HOW RAP DESTROYED R&B

                                                                By JayQuan

I am closer to 50 years old than I am 40, and feel blessed to have had a mother who always played Jazz , R&B and different forms of music around the house. As long as I can remember music was always the background to whatever we did back in the days – which is why I see music as a soundtrack to my youth. A song can make me remember where I was , what year it was etc etc. My Mother also took me to concerts when I was as young as 7 or 8 years old ; so I remember seeing the Barkays , Cameo , Confunkshun , Gap Band etc in their primes. There was always some Teddy Pendergrass , Peabo Bryson or Larry Graham playing at the crib. In addition to these forms of “Black Music”  I was exposed to Coke Escavedo , Elton John , Hall & Oates , Boz Skaggs and tons of other good music. My Grandmother had every James Brown and Barry White record (until I helped myself to them). I always say that I am blessed to have been born when I was. I got my first record player the Christmas of 1978 and the first 2 records I got were Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions and David & Jimmy Ruffin. With those records my Mother also gave me a history lesson on both groups. In fact there was always a history lesson. Whenever she bought records that contained liner notes, I would read them religiously. As I read, she provided context, by sharing stories and history about the artist and genre in question.

 

In 1979 the first Rap Records were released on various New York & tri state record labels. The one that got the nations attention was “Rappers Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang. This record forever changed my life. I always was intrigued by records. I would visit family members and just go through their record collections-looking at the record covers , labels and just messing with the buttons on their component sets (on old people term there). When this “Rappers Delight” came out, it was on a label called Sugar Hill Records. The jacket & label had a Sky Blue logo that was very eye catching. When we heard the record on the radio we thought that the Dj was joking over Chic’s “Good Times”. When I found out that this was an actual record we went right to the store to inquire about it , and we were directed to that record with the catchy Blue label. There was another song – a Funk song by a group called Positive Force and it had the same label. Today I have almost every one of the records released by that company, because that first rap record was so good , that I bought EVERY record that looked like it no matter who it was by. So all this history is just to let people know that im not just someone who discovered rap music in the 90s or even 80s for that matter – I am well versed in the whole gamut of 70s Funk , Pop & Disco up until and through Rap. So in other words I am well qualified to make the claim that I am about to make.

 

Hip Hop is a beautiful artform. The pillar of the Hip Hop subculture that I gravitated to the most was Djing and Emceeing (what the world now knows as rapping). My infatuation with records made me easily fall in love with Djing , and my love and mastery of words made me confident as an Emcee. Going to those concerts that I mentioned earlier gave me a great respect for music and musicians. To make a song that people dance , cry or make love to takes an incredible amount of talent. To play an instrument is just an incredible thing. To be able to play several is just the creator manifesting himself through people in my opinion. Before the potential of Rap music was discovered by corporate America (1974-1985), it was very creative by taking bits & pieces of existing music , and later drum machines to create something totally new. Rap records in the beginning didn’t sound like a Rap show in the Bronx or Harlem would sound. In fact most of the first Rap records sounded like & were based on Disco records. Even so Rap was still a lot more aggressive , direct & in your face. The first few years of recorded rap was all about partying , but a few years later got even more gritty & aggressive. Even though rap musically was based on R&B , Disco & Funk - Rap was the step child of the music industry. In fact it wasn’t even respected or accepted as real music. This was fine with us Hip Hoppers because rap was born out of rebellion against these other forms. So by the early 80s you had my parents generation who still listened to Motown , Isaac Hayes & Earth Wind & Fire , and we  respected that music , because we were born to that music. But now we had our own voice that our parents didn’t understand or respect , and that made it even more attractive to us.

 

You have to be careful what you ask for. At one time all that we wanted was to be accepted by mainstream media. Before the Beastie Boys presented a Grammy award back in 87 there was never a Rapper at the Grammys , not to mention a Rap category. Stephanie Mills , Prince & these types of groups would never be seen collaborating with a Rapper (Chaka Khan did have a verse by Melle Mel in 1984s I Feel For You – but that was the producers idea…and Mel wasn’t in the video). In the 80s, R&B was still a wonderful thing ; and stood totally independent of Rap. You had some of the 60s & 70s icons like Stevie Wonder , Diana Ross , Marvin Gaye , Teena Marie , Rick James , Aleem , James Brown & Smokey Robinson still making hits while new comers like Prince , Bernard Wright , New Edition , Fonda Rae , Rene & Angela , Gap Band , Zapp , Cameo & Yarbourough & Peoples were banging out anthems weekly. But in the mid 80s Record companies started to notice Rap – especially how cheap it was to produce. At one time groups like Cameo , Confunkshun & Parliament had fifteen or more members. Each member had to be paid and studio time was a killer. Extravagant stage sets also came with Funk & R&B groups. Rappers usually had just a Dj with an instrumental copy of the groups hits , and no real stage props. In the studio Rappers had a drum machine and a turntable. The low overhead meant huge profits, so the same executives who dismissed Rap in the 70s loved it in the mid 80s.

 

We loved our Rappers because they spoke to OUR generation. They talked , looked & dressed like us and this was truly OUR thing !! We still loved R&B but Rap is direct. It doesn’t sugarcoat and it cuts out the middleman. But it’s beauty was again that it existed coming from the R&B tradition and adding on. Nobody liked Rap at first. When acts like Kurtis Blow,Treacherous Three & Soul Sonic Force toured with R&B groups they ridiculed the Rappers. They even sabotaged the Rappers equipment at times. But still with all this we loved both forms of music because each was true to its origin , and we had the advantage of being born into R&B , but understanding Hip Hop. When Rappers began to sample (take a portion of prerecorded music or voice and electronically manipulate it to play certain parts continuously & on beat) the death of R&B began. This is a subject that is close to my heart because I am a producer who samples , and further more thinks that Rap music sucks currently because of the lack of samples. It may seem hypocritical , but I can respect Primo (Dj Premier) and Prince at the same time. I understand what each one does and each is a genius at what he does. I think that each should exist at the same time so that we can respect BOTH artistic expressions. But because Rap generates a lot of money and is so cheaply produced ; record labels stopped signing musicians. So the youth today see a so called live show. Its not live when several cats are on stage with the artist screaming over top of the vocal version of their song on a MP3.

 

The only way it seems that you can take your kids to REALLY see LIVE music is to take them to a so called neo soul concert or a retro 70s or 80s Soul show. So my question is where is the Earth , Wind & Fire of today? What about the Donny Hathaway , Stevie Wonder , Grover Washington or Miles Davis. What would motivate a young person to want to learn to play an instrument and be in a band? Not much when they can download software and sounds from their computers , and put together  music right at the PC. Even the cats that are supposed to be R&B try to dress like and be just as ignorant as their rap counterparts. I actually liked the fact that New Edition wore suits and did syncopated dance moves , while Run Dmc wore Lee jeans and shell toe Adidas. Its hard to separate the thug Rappers from the thug singers , and every singer has a Rapper on their hook , or as a guest on their song. So for a grown man where do I turn when I want to hear some good music when im in the car with my wife? The oldies station? D’Angelo , Jill Scott & Raphael Sadiiq are trying to keep tradition but there is no radio format to adequately support them. So the question would be did R&B really fall off , or did radio change so much that there is no format that it  fits into? I would argue the latter. I have to also ask my true rap fans – we got we we asked for – the planet listens to Rap right now. But we lost an equally important art form in the process – was it worth it?