N.W.A: “Most Dangerous Group” or Just Feared By White America?

The notorious group N.W.A first came onto the scene with the album, Straight Outta Compton. It promoted a sub-genre in the hip hop world not widely known in the mainstream media yet, gangsta rap.  For over 20 years , this sub-genre took over youth culture. However, the late 80s were also a time of controversy; the debate over the lyrical content and it’s affect on youth culture as a whole. However, I would argue that it was more so white Americans being afraid of the affect N.W.A had on white youth because it forces America to see the issues in this nation with the injustices faced in minority neighborhoods.

One prime example of this is the song, Fuck Tha Police. The controversial song gave an uncensored view of life as young black men on the streets of LA. It talks about the ruthless police brutality  for simply being a person of color. It was the crossover into mainstream white American culture that provoked concern among parent groups and especially caught the attention of law-enforcement agencies. Kot suggested, “Gangsta rap forced America to confront the issues in its ghettos, and its realities were shocking when presented so explicitly on a recording that white suburban teenagers coveted” One tactic that was enforced was to try to censor this through using a Parent Advisory Label or PAL for short. It ultimately was in place due to the cultural and political debate over songs like this. A censored version of the album even omitted the song entirely.

This song “Fuck tha Police” is arguably one of their most controversial tracks ever released

By the summer of 1989, a right-wing retaliation took place. A newsletter called Focus on the Family Citizen ran the headline: “Rap Group NWA says ‘Kill Police’”. This prompted the FBI to send a letter to NWA’s record label, which stated, “Music plays a significant role in society”, and claimed the song “encourages violence against and disrespect for the law enforcement officer.” From that point on, they were discouraged from performing the song on tour. It was banned on air, and in many stores. In one concert in Detroit, Ice Cube started the song, but the police rushed the stage. What happened to freedom of speech? Why was law enforcement so adamant about censoring them? “It was all kinds of forces against us—it didn’t crack us, break us, turn us into punks,” Ice Cube recently told Billboard. “It didn’t make us bite our tongue. It just made us stand up even more—and that’s powerful.” And it did make them a powerful influence: they went double platinum, the first album to do so without the support of mainstream radio.

The controversy over N.W.A’s music had opened the door for gangsta rap, exposing it to suburban America; I do not think they were prepared at all for that. N.W.A was in the dead center of a running debate over whether the rappers were inciting violence or merely describing the existing social conditions in urban neighborhood. I think that the issue isn’t whether or not N.W.A was taking it too far, but whether or not white America was able the handle the truth. Even today, the track remains relevant when the movie Straight Outta Compton came out. Fuck Tha Police has become the anthem of a new generation of activists fighting against police brutality and racism around the country. Like it or not, this song is around to stay for a long time. 

West Coast Rap isn’t Just L.A: A Look into The Bay Area Rap Scene

When people outside of the West coast think of rap, I guarantee that they think immediately of Southern Cali artists such as N.W.A, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, etc. But what about the bay? Although very specific to the region, the Bay area has such an interesting

bay areamusic scene.  With less than 6% of the black community left in San Francisco, it has altered the music scene to be a call for social justice. From an outsider looking in, it seems like the music is just fun party songs. However, it has become more a staple to the resistance to the rapid gentrification.

One aspect of the bay area scene is that they try to bring positivity into a bad situation. Gentrification in the bay has gotten so bad to the point where black communities are becoming almost non existent. Police brutality is at an ultimate high to push PoC out. One thing that has brought the community together is through rap. You got rappers like Mac Dre back in the 90s. He was a pioneer of this type of rap after being released from prison. He decided to throw parties with music that he was making. These parties became bigger and bigger until they were just full-scale concerts. He started influencing other rappers in the area with his style now known as “hyphy” music.

“When hip hops true influence as a cultural movement is finally understood..people will recognize that the very same synergy at the heart of hip hop’s commercial success has also informed our generation’s activist and political theorist”

-Baraka Kitwana on Bay Area Hyphy Music

Since then it’s grown to be one of the most influential types of music in modern day hip hop (look at Drake incorporating some of that into his style). It is now what brings together a dying community. I was watching a documentary called Noisey about the Bay Area hip hop scene, and one thing I noticed is how close the black community is. Rapper Nef the Pharoah was talking about how there’s always some sort of violence in the city (right before 3 people from his crew and a bystander get searched for no valid reason and arrested). It shows how this community is marginalized, and serves as an indication for why they need music as an outlet for free expression when they are constantly oppressed.

