The Improvisational Nature of My Music

"Subtle material like those which exist in recordings of jazz and other improvisational music becomes more interesting and meaningful upon relistening."

- Brian Eno, The Studio as a Compositional Tool

This is one of the most interesting approaches to composition I use all the time. Although this is just a small part of what he says as a whole, the rest includes the idea that chance events and musical accidents left remaining in a studio recording - all things a composer didn't intend - take on an added significance when listened to over and over again on tape or CD. Without the opportunity or the sense of necessity that one must record over or edit out the accidents, the recordings of jazz, jam rock, and other forms of improvisational music can achieve an elevated sense of aesthetics unparalleled in other musical genres. This is especially true in music where performing the perfect take is what matters most during the recording process. In contrast, sometimes it's the chance events or musical accidents that become the reason why an audience listens, falls in love with a recording, and listens to it over and over again.

Similarly, outside of the studio environment the live performance can present the very same opportunity for an artist to experiment with one of their compositions, add or extend an improvised section thereby differentiating the performance from the recording, or perform with a passion way over the top of their norm and have that all come through on a recording of the live performance. With the live performance you have so many other elements that make it a unique experience because the live recording will often reflect how good the artist/composer really is, measure audience enthusiasm, and highlight the artist's personality and level of emotion on that specific performance. That's why I love live performance recordings so much for all of the reasons I mentioned above.

Now when it comes to the way I incorporate this practice of capturing or creating a chance event or musical accident, I like to sometimes start pieces from a short improvised piece of music. For example, I'll riff on a short melodic guitar solo I come up with, or I'll take an electronic drum pattern treated with an effect or a combination of two or more effects and record it. Depending on how excited I am about working on what I started with I'll continue working on other parts and build an entire piece around that original musical concept. All of it improvised and all of it immediate. I don't go through the trouble and delay of setting up and scheduling practice sessions to get it just right, looking for other musicians to play additional parts, or shelling out piles of money to hire an entire staff to get me from the conceptual stages to the finished product.

And what do I get musically? I get all sorts of finished pieces and songs of varying levels of quality. Whether that quality consists of high or low recording, compositional, or vocal quality, it spans a wide range. But overall I succeed more than I fail to get a good result. Why do I do this? Because I almost exclusively work alone making music as a hobby, I test my ability to work on the spot and off the top of my head by improvising on my own recordings. When I make a mistake I usually don't edit or record over it unless it's absolutely hideous. But if it's small or even unusually pleasant I'll leave it in because it has a special something I would never have been able to plan on or create deliberately otherwise.

So in a nutshell, the improvisational nature of my music effectively consists of improvising from the beginning, recording the original concept, then soon afterward or much later adding tracks in a new unit of time. Whenever I add a new track I work as though the piece is new to me and devote my full attention to the new element I'm going to add. So every part I add becomes the only part I'm contributing, at least that's the game I play in my head, and I work that way up until I have to mix and master the piece to completion.

Is Hip Hop Dead, and Has It Ever Been Dead?

Recently in an interview, Michael Dyson asked Queensbridge rapper Nas, "In 2006, you said hip hop is dead. [Currently] is it dead, or has your resurrection made it a living art form?"

Nas, in a rather verbose manner, finished by saying "I think right now it's on a respirator."

So why is it on a respirator instead of being healthy and alive? Well, many have nostalgic answers, pointing to rap music in the 80s and 90s, claiming that back then, we witnessed 'real hip hop'. And rap music right now, the music that promotes violence, sex, drugs and narcissism, is without a question 'fake hip hop'.

What these answers fail to neglect, of course, is that rap at its peak was as much about violence, sex, drugs and narcissism as it is today.

Yet, it's the same people who wistfully wish for the return of real rap on a Kool G Rap video that lament Rick Ross' new music; the same people who vibe to Inspectah Deck's Triumph verse that say Crooked I lacks subject matter, and the same people who love old school, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five rap that say party music is awful.

Going beyond music, many have gone one step further and criticized the entire hip hop culture as a whole. Recently, a skinny jeans trend in the culture became popular, and simultaneously, so did criticism about the anti rap-ness of it. A comment I see on YouTube ever so often is "Support real rap, and not that skinny jeans stuff". This, as I'm sure many can envision, is one of the comments I loathe the most on YouTube as the people making these comments clearly don't know about the origins of skinny jeans in the culture. Street clothing from the days of hip hop's inception included skinny jeans; ever heard of Run-D.M.C?

As can be seen, a lot of the principles of rap in the 80s and 90s are seen today. It's not the exact same, but rap is about evolution. Right now, the game isn't the same as it was a few decades ago. Sample laws have completely changed production, and the accessibility of the genre has increased, and as a result, so has the popularity and lucrativeness. Modern rappers are just adapting to current circumstances, and rap is evolving like it should. I think, soon, with rap losing its commercial appeal, will evolve again. But that doesn't make today's rap 'fake hip hop' or golden age rap 'real hip hop'.

The author is a hip hop fanatic who grew up in New York during the Golden Age era in the early 90s. Since then, he's been fanatically following the genre on all fronts for nearly two decades: old school hip hop, golden age hip hop, underground rap and even new rap music. If you want to learn more about the genre, or disagree with my article and want to debate, follow Rap Music Kings to comply with your needs..