Thursday, August 19, 2010

The History of Rap, According to Brendan

As a budding rap star, I've deemed it necessary to jot down my memoirs as an occasional member of the immensely popular, largely Afro-centered music culture before I'm inevitably gunned down by a rival recording artist (Central Spri-Town WHADUP).

I suppose it all began in fifth grade at St. Agnes grade school when I engaged in my first freestyle rap battle. Obviously, I did not come up with the idea, nor did I take the initiative to go first. Or second. As a matter of fact, I don't particularly remember even taking part in the event, save for assuming the role of the wide-eyed spectator/friend of those participating. I learned a lot that day. While I hardly ever laid down a verse until probably this year, I discovered that true rap comes from the heart, nay! the soul. Sure, almost anyone can deliberate and meticulously construct a decent rap song, but it takes a true poet to cull words out of thin air on the spot and arrange them in a way so that they are lyrically concise and somewhat intelligible.

So anyway, here's some delectable exposition for you to munch on. My taste in music has always been a tad eclectic. Throughout grade school, I went from listening to N*Sync, Backstreet Boys and S Club 7 (still listen to them, unbelievable) to filling the shoes of every quintessential junior-high boy preceding my arrival to seventh grade by rocking out to some Queen and, rather obscurely for my eighth grade class, Van Morrison. And once back in the day, my cousin, my idol, came into town from St. Louis toting a CD PLAYER and several rap CDs. He told me, "Brendan, rap is the way to go. These guys are so fresh. Dr. Dre tells it like it is." Although I took his word for just about everything, rap was the one thing I couldn't dig (except, of course, for that of The Fresh Prince, Will Smith, and DJ Jazzy Jeff).

You see, I had always grown up listening to whatever my parents played for me, with some exceptions, until about seventh grade when I discovered that humans are social beings and the only way to connect with my peers and those of the students from ANOTHER SCHOOL (Blessed Sacrament) was through the pop-rap-infused "music" found on the radio stations of choice at the time, 99.7, 102.9 and 103.7. My world was opened musically when I heard classic cuts such as "Soul Survivor" and the unforgettable "Shake Ya Tailfeather" (all one word). I was finally cool, man! I was listening to rap music on the radio and identifying with my classmates.

Of course, that's all laughable now. But damn, son, back in the day you know it was the cool thing to do. Don't delude yourself any longer. I embraced it, yet I still didn't accept rap in its entirety. Rap was always something I popped in every once in a while to act tough and appear as if I could spit some game. And then one day in seventh grade, my buddy Griffin Davis says to me, "Hey, my dad bought me this CD last night of a new guy named Kayne [sic] West or something. You should check this out, it's pretty good. I think he's religious or something, he raps about Jesus, but it's pretty cool." And so it began. He and I were the cool kids (in my opinion) sitting in the back of class reciting Kanye's lyrics back and forth at each other. We fell in love with the down-to-earth, rootsy feel of The College Dropout, and were the only ones who knew of Kanye's existence for a long time. That is until we let slip the wonder of the album and our peers began to demand copies of the CD (who wanted to buy music in the early days of file sharing?). Consequently, Griffin and I set up a lucrative underground racket, bootlegging copies of the album for those who asked (quoth one boy, "Can I get a copy of that Connie West album?"), naturally, making a hefty profit (this is a lie. Once again I was purely a spectator, as another boy took my place in the market, but I had the inside look at this business).

As the business expanded and my friends grew prosperous, I concentrated mostly on deciphering the lyrics of The College Dropout. And to be honest, the lyrics are just now truly hitting home to me as I mature and gain a better understanding of West's music career and where he comes from. But back then I was just an innocent boy trying to associate with the plight of burgeoning African-American musicians. I really didn't listen to any other rap, though. I pretty much focused on Dropout and the subsequent Late Registration, conflicted by how much I loved Kanye West yet despised his immense popularity among people I disliked, the "phonies" if you will (thanks Holden Caulfield) (this was, and is, a major flaw of mine. After reading Catcher In The Rye, I became rapidly disenchanted by the arbitrary acts of the people around me jumping on the bandwagon, causing me to dislike anything other people like, things I may even have enjoyed at one point, but we'll save that for a later post). Unfortunately, I could never allow myself to try out Kanye's supposedly solid third and bizarre fourth albums, and I'm still uneducated on them.

