[PAST EVENT] Making Beats, Producing Meaning: Hip Hop Studies, Race and Music Analysis

April 4, 2019
Blow Memorial Hall, Room 201
262 Richmond Rd
Williamsburg, VA 23185Map this location
Access & Features
  • Open to the public

When rap music began garnering public attention in the mid-1980s, it was often dismissed as “noisy,” “unmusical,” and even as outright “theft.” Rappers were charged with ignoring the rules of melody and harmony, while the backing tracks they rapped over were stolen from previous recordings and assembled electronically without the use of real instruments. This refusal to acknowledge hip hop artists' musicality relied on longstanding racial tropes that equate blackness with rhythm, the body, and primitive culture. In response, many who have defended rap music and sought to analyze it have embraced its difference from other musical forms, claiming that, in fact, hip hop is all about rhythm—a very sophisticated sense of rhythm. And scholars examining the text-music relationship between MCs’ flow and the backing tracks over which they rap have helped to document this important aspect of hip hop artistry. While there is much to value in these kinds of approaches, this talk suggests that we are in danger of overlooking crucial dimensions of hip hop music when we assume its essential difference from other musical forms and confine our analyses in such ways. Examining selected musical tracks whose most compelling and salient features cannot be reduced to rhythmic relationships, this talk demonstrates how when hip hop producers make beats, they do more than give rappers a rhythmic canvas on which to paint; instead, their musical contributions are poetic acts in and of themselves that can inspire, augment, and transform the meanings we generally ascribe to song lyrics.


[[ljkehrer, Lauron Kehrer]]