Roughly fifteen years ago, the initial rumblings of rap music were eminating from the streets of New York City. Rap music is very much a product of its urbanized, literacy-based environment, as can be seen in the advanced technology necessary to produce the music. Although the connection between rap music and its modern roots is impossible to ignore, rap's dependence upon high technology is often over-emphasized, eclipsing any opportunity to connect rap culture to a time before the world of turntables and written lyrics. Hip-hop music maintains distinct oral influences, carrying traces of an oral tradition preceding the advanced, literacy-based era from which the music emerged. The world of literate technology that gave birth to rap music represents a threat to the maintenance of these traces, making them increasingly difficult to discern. The use of rhythm and repetition are highly characteristic of the semiotic, sound-based exchanges within a purely oral culture. Tricia Rose writes of the importance of rhythm in modern black tradition: Rap's primary force is sonic, and the distinctive,
systematic use of rhythm and sound, especially the
use of repetition and musical breaks, are part of a
rich history of New World black traditions and
practices. (Rose 64)
Rap's distinct sound has been repeatedly likened to tribal African music, linking rap's use of heavy percussion, bass, repeated loops, and short, staccato vocals to the instruments and chanting used in the pre-literate tribes. But this common comparison almost always refers strictly to musical composition, not the presence of orality. Rap artists, when producing lyrics to be recorded and mass-produced, almost always work from a prepared text. This reliance on text has often been grounds for the quick dismissal of possible connections between modern rap and