The Sequence is going to Funk you right on up

The Sequence, was a female hip hop group that had a career from 1979-1985. The group members were Cheryl Cook (Cheryl The Pearl), Gwendolyn Chisolm (Blondie), and lead singer/rapper Angie Brown Stone (Angie B.). This group of female hip hop stars were all cheerleaders in Colombia, South Carolina where they originated. I found this location to be very different from what we have learned about early hip hop most of the people making music were from the Bronx. The second thing that stands about the Sequence is that they were an all woman group which as we know was extremely rare at this time because the music industry was primarily male dominated.

One of the group’s most successful songs was “Funk you up”. When i first saw the title of this song and listened to it I immediately thought that it had to have been sampled in the semi-recent Bruno Mars hit “Uptown Funk”, but sadly i was wrong the songs just seem to have a similar bass line and flow. Anhwyoo The Sequence’s 11 minute long hit was extremely long for a song at the time but not as long as songs we heard in class such as “Rapper’s Delight”. “Funk You Up” was a monumental song for the Hip hop/Rap development because it was the first hip hop song to be released by a female rap group, and by a rap group from the southern United States. However they were all African American so that aspect of Hip hop remained the same from the Bronx culture it was accustomed to.  It was the second single to be released from Sugar Hill, just after “Rapper’s Delight”. overall after listening to this song I didn’t see much difference between it and what we heard of male groups of the time. I don’t see why there weren’t more prominent female groups in this genre during this time or even today. I’m wondering if it’s male intimidation or if there is some deeper reason why women just don’t want to be involved with making hip hop or rap.

The Merry-go-Round Technique

Today in class we learned about the first DJ, DJ Kool Herc. Through learning about him we watched a video describing a DJing technique which he called the Merry go Round technique. This technique took all of the instrumental breaks out of popular songs and ran them together because he noticed people only danced on the instrumental breaks in songs. After listening to a sample of him doing this it got me thinking about a genre of music that exists today that seems to be one big instrumental break, electronic music.

When you listen to artists such as The Glitch Mob, or Bassnectar it is rare to hear a person singing, if there are words at all they are usually a few spoken words and no more than a few seconds. I thought maybe DJ Kool Herc’s technique used on the tables could have possibly been what created one of the most popular club and party genres that exists today. I mean most of it is upbeat, danceable, and contains little to no words, which is exactly what Kool Herc was trying to do when developing his Merry Go Round technique.

Below is an example of one of these electronic songs, and one of my personal favorites, Blastaa by Griz. If you listen to this song you’ll hear parts where the song slows down a little like if there was going to be a singer that’s where they would sing but there are no singers, just a word spoken here and there and its the same word every time “blastaa”. I really think Kool Herc’s concept is seen in this music and still used in clubs and at parties across the country. His impact on the entertainment industry is endless, i can’t even begin to think about how much his realization has affected the music industry.

Album of the Year… A Popularity Contest

Every year the Grammy Awards provoke a lot of curiosity about how the winners are selected and what truly qualifies them. When I think of the Grammy’s I can’t help but think about all the people who get upset when their favorite artist doesn’t win, or the people who think just because their favorite artist or song wins an award that its automatically better, or that the performer is automatically a historical person. No. No they’re not. I’m going to be honest I know little to nothing about how the nominees are selected or even how a winner is selected. But looking at the list of previous winners, in the recent years and beyond, that the award is simply a popularity contest. The nominees this year were Taylor Swift, 1989; Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly; Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color; Chris Stapleton, Traveller; and The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness. 

Taylor Swift was ultimately given the award, but I don’t think she deserved it at all. She earned the award for the first time back in 2010. However, i will admit again that The only one of these albums I have heard in it’s entirety is Traveller by Chris Stapleton and it was a truly a spectacular album, cover to cover he put his heart and soul into the music and the album flowed nicely and really stayed consistent with the sound and the theme that he was going for. Stapleton has raw talent that hasn’t been seen in country music for quite some time. He took his career from writing songs for artists like Kenny Chesney and Luke Bryan, to writing his own songs and finding the courage to write his own album after losing his dad in 2013 and taking a road trip that inspired the album.

