Saturday, January 1, 2011

Jay-Z and Rap’s Epilogue

Just as when they called the Beat the Beat, the Beat was over, when the media labeled punk as punk, punk was done, last night (and throughout his recent book junket for his book, Decoded) Jay-Z, pronounced (without realizing it) Rap over on the David Letterman Show.

Shawn Corey Carter is an amazing artist and entrepreneur. He sat with Letterman and chatted briefly about his life with an elegant calm and confidence; endearing, with an incredible perspective about where he has traveled, his authentic street roots undeniable. He suggested that Rap can only be delivered in a real way by those who have lived the lifestyle, experienced the pain and violence.

This insight made me wonder about other musical genres like jazz and country, folk and rock ‘n roll. Must an artist, singing a song about the land be of the land from which the setting of the song originates? I’m not sure. Jay-Z definitely makes a good point, though.

While rap music continues as an art form, I think it has been an incredible influence upon artists not from the street just as Taylor Swift (from Wyomissing Pennsylvania) has taken her non-country roots to the country music world, just as Damon Albarn has transformed and fused a few genres to co-create Gorillaz, a virtual band, from the very un-virtual place of Whitechapel, London England.

Jay-Z presided over the funeral of rap music last night without knowing it. Rap as rap is over, but its DNA is now swimming in popular music strongly, resonant in commercial culture, exuding from Jimmy Fallon’s house band nightly (thanks to The Roots).

Now what?

Perhaps the new art form in music is the one and the zero…the digital instrument. We’re learning how to play this very real virtual orchestra. We struggle to mix it with the physical instruments of the world…strings, vocal chords, drums, reeds, tubes. The new musical frontier looks to be the mix, the swirl, the blending. But this seems nothing that new as we humans have been mixing ever since the voice was accompanied by the clapping hands.

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