Although Bay Area rap has a popular sound, there’s not that many famous rappers from here. I don’t see this as a bad thing. It’s something that remains solely in the heart of the bay. It sets the natives away from the gentrified “transplants” of the city. When a song like Feelin Myself comes on at the club, and only a few people in a sea of at least 70 actually get excited that such a classic is playing, then you know the authenticity of the city hasn’t completely gone extinct. Who’s knows, maybe the original Bay Area will come back one day.

“I just think we need more creativity, cause what it is, is like a lot of times when you’re from a soil that the recognition is not really recognized by the masses, they try to fly right over us. Like: ‘Oh, they’re from the Bay. We know they’ve got talent. But we’re scooting over there and we’re flying to LA or whatever else we’re going to go.’ ” –E-40 on the future of the Bay Area music scene

Setting the Text: From Poetry to Song, Copland Does it All!

In my third year as a voice student, I’ve come across some very interesting pieces. One of the current songs I’m working on is Heart We Will Forget Him, by Aaron Copland. I love his music because it really incorporates a lot of classical, jazz, and folk all in one, unique sound.

“Heart, we will forget him, You and I, tonight, You may forget, the warmth he gave, I will forget the light, When you have done, pray tell me, That I my thoughts may dim, Haste, lest while you’re lagging, I may remember him” -Emily Dickinson

This piece is part of a collection Copland composed from 12 poems by Emily Dickinson that he beautifully set to music. From the work I’ve done on Copland pieces, I can definitively say that Copland perfectly displays the textual meaning behind the song.

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When I first received this song, I thought, ” Great, another one of those 20th century weird tonality pieces and will be hard to get in my voice.” However, I brought it to a coach, and really began to understand the meaning behind the song.  I finally had some context to this song. When the song starts out saying “Heart, we will forget him,” I realized that it was a self narrative. She’s ( the singer) talking to her own heart. The poem is an entire conversation of trying to get her heart to forget someone she once loved. It really made me feel sympathetic once I had a full understanding. This gave so much context to Copland’s musical setting of the piece. He has a lot of speeding up and slowing down in the tempo. I think the intention behind this is the narrator trying to have certainty in wanting to forget about her lover. Copland’s piece really makes it so that the important words are stressed throughout. My favorite line of the piece is “Haste, lest while you’re lagging, I will remember him.” I saw this as the narrator trying to say that her heart better hurry up and help her forget, yet she’s already has started to remember. He illustrates the words by speeding up the word “haste” and slowing down “lagging.” With the bigger ritardando on “him,” I think Copland perfectly sets the tone of the narrators reluctant, sweet remembrance.

Another note in this piece is how there is a very “ambiguous” key signature. It seems to mostly be in E flat major, but with many added sharps and flats throughout the song, it leaves a little bit of free-ness and spontaneity. I think this is also by design. By Copland having a slight step into the realm of atonality, it makes the piece more conversation-like. He also does this by not having too much going on within the rythmn of the piece. It leads to seeing an form of art within words that makes the listener feel the emotions of the text.

 “I followed the natural inflection of the words of the poems, particularly when they were conversational. There is a certain amount of what is called ‘word-painting’–an occasional bird-call, flutterings, and grace notes in the introduction to the first song ‘Nature, the Gentlest Mother,’ the bugle-like melody for the voice in ‘There Came a Wind Like a Bugle,’ and so forth.” Aaron Copland on the compostion of Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson

I think the Aaron Copland’s descriction of his ‘word painting’ is really important in understanding the songs meaning. This is an incredibly useful tool in composition. What if more songs used this method? Don’t you think more songs would be more lively?

 

Momma Mixtape: Bring Back The Funk

 

My mom has always been there for me since day one,

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and one of the best ways we share our bond is through music. She introduced me to the world of opera, took me to my first concert, and even encouraged me to pursue a career in music. So I figure one of the best ways to illustrate my mother is through a playlist. Here’s 5 songs that give me the best memories of my mom, because without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

#1 Gold Digger -Kanye West ft. Jamie Foxx

I know, when you first read this, you’re like what? This song reminds you of your MOM?? Well, it definitely reminds me of all the road trips my mom and I would do together to Washington D.C to pick my brother up from college. This song would always come up on the way the since it was the 2005-2008 time period. It was always one of the highlights of the drive, me and her singing along to that song (it was even specific that she’d rap Ye’s verses and I’d sing Jamie Foxx’s part).

#2 Solid– Ashford and Simpson

Now this song reminds me of my mom for a multitude of reasons. For one, we went to a concert in Philly and Valerie Simpson was actually performing this song in tribute of her late husband, Nick Ashford. Everyone in the audience was singing along with her; this was one of their most famous songs, and there was no way we were going to let her perform it on her own. It was such a bittersweet moment. The second reason is that the summer before I started college, I noticed my mom’s expansive vinyl collection. Solid was part of it. I wanted to be able to bring something to remind me of home, so I took that album and framed it in my first college dorm. It was definitely a centerpiece in my decor, and always reminded me of my mom.

