The New Re-Appropriation of Hip-Hop

A few years back I tried pushing this concept to DJs called “the new re-appropriation,” wherein they should take rap away from the mumbling, punch-drunk death threats it’s become by removing the vocals, leaving only the backing track and R&B fill-in, and then distributing it. Also known as “instrumentalizing,” “karaokafying,” or “demashing,” this technique would set right a musical genre that lost its way and now just yells at you in an ill-timed manner.

» Listen to Kool Moe Dee at Cocaine Blunts & Hip Hop Tapes

It didn’t catch on. There’s a large industry of beat producers—your Scott Storchs and your Timbalands, people who make high-end production studios dedicated to making original beats and then selling them on the auction block for millions—who put a lot of effort into their work so somebody else can say something on top of it. Otherwise it’s almost techno, and techno doesn’t sell.

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Which is not to say I have anything against violent lyrics, stupid lyrics, or just plain terrible lyrics, but my theory is that there was a dividing point somewhere in the mid-’90s, when MTV started censoring drug and gun references in videos. After that, people began taking advantage of the awkward miscues by intentionally cursing, or just pre-censoring their songs, so that you didn’t have to rap at all. You just mumble here and there, overlay something in reverse over every other word, and nobody is the wiser. Rather than reject it as ill-timed, jittery confusion, audiences went along with it as if it were a new trend in avant-garde time signatures.

» Listen to “Run” by Bone Crusher

The sacrifice of terrible lyrics is wasted if the end result is generally unsatisfactory and un-danceable. Isn’t that the whole gesture of music since the ’50s? Teen dance/sex anthems. So when a DJ starts toasting over “Do the Train” mid-wedding and spoils the beat, should they be rewarded? I say no.

» Watch Hali Halisi: Rap as an Alternative Medium at

I wonder what it feels like every time somebody like a Gil Scott-Heron or a Watts Prophet or a Last Poet happens to hear the current fruit of their musical origination. Somebody who thought it was a good thing to minimize the musical backbeat and emphasize their political lyrics must cringe everytime they hear something by 2 Live Crew or Young Jeezy. They’re not responsible for these lyrical crimes, but if they could travel back in time and change the course of history, they might.

» Listen to Bridges by Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson at Invisible Record Archive

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