Maybe it’s is because I am getting older, but music just doesn’t seem to be the same these days. I remember being excited to hear my favorite artists were releasing a new album, song or even video. The internet wasn’t the force it is today so we mostly heard about it on MTV or in magazines. Better still we would go to the local record store and be pleasantly surprised to see a new CD (or Cassette lol) by our favorite group, band or rapper. I still remember the smell of a brand new tape or CD as I opened the package. You could slap that into your radio and listen to the whole thing. I remember memorizing all the words to my favorite songs and how great i felt when I got them right!
Times have changed and now that I am older it seems something about music has changed. I Don’t feel the same excitement and honestly can’t remember the last time I was excited about new music. Maybe to you this statement doesn’t sound that odd because we all get older, and identify less with current music as this happens. The thing to remember here is that I am a DJ! I spend a minimum of 3 nights a week playing music for crowds so I can earn a living. So if anyone should feel excitement about new music it should be me!
I spend a lot of time, thought and effort pondering why I feel this way. Through all this examination I have come up with a few possible suspects on why I feel the way i do about current music. Could it be my age and that I identify less with the music. I very seriously considered this several times. I came to the conclusion that this couldn’t be the issue. After several hours, over countless days of couple of years of putting serious thought into this I stumbled upon a conclusion through a newer type of music…. Dub step.
When I was first introduced to Dub Step Music I must admit I was not a fan. So at first this seemed to further my hypothesis of “I was getting old and didn’t relate to the music.” As time went on, however, my opinion changed. Like any good DJ I would play this hideous music if it is what the crowd wanted. After a short time I started to feel something. Keeping an open mind, as I always try to do, I very quickly began to feel the music and respond positively to the energy. After I finally admitted to myself that I liked Dub Step I came to the realization that it couldn’t be my age that was giving me the disconnect with other forms of music, mainly Hip-Hop and Rock.
This was a great discovery for me and it made me focus on the other suspect in my self investigation. This suspect or should I say these suspects I am referring to are “The Lyrics.” I have said for a long time that lyrics aren’t what they used to be. I remember when i was younger people asking me why I liked a certain band or rap group I always answered “the Lyrics” first.
Why should lyrics matter that much anyway? If you have a “Hot” beat does it really matter? I guess that depends on who you ask. Even though I was conscious about my love for lyrics I never really realized how paramount lyrics were and still are to me. It wasn’t until I really examined this issue. Even in writing this piece it has become more apparent to me and I have made some revelations that I will share with you.
To talk about this topic is to talk about society in general. Society is ever evolving which changes music, fashion and art. A great example of this is the 60’s. This was a decade marked by civil disobedience, government corruption and social change. When I listen to the music of this era I feel all of this. As I sing the words and feel the music flow through me transporting me back to those times. Depending on the song it also makes me think of current events such as war and corruption but also love, harmony and the striving for peace.
Skipping ahead to the 80’s and the development of Rap Music we see great change as well. Most Rap groups of the late 80’s were talking about their environment. They would speak of the problems they saw around them. By doing this, knowingly or not, they shed light on what most “Middle Class” Americans either had no clue about or chose to ignore. I will focus on two groups who were as different as night and day. these groups were Public Enemy and N.W.A.
N.W.A., which stands for Niggas With Attitudes, was a group of west coast rappers that included most famously Easy E, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. They talked about their environment in a way that had not been successfully done until that point. It was considered “Gangster Rap” and critics scorned them for glorifying that lifestyle. It was really no different than movies such as: “Scarface” or “Good Fellas.” There may have been some glorifying going on, but there were also lessons to be learned as well as messages being spread about what was really going on in some American Streets. Whether what they talked about was actually true or fiction didn’t really matter. It didn’t matter because they were mirroring what was happening on a daily basis on the streets of L.A. and most likely many major cities across the U.S. They spoke of gangs, drugs, guns, robbery, prostitution, etc in ways that made you understand just how one could get caught up in all of it. A few years later some movies came out such as “Boyz in Da Hood” “South Central” and “Menace 2 Society”(Just to name a few) which really gave a visual reference to what was going on and what was being depicted in this music
Public Enemy on the other hand was from the east coast. It included Chuck D, Professor Griff, Terminator X, and of course Flavor Flav. They were equally as competent when it came to shedding light on social issues. Their focus was more political however. Where N.W.A. was speaking of symptoms of an illness, Public Enemy was speaking about the illness itself… Inequality! I speak of Class inequality which is easily and conveniently mistaken for racial inequality. Public Enemy understood this and shed light on all levels of inequality whether it be in politics, war, movies and especially music. I remember memorizing lyrics and it gave me chills speaking them… That is power! I didn’t realize then why I got chills or why I felt so empowered, but I have a good idea today why I felt that way.
Getting back to the evolution of society. It seems that for whatever reason (you can draw your own conclusion here) lyrics have went from artists reporting on problems in there community and social issues to talking about their accumulation of materialistic objects and wealth. I’m not putting the blame on the artists themselves. if I had a new Bentley I would want to sing about it too. i am simply pointing out the change in lyrical content over the years.
How does this tie into how music makes a person feel? Well it’s actually quite simple when you think about it. It really relates to money and materialistic pursuits. A majority of people believe happiness is attained by accumulation of wealth. I wrote about this in an earlier piece entitled “Money = Happiness?” Yes it may feel good to accumulate wealth (I wouldn’t know). I have heard it leaves you empty inside and you are never truly happy as it is never enough. I do, however, have experience with plenty of happiness even though I am far from wealthy. How did I attain this happiness you may ask? Well basically through love, being a decent person and helping others. You can read the piece I just mentioned on my blog if you want to know more.
I believe this is as simple as comparing the Materialistic world versus Spirituality. For example: When we work hard at our job, make a decent wage and pay bills we feel good. Unfortunately it doesn’t last because we have to go back to work everyday to pay more bills each month. Now let’s say you give out some good advice to a friend. This person follows it and they benefit from your advice. This also makes you feel good. Or say you jump someones car who has a dead battery, or you buy a friend a meal. These are simple actions which make you feel good inside as well. Now imagine you gave clothes to a homeless person or fed a hungry child, how would you feel then? This type of good feeling doesn’t fade away as easily because no one can take that deed away from you. The bank can repossess the car you have been making monthly payments on, and even though it felt good to make those payments, it all goes away if they take the car back. Those are a few small examples, but you get the point.
Now to tie this in with lyrics. I can only speak of my personal experience, but whenever I sing lyrics along in my car, the shower, or a club, I feel good as I’m sure we all do. However, when I sing about “Fighting the Power”(Public Enemy) or “They don’t gotta burn the books they just remove ’em” (Rage Against the Machine) or even “It was All a Dream” (Notorious B.I.G.) It’s a different kind of good feeling. It is different from the good feeling I get when singing about: “got money, and you know it” (Lil Wayne) or “Beamer, Benz and Bentley, my jeans are never empty”(Lloyd Banks). I really believe this feeling translates to how we feel on a daily basis. When we sing or rap about positives things and changing our community or lives for the better we feel something that can’t easily be taken from us.
I am going to end this by quoting the Wyclef song “It doesn’t matter” Featuring the Rock:
Yo, yo, yo I got fifty Bentley’s in the West Indies
(It doesn’t matter!)
I got a pocket full of cheese and a garden full of trees
(It doesn’t matter!)
I just won the bingo bought a crib in Rio
(It doesn’t matter!)
‘Cause if you ain’t sharin’ people ain’t carin’ Come up in the hood and they take everything you wearin’