On that note, I think that more needs to be looked than what is the most popular or what sold the most records, but they need to look at the album as a whole, what it means, and what was put into it. Performing songs that some random guy you don’t know wrote doesn’t make you an artist, that doesn’t make it your album, it makes it your performance. Basically I’m saying that these award shows that so many people care so much about are absolute crap, and should not be valued in our society. I’m also saying that our society making music a popularity contest has taken the integrity and individuality out of music. It’s just like anything else in our culture today where we are sucked into garbage and told to like it so we do. And then more and more crap music is produced and sold until we are where we are now where it’s a rarity if a artist can play an instrument let alone write a song that will actually be produced. Our society has grown to love artificial music that has no meaning, and no soul, we have lost the roots of music, and I think the album of the year should be selected because of it’s meaning, passion, and impact on music, not just how many people like it.

 

The Funk Brothers

When Motown developed, the same few writers and bands created every song written by the company that they were working for. The Funk Brothers were a band of sessions musicians in Detroit that preformed most Motown recordings between 1959 and 1972. In those years they played “more number one hits than the Beatles, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, and the Beach Boys COMBINED”. When I heard this in class and read it I simply could not believe it, it seemed unreal to me that the members of this band were statistically more popular than some of the biggest names in music history, and yet I had never before heard there name, and during the time they were recording they received little to no recognition.

In looking at the list of songs played by The Funk Brothers my childhood and high school experience would have been nothing without them. Without The Funk Brothers I wouldn’t have been able to sing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” with the student section, or hear the same 20 songs on Sirius XM 60’s on 6 every single day at work. Without a single band so much of music’s history could have been different. They played music for so many famous artists that probably don’t deserve half of the success they have. I mean if you think about it, someone else wrote the song, and played the song, all that person is doing is singing it. They had no work in the song other than opening their mouths. Imagine what music would be if we hadn’t turned it into a mass production machine. Imagine artists writing their own songs and creating their own beats, taking music back to earlier days. Part of me thinks this autonomy in music caused it to lose it’s integrity and individuality. In a case like The Funk Brothers, they were selling the basically same sound hundreds of times with different singers and no one really noticed at all until after the fact. It honestly blows my mind.

Try a Little Tenderness

Otis Reading was a popular soul artist right before the development of what we know today as Hip Hop. I chose one of his most successful songs, “Try a Little Tenderness”, and decided to analyze it. I had never heard of Otis Reading before and had never heard any of the song. One of the major things that stood out to me in the version of the song that i listened to was the steady percussion beat on the snare throughout the entire song, the use of keyboard/piano, and the unmistakable brass (sax and trumpet for sure).

I noticed in this song what I have noticed in all of the other soul music I have listened to thus far, that the vocals are what are supposed to be stressed, there is no loud overbearing background music presence, just a passionate vocal presence throughout the entire song. To me this adds an emphasis on the part of the music I find most important, the lyrics. All in all this song made me think about how much the lyrics and the speed of the lyrics have to do with the music industry. In today’s music industry most of the songs that are produced have incomprehensible lyrics that are hidden behind massive amounts of bass and melody drowning out the importance of the lyrics. The only thing I can figure is because lyrics are inappropriate they drown it out with other things, but in the time of Otis when the lyrics were clean and the intentions were good it was amazing the power lyrics and music could have when the emphasis was on talent and lyrics.

While listening I recognized a portion of the song that I knew was an intro for a song on my iPod. So I searched whosampled.com (one of the best things ever, cures my need to know ever single time) and found out that this song was used in a Jay Z and Kayne West song titled “Otis” that I really could’t see any relation between the man and the song or even the two songs but that’s ok, I just thought it was cool that the song was remembered and brought up again in a major way in today’s Hip Hop world.

The Formation of the B-Army

Beyoncé recently released her new single “Formation” by performing it at the halftime show at Super Bowl 50. Since that performance, the song and the performance that went along with it have not left the spotlight and the media. My teacher asked us to take a look at the performance, the newly released music video and the song as a stand alone.

The first thing I did was listen to the song without any visuals, I did pull up the lyrics to the song which can be found here.  This was the first time I had heard the song, so my my impressions are unaffected by the super bowl performance or anything that has been said about the song in the media since the performance. My initial reaction to this song is that it is somewhat of a ‘anthem’ to the stereotypes she feels she faces as an African American woman, but it also seems somewhat too down to earth for it to be about her personal life. I’m thinking that it could possibly be more about stereotypes that she sees more than that she experiences (Ex. I just cant picture Queen B walking into Red Lobster.) I recognized a few pieces of the song that sounded familiar but the track only sampled from one song that I had never heard of so I think I’m just dreaming.