As it goes, I still never gained a large appreciation for rap music, save for Kanye West, which stuck with me throughout high school. That's right, I've never gotten into Lil' Wayne or Tupac Shakur or anyone (notice how I'm struggling in coming up with any other notable rap figures). The only similar artist I grew respect for was Grandmaster Flash, of the Furious Five ('Cause white liiiiines blow awaaaaaay). That only happened because I'm nerdy enough to look up on Wikipedia what song Shaun and Ed boisterously sing as they drunkenly stumble out of the pub in Shaun of the Dead.

This dry spell in my rap career, like I said, continued throughout high school until about late December, when once again, Griffin came to my rescue and introduced me to Kid Cudi. "He's the next Kanye, man," I was promised. I couldn't turn that down. I burned a copy of Man On The Moon (still not buying CDs yet, but thankfully turning down torrenting) and gave it a few listens. I don't know what it was- perhaps the ambiance of the snowy, blustery weather, maybe the simplicity and down-to-earth feeling of his lyrics, or maybe the fact that the album featured MGMT (I was desperately searching for "independent," contemporary music at the time)- but the album stuck on me quickly, and I once again considered myself among the elite. You see, although I didn't know at the time that Cudi released his debut in, like, September, the album hadn't approached the ears of every other partyboy at SHG yet. So, yeah, you can guess what happened. Once every guy and his dog started posting "i got 99 pobrlems and they albitches [sic]" as his Facebook status, I pulled out faster than McCain said he could have in Iraq (obscure political reference!). But I secretly still like Cudi, despite the fact that all his songs are pretty much the same, weed and alcohol, lack of rhyme scheme, you know.

So let's fast forward a bit. This summer, I got the opportunity to aid Peter in rapping the hook to a song he created around the Drake song, "Over." We did not make it into the Variety Show, whatever.

I've recently been made aware of the presence of two up-and-coming 19-year olds from Philly trying to make a name for themselves. Mssrs. Peter Racine and Thom Padanilam introduced me to Chiddy Bang, an "alternative hip hop" group that owes their popularity mainly to the fact that they cleverly sample songs by "independent" artists such as Sufjan Stevens and MGMT. What's not to like? I decided to bite the bullet last week and head down to St. Louis to see them perform in a small venue, and it was totally worth it. We got to meet Chiddy himself! And we saw some other sweet performers (Vizzy!).

I mentioned earlier that I'm a rap star, no big deal (yes it is). Peter, whom we've all come to affectionately know as P. Race, is Springfield's next big thing. I have the privilege of being on the inside (friendship! scoff!), and I've probably heard more of his cuts than you have. Sorry, but it's not all available to the rabid masses. Yet. But not only have I heard his great songs (who can forget "The Cellar?" I would link it, but Prace has an extreme aversion to the song (PETER IT'S A GOOD SONG, STOP DENYING THAT). I have also been in his infamous studio itself. One day, Peter, Thom and I were bored and we decided to cut, like, six or seven tracks for Thom's and my band, Parkour Through Downtown Springfield (check us out). Needless to say, after several hours of writing and recording, we came out with just one song, and it's a hit! If you haven't heard of MackAssurance by now, you probably live under a rock. Or you're Jobin, and you "don't like music."

MackAssurance is utterly unintelligible to anyone besides the three of us, so I'll let you in on a few of its secrets:
1. That is Hillary's voice sampled at the beginning. She wrote the second verse.
2. MacAssurance is a play-on-words. Peter worked at Office Max, where they sell
MaxAssurance. MackAssurance is designed to ensure that one is perfectly safe and
able to rebound after unsuccessfully "macking" on a girl.
3. That is me oh-so prolifically repeating the beloved refrain, something like "Titties,
titties, titties..."
4. The short soliloquy at the song's close is a letter Peter found in the bin at Office Max.
Your guess is as good as ours.

So we have one song, and it's incredibly popular. This makes me happy. Perhaps you heard us perform it at Tynan's? I think it went over well. I'm heading back into the booth in the next couple days before Peter and I head back to college. I have some fresh ideas; I hope we can recreate the success of MackAssurance.

So there it is. The history of rap, as I've experienced it. You're lucky I'm able to write this post; I was assaulted at Steak N Shake last night because a drunk passerby thought I mouthed off to him. I mean...a really messed up, busta-ass rapper...heard me perform MackAssurance the other night and...decided to rough me up a bit...and I popped a cap in his ass...

-B. Cav

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