I’ve come to know that I see things with different eyes than the rest of the world which often leads me to different conclusions than most people expect so when this video came across my screen I had to watch it a few times.
The first time I watched, I was curious to what they were trying to do. I listened and identified the songs:
- Family Affair – Mary J. Blige
- In Da Club – 50 Cent
- Lose Yourself – Eminem
- Hard Knock Life – Jay-Z
- Changes – Tupac
Simple enough. Next I watched again and did my usual color count. Not a black face in the whole video. That’s not exactly a bad thing nor is it a big deal, I just often take inventory of the things black people are doing but then it hit me, how many current black artists play instruments?
Sure there’s a somewhat long list: Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder, John Legend and Jamie Foxx all play piano; QuestLove of The Roots plays the drums; Prince plays guitar and pretty much every produces uses a synthesizer. Miri Ben-Ari has labeled herself a “Hip Hop Violinists” which to me is just her capitalization on the music. Especially since very few in the genre actually play an instrument. This is one of the few genres where words matter more than sound.
Gone are the days of Quincy Jones, Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes. Not because two of those guys are no longer with us. It’s because these guys knew how to compose music. They could take the sounds of the different instruments they could play and put them all together and make a song. That knowledge of music helped them create their great careers. That’s not to say that people today don’t make music, it’s just not made the same.
Instruments themselves are starting to become scarce in schools due to the funding of music programs being cut. School is often the place where people learn how to read music and play it with other instruments. Exposure to a variety of sounds people often shape the minds of people. This often the argument between home-school vs. traditional school. Not many people are skilled enough to properly teach music in the home. Pots, pans and buckets make nice pseudo-drums but they’re not a replacement.
The music behind many hip hop songs is rooted in actual instruments and not just synthesized sounds. Many use the samples of other songs but their sound often features a prominent instrument. The instruments themselves add so much character to the song that they are like a second layer of lyrics and speak for themselves. They are so powerful that in some songs, featured below, they extended the music without the words to add to the mood.
As digital takes over, it will never take the place of the sound of instruments themselves no matter how well it can copy them. Hopefully those involves with hip hop culture won’t let instruments fall by the wayside for much longer or we will have a whole segment of the population without the skills and tools to make music should the lights go out other than a bucket.