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Rap Music History: Research Paper

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In the world of music, there is a never-ending circle where lyrics are the focal point in the piece then shift to play minor roles in a more harmonious form of music. In this paper, I am going to discuss the history of rap music and how it has evolved through the circular motion from lyrically dominated music centered on the church to music that is appealing to the ear. I will start in the 10th century with the Gregorian chant, a type of sacred monophonic music used by the monks and in Churches. Then move into the renaissance when Gregorian chant started to evolve into something similar but much more musical, Motets, a secular form of Gregorian chant.

Gregorian chants were organized into 8 modes Dorian, Hypodorian, Phrygian, Hypophrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, and Hypomixolydian. These modes were created not only as a form of organization but also as a way to arrange songs to fit the voice parts of the gentleman singing the chant. This type of music was very lyric-dominant and centered on the church.

“Typical melodic features include a characteristic ambitus, and also characteristic intervallic patterns relative to a referential mode final, incipits and cadences, the use of reciting tones at a particular distance from the final, around which the other notes of the melody revolve, and a vocabulary of musical motifs woven together through a process called centonization to create families of related chants (Gregorian Chant).

This form of music is the largest body of religious music ever created, it was first passed down through word of mouth in 930 and would be the foundation of western classical music for about a century. “The chants can be sung by using six-note patterns called hexachords. Gregorian melodies are traditionally written using neumes, an early form of musical notation from which the modern four-line and five-line staff developed.” (Gregorian Chant) As time went on Gregorian chant begin to get more intricate with multiple voices known as organum. This will be the early stages of Motets.

Motets are an evolutionary form of clausula that emerges in 1200, typically three voices and sung in a vernacular language (Italian, French or Latin).

“Clausulae represent brief sections of longer polyphonic settings of chant with a note-against-note texture. In some cases, these sections were composed independently and 'substituted' for the existing settings. These clausulae could then be 'troped,' or given new text in the upper part(s), creating motets”. “The vast majority of medieval motets are anonymous compositions, and there is significant re-use of music and text. They are transmitted in a number of contexts, but were most popular in northern France and Paris; the largest surviving collection is in the Montpellier Codex (Motets).

Madrigals are a secular form of vocal music during the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. They are typically unaccompanied and are polyphonically ranging from two to eight voices, but most often times there were three to six.

“The madrigal originated in part from the frottola, in part from the resurgence in interest in vernacular Italian poetry, and also from the influence of the French chanson and polyphonic style of the motet as written by the Franco-Flemish composers who had naturalized in Italy during the period. A frottola generally would consist of music set to stanzas of text, while madrigals were through-composed. However, some of the same poems were used for both frottola and madrigals. The poetry of Petrarch in particular appears in a wide variety of genres.”(Madrigals)

In many madrigals, the composer would attempt to express or stress the emotion of the words within every line with the music. For example, if you were to sing the word hill the composer would construct the line so that the highest point in the line would be on that would, this technique is referred to as madrigalism. This is just a broad example of one of the many ways that madrigalism has been used.

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Madrigal music will continue until about mid-way through the Baroque era, in this era there was a huge blossom of classical music with the rise of many great composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, George Frideric Handel, and many more. One major change that came with the Baroque era was the method of writing music in a particular key instead of in various modes. This method will continue to be used in almost all of the Western popular music nowadays. The Baroque era was a strenuous time to be a practicing musician, for they were expected to be accomplished in improvisation both on a melodic line as well as in accompaniment parts.

“A characteristic Baroque form was the dance suite. While the pieces in a dance suite were inspired by actual dance music, dance suites were designed purely for listening, not for accompanying dancers.” During the period, composers and performers used more elaborate musical ornamentation (additional material added by the performer typically improvised), made changes in musical notation (the development of figured bass as a quick way to notate the chord progression of a song or piece), and developed new instrumental playing techniques. Baroque music expanded the size, range, and complexity of instrumental performance, and also established the mixed vocal/instrumental forms of opera, cantata, and oratorio and the instrumental forms of the solo concerto and sonata as musical genres.” (Baroque)

The root of rap music, talking while music is playing, could be found thousands of years ago in Africa. Storytellers known as griots would play instruments as they told stories from family history and things that were happening in the surrounding villages. This custom continued in the United States when Africans were sold and forced into slavery. As they were working, one person would should out a particular section of the song, and the rest of the slaves would answer with the next line (Mize).