Next, I watched the halftime show performance, what struck me first was that it appeared as though every single one of the Queen’s backup dancers was African American and had the ‘afro hairstyle’ mentioned in the song. The second thing that caught my eye was the costumes. It is common for all of the backup dancers to have matching costumes but the all black made them look mean like they had a purpose and something to prove, and the gold sashes that came across Queen B’s costume reminded me of a military uniform when the person has ammunition hanging across their chest. The ladies lining up and taking different forms every time Bey ‘commanded them’ made me think that somehow she is leading the ‘battle’ for something having to do with African american rights, possibly a silent tribute to the Black Lives Matter campaign.

Finally I watched the music video for the song, I found it to ring the same message as the super bowl performance but with a more disturbing image. I think through the song and the performance, and the video she is trying to get all these ladies together in the African American community to stand up for what is right and stand against the stereotypes. I think in away she is using the media to her advantage which will probably really help her cause, but she needs to really spell out the cause if she expects anything to change, she can’t expect people to get a spot on interpretation of what she is advocating for. I think the piece really speaks volumes to the kind of leader and advocate she is trying to be within the industry and even outside of it, she is just trying to help herself and her people and isn’t ashamed to user her fame to help her cause.

Formation (Dirty)

The Man, The Myth, Mavin Gaye

Today, I decided to take a step away from researching the artists we have talked about in class and take a look at my iTunes library. When I opened it, I sorted the genre to only show me soul songs and then out of the bunch that were collected I chose the one I knew best to analyze and try to break down using the aspects in class we have learned and identify different instruments and performance patterns. This song, the one I was most familiar with was a song produced by none other than Marvin Gaye in 1973, titled “Let’s Get it On”.

This song begins with a high noted guitar riff that is one of the most identifiable even to this day. Then a heavy percussion by way of drum set is introduced just a few seconds after. Gaye then comes in and in his voice you can almost hear his passion for music, when listening, one can hear his passion and ‘soul’ to say the least. In his voice I hear familiar qualities from other artists we have discussed in class. he kind of goes to a high note and lets it get raspy for emphasis like we saw Little Richard do in Rock & Roll, and sings his heart out like we recently saw with James Brown, leaving his heart, soul, and everything he has out on the stage for his fans.

I think the thing that struck me most about this song was its explicit lyrics that are very heavily loaded with sexual innuendos. We discussed that during this time it was very common that these types of songs would not become popular because of people like Dick Clark that were pushing for clean music to be put in the media and fed to the teenagers of this time. But it doesn’t really seem like Gaye was all that worried about it. He doesn’t beat around the bush with this song, he comes right out and says what he feels and wants to do.

This song went on to earn a #1 spot on the Billboard Pop Singles chart for two straight weeks, and staying at the top of the Billboard Soul Charts for eight straight weeks, before winning the title of Billboard’s 4th best song of the year in 1973. The record sold over two million copies in the first six weeks it was out, and has since then achieved platinum status. I found 2 million to be an extremely high statistic because of the face that there was really only one outlet for buying music at this time, records. “Let’s Get It On” went on to become one of Gaye’s most recognizable songs and keeps his name and his success alive even in today’s generation.

America’s Oldest Teenager

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Dick Clark or as Biography.com refers to him, America’s oldest teenager, played a very important role in popular music and television entertainment for more than 50 years. His career began with the popular TV show, American Bandstand, in which popular songs were lip-synced on TV and teenage dancers danced to these new songs. He was often discussing and making popular new music well known on his prime-time TV Show “The Dick Clark Show”. He later became the host of the New Years Eve festivities that took place each year and was the TV host for “Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve” which always contained live musical performances to ring in the new year.

American Bandstand was probably Dick Clark’s most influential job as a music enthusiast. He did interviews with many artists that are still remembered and are quite popular today. some of these artists include The Beach Boys and The Beatles. He helped push not only popular music into the spotlight but also served as a baseline for how people should live their lives. He gave them models for how to dress, how to act, and how not to act. this influence became especially important when American Bandstand introduced African American performers to it’s stage. Clark guided the audience to accept them and this helped to guide viewers out of the age of segregation.