#3 Drummer Boy– Jackson 5

Around the holidays, my mom always plays the Jackson 5 Christmas album, and she told me that one of her favorite songs was The Little Drummer Boy. After listening to the song, I see why. It is such a happy, peppy beat that is warm and inviting. This is the perfect song for Christmas around my family. Every time I hear this song, I think of when I’m helping my mom prepare the Christmas dinner, putting wrapped presents under the tree, and the genuine joy this time of year brings for my family.

#4 I’m Every Woman – Whitney Houston

Do your parents ever hear a nostalgic song and tell you “your generation doesn’t know anything about this song” and just get up and dance? Well, this is that type of song for my mom. Every time I hear this song, I think about her doing her little two step and singing along to this song. My mom has always kept me up to date with old school and new school (believe it or not my mom listens to Jay Z, Kanye, Sza  etc). This bridge between old school and new school music has inspired the diverse taste in music I have now. This song also just reminds  how powerful of a woman my mom is.

#5 Habenera from Bizet’s Carmen -Denyce Graves, soprano

Hearing this song always reminds me of how cultured my mom is. She is the person who introduced me to the world of opera. This singer, Denyce Graves, is an African American operatic soprano, and the first opera singer I ever saw perform. I think it was important that my mom exposed me to this when I was so little. Seeing a grown black woman sing classical music was such an inspiring thing for me, especially seeing how white washed the classical music sphere is today. It made me see at a young age that opera is something that I CAN do. Ever since that performance my mom took me to, I’ve been working towards the goal of being an operatic singer. And I can’t thank my mom enough for paving the way to my aspirations.

This selection of music is all diverse because my mom is a very versatile woman. She could listen to almost any genre of music, old generation or new and find something to love about it. If you want to check out the full playlist, check it out on Spotify!

Hit or Miss? An in Depth Look at Lana Del Rey

Earlier this year, Lana Del Rey performed live at the Lollapalooza in Santiago, Chile. Although I was not able to attend this performance, the internet is such a wonderful, convenient place that is was very easy to find a full concert video. I’ve never seen a full live concert of hers; let’s just say I had a few qualms with this one. She seems to be very uncomfortable in a live setting. Whether it’s nerves, or just not having great stage presence, Lana’s performances are always a hit or miss for me. From seeing the entirety of this concert, Lana Del Rey seems like she’s not a great live performer, but she flourishes creatively as a writer/artist in a studio setting.

The first thing I noticed in this concert was the song she started with, 13 Beaches. It seemed like she was off to a rocky start. Her higher notes just kept falling flat and completely straight toned. She was barely moving around on the

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stage. There was also very little talking at all. She mostly just went from song to song with barely any interludes to talk to the audience. One part that stuck out was when she said “Fuck it, it’s good enough” and then went into White Mustang Now this is a great song, don’t get me wrong. My only issue with it is that she was relying heavily on the playbacks (this is true for most of her set). If I were there at her concert, I’d want to hear her sing, not just half-ass sing along to a track.

Halfway through her set, Lana seemed to get more comfortable. She sang High By The Beach and Born to Die ; she sounded significantly more relaxed in these pieces. Hell, she even came down from the stage to walk amongst the fans. She sounded more free and organic in her musicality. It reminded me of what I love when I listen to her on vinyl. Another noteworthy part of her concert was Blue JeansI was anticipating this song because in the past, Lana’s live performance of this on SNL was so disappointing and honestly made me cringe.

This performance however did not disappoint. She truly redeemed herself from this flop on SNL. It was honestly such a difference in her performance, yet it bring’s me back to the issue of Lana’s vocal’s being a hit or a miss.

There are moments when Lana seems very unsure of herself as a live performer, yet there are some moments when she seems to be very in her element. Maybe this slight awkwardness could be perceived as charming and what sets her apart from other artists. She maintains authenticity through her lyrics, and even to her wardrobe. It’s all about how the audience perceives her and thus far, she has had mostly positive feedback from her fans. Maybe one way she could overcome this awkward stage presence could be to approach as if she was doing a studio performance or music video. By adding a performance art aspect, it could lead to smoother transitions and her not feeling like she’s there to sing in front of thousands of screaming fans, but rather making art become reality. She’d be a storyteller. Her conceptualization of the songs could be a game changer. Or hey, she could just focus on song writing. Either way, I’d still buy her albums and she will continue making amazing music.