Rap (hip hop) as we know it today is said to have been created by DJ Kool Herc and his sister Cindy on August 11, 1973, in the Bronx New York, I have attached a picture of the invitation to the party below. During a back-to-school party that they threw, DJ Kool Herc tried something new he called “merry-go-round” where he used two turntables playing the same breakbeat section of James Brown’s record “clap your hands”. When the turn-table would finish playing the section, he would switch to the other turntable and play the same section. This let him lengthen the song for an indefinite period of time. This technique now known as looping has since been refined and is still used today in most beats (Mize).

Rap music is essentially when an MC talks rhythmically over a beat or looped track in sync with the music. At first, this type of music was thought of as a trend that would be replaced quickly with a different style of music. But it became marketable in 1979 with the release of The Sugarhill Gang's 'Rapper's Delight,' other artists such as Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash, saw this as a way to get out of the Bronx and make it big. Though there was some animosity between the Sugarhill Gang and the artists in the Bronx, they soon realized that it was “Rappers Delight” that opened the doors for them to follow the template that they drew out and try and make it big themselves (Dye).

“Originally, rap songs in the early 1980s didn’t start off as dense pieces of music, as they only ever included mildly simple rhymes when it came to lyrics. When it comes to rap songs, they’re structured in beats, where every grouping of four beats is called a “bar.” Musically and lyrically, the lines of some songs were practically predictable, given how one-syllable words were being used as end rhymes (see fig. 1). Moving onto the latter half of that decade though, rap was beginning to evolve with its lyrics. (Avila)”

If you take a look at (Figure 2.) shows an example of Eminem’s Lose Yourself, released in 2002, which includes things such as internal rhymes and multi-syllable rhymes. Regarding the content of songs, the new rap artists today are leaning more toward the beats of the music rather than the lyrics. It seems that as long as the music has a sick beat and the audience can dance to them, the clubs will play it. The lyrics will take a second priority and in some cases won’t even make sense.

With the rise of the internet and mass streaming services making it much easier for anyone to record music and upload it, naturally, the pendulum starts to swing in favor of beats and lackadaisical lyrics. Many new generation rap artists have gotten lazy so they say with their lyrics, hiring out ghostwriters and making fairly repetitive songs. This type of music makes it hard for listeners to feel a connection with the artist, and thus makes it a harder listening experience. So I’ve taken us through thousands of years and it seems that music is still going through this back-and-forth game between lyrics being the star of the show to singing backup for the beats.

The evolution of music is pretty remarkable if you think about where it started with monophonic nonrhythmic music to flower into this huge tree that stems in so many different directions but still finds a way to move in a circular motion.

“In the history of music, it’s obvious that it’s gone through changes. Lyricism and beats have varied across artists and while they may not all pay homage to what hip-hop was founded upon, it is still subjective. Music pleases the ear that listens to it, and every style simply adds more to the genre to create diversity. Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying that the culture of hip-hop will remain as hip-hop, no matter what contributions are made to the art that is music (Avila).

Work Cited

  1. Avila, Jordan. “Evolution of Rap Lyrics.” Best of SNO, https://bestofsno.com/30222/arts-entertainment/evolution-of-rap-lyrics/.
  2. “Baroque Music.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Dec. 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baroque_music.
  3. Dye, David. “The Birth of Rap: A Look Back.” NPR, NPR, 22 Feb. 2007, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7550286.
  4. “Eminem – Lose Yourself.” Genius, 28 Oct. 2002, https://genius.com/Eminem-lose-yourself-lyrics.
  5. “Gregorian Chant.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 9 Dec. 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregorian_chant.
  6. “Madrigal.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Nov. 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madrigal.
  7. Mize, Cole, and About cole mizeindie rap artist. “History of Rap - The True Origins of Rap Music.” ColeMizeStudios, 29 Oct. 2015, https://colemizestudios.com/how-did-rap-start/.
  8. “Motet.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Dec. 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motet.
  9. “Sugarhill Gang – Rapper's Delight.” Genius, 16 Sept. 1979, https://genius.com/Sugarhill-gang- rappers-delight-lyrics.
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