Clark was not only an influential host but also a good producer. When he was no longer able to handle his New Years Eve Festivities due to a stroke, he passed his torch to Ryan Seacrest. In my opinion Seacrest is trying a little to hard to have Clark’s career. He is trying to be a host and a producer and just isn’t reaching the bar that Clark set so high. He is currently the producer for a few popular shows but nothing as influential for society as American Bandstand. Keeping up with the Kardashians just isn’t cutting it on the influence charts. I don’t think anyone will ever do for music and popular culture what Dick Clark did.

Sampling, Borrowing, Stealing

When listening to music I would occasionally point out a part of a popular song that I had heard beat for beat in another song. Immediately my head would go to that song and I never quite understood how with all of the copyright laws in place for music how these artists and recording companies were not getting in trouble for the use of these easily identifiable beats and sounds. However, today I came to understand this somewhat through learning about the concept of sampling. The way I understand it, sampling is taking bits and pieces from previously produced pieces of music and using them in your own song, which is totally fine. Even though this is totally fine I’m finding it quite unsettling to find out that the music our culture has grown to love and sings loudly in the car is actually so unoriginal and reused and we have no idea.

Thinking about how this concept of sampling uses even pieces of songs from decades ago makes it pretty darn cool to think about how different pieces of songs from the years my parents were growing up and songs they loved are present in the music I grew up listening to. I think its really cool to think about but I’m also really bothered by this idea. It creates a lineage between the different types and generations of music which his amazing but it also takes the need for creativity off of the table. Many of the Hip Hop and popular artists today have 50+ pages of samples that they have taken from other artists sometimes from different artists to put in the same one of their songs. It makes me wonder why they didn’t just come up with their own ideas and thoughts instead of stealing someone else’s successful works and beats.

Upon exploring “Who Sampled” it wasn’t hard to tell that the more current the artist was the more samples their music used, especially in the Pop, Hip Hop, and Rap categories. if you searched a artist from the 50’s and 60’s like Elvis or Johnny Cash you were lucky to find a sample, they weren’t used and didn’t have to be used because these artists were still being creative and making music that was entirely their own. I can only imagine the power music would have if it went back to its roots of creativity and artists that would come up with their own ideas for sounds and beats.

The Man in Black

Johnny Cash, otherwise known as the man in black, was an artist who’s career skyrocketed right around the time Rock and Roll was making it’s mark. He is well known for combining Rock, Country, Blues, and Gospel Music. Cash grew up picking cotton in the middle of nowhere Arkansas and taught himself how to play the guitar while he was stationed in Germany during WWII. He was dead set on being a country singer/songwriter when he came back from the war. And he went on to be just that. He forced the producer at Sun Records (the same company that signed Elvis Presley) to give him an audition, and at first they turned him away saying they couldn’t sell the gospel sounding music Cash was producing. He then wrote the song “Hey Porter” and signed with Sun Records less than a week after his initial audition.

My all time favorite Johnny Cash song “Ring of Fire” was released in April of 1963 and was labeled in the genres of both Rock and Roll and Country. When listening to the song and watching the video I noticed three things right off the bat: the use of brass instruments (trumpet in particular), the use of background singers (in this case three women), and the use of acoustic guitar and an electric bass. Each of these things seemed to have been used in an entirely different form than we had seen them being used in previous genres. The trumpets seemed to be adding a Mexican or south american vibe with the melody they are playing, but also tying in the blues sounds with the use of brass. we had not yet seen the concept of backup vocalists in any of the genres we had seen so far so it was interesting to me to see this present in Cash’s music. Obviously the acoustic guitar was giving Cash’s music a country and gospel feel. The use of an electric bass was maybe what caught me off guard the most. When listening to the song one would assume it sounds like an upright bass, but when watching the video you can find a bassist using an electric bass and using country plucking techniques to give it the country sound Cash is famous for.

All of these aspects come together so seamlessly in this song, but I still don’t quite understand how this song is classified into two genres, especially genres as different as country and Rock and Roll. To me it seemed like a Taylor Swift scenario where you cant escape her because shes on every single radio station no matter the genre because she thinks she should be in every genre. Despite my own confusion Cash was inducted into both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame. His music has influenced musicians and artists in every genre of music. Current famous artists who were influenced by him include Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, Mick Jagger, Bono, and so many more. His music and influence will never be forgotten.