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In the earlier days of bicycle time trials in the UK, the stringent amatuerism regulations required that the bike maker’s name should never appear on press photos. The usual practice was to tape over it.
When that regulation was lifted, sometime in the 1960’s if my memory serves me, one rider in my club celebrated the occasion by having the name B O LOX put on his racing frame.
Trevor

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Call me a sentimental old softy, but I still think the new boys are hard put to beat Grandmaster Flash for style AND content. They may call this stuff ‘Old Style’, but, as someone who came in when Rap started out. that initial "what the the f…. oh. Wow!” feeling just can’t be matched by the new stuff.
However (believe it or not) they aren’t making this stuff for the likes of me, so what the f…. do I know?
I can still remember the horror (and my delight at that horror) that my interest in Can and other similar German experimental Rock Groups engendered in my Mother’s breast…