A COLLOQUY ON MUSIC WITH D. FELTZ, PHYFE DOUG, AND THICK TEE BONE PART II
TTB: When we last left off, we had just finished watching "My Shot", a number from the groundbreaking musical that has been packing them in on Broadway in unprecedented fashion--Hamilton. What did you think? DF: Creative song I guess. Nothing you can actually sing though. Lots of catchy rhyming or quasi-rhyming. I assume all those guys have wonderful singing voices, but there is nothing in the song that would allow them to demonstrate their vocal talents. They just repeat a rhythmic line for about five minutes with a couple of brief refrains of "I'm not throwin' away my shot". Sometimes it's just a patter song. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
PD: Damning with faint praise again? DF: Actually, in some ways I'd like to make a comparison in favor of hip-hop music. The iconic R&B/Soul artist James Brown focused much more on rhythm and verbal energy than on melody. I respected his performances, but with a few notable exceptions his songs were not ones I wanted to play all the time. Those tunes often sacrificed melody for a repetitive and very catchy beat. Below is a very young James Brown with a medley of "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "I Feel Good", both monster hits for the "Godfather of Soul".
TTB: Wow! That energy is off the charts. DF: But you can see what I mean here. Minimal melody but electrifying kinetic energy and more than a little posturing. James Brown, of course, carried on the tradition of being "caped" on stage by his backup singers (see below), a tradition that preceded him in the Gospel scene and followed him in 80s pop. Below is about as minimal a song as one can find, Brown's "Get Up Offa That Thing" from a recording of The Midnight Special. Check out those dancers! Oh, the 70s!
DF: Like to see Kanye try to rise from a split like that! As you can see, no real melody. Just a repeated line accompanied by a wicked rhythm section and some funky brass. I see this as an obvious predecessor to hip-hop. Most modern R&B has moved to a smoother musical language than found in the works of funkmeisters of the past, but the current star Janelle Monae might be James Brown reborn! The current star could not have existed without the inventiveness of the former star. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwnefUaKCbc
TTB: That's the video of her big hit "Tightrope". I saw her perform it at the R&B Soul Sisters concert at the White House recently. That's where she really tried to channel James Brown.
DF: Notice there is a brief interlude with hip-hop artist Big Boi, whose rap forms the bridge in the song's construction. You look at the lyrics of the song and they are, shall I say, um, lacking? Here is that bridge: You gotta keep your balance Or you fall into the gap It's a challenge but I manage Cause I'm cautious with the strap Do damage to your cabbage that A doctor cannot patch Why you don't want no friction Like the back of a matchbook Daddy Fat Sax will fold you And your MacBook Close shows, shut you down Before we go-go backwards Act up, and whether we high or low We gonna get back-up Like the Dow Jones and NASDAQ Sorta like a thong in an ass crack Come on
DF: Come on, indeed! But to be honest, I just don't care! (Though the forced rhyme of MacBook to matchbook might be a little too strained for some listeners! And the NASDAQ rhyme? Yikes!) The song is so infectious and the funky bass line so intoxicating. Who can listen to this without a foot tapping?! Speaking of that White House performance, this one is for you TTB:
PD: Hey, let me get a word in edgewise already. I want to talk about a commercial that I saw a while back. It was performed by a hip-hop duo from Philly called Chitty Bang, although I think they have split and only one of the guys constitutes Chitty these days. What do we think about this?
TTB: Hey, it's really catchy. The rhymes are extremely simple but they're pretty close most of the time, right? The melody is also minimal. But it's a catchy riff. Pass the Oreos. AND...a glass of milk!
PD: Well, maybe we should see how more sophisticated songs work? DF: Save that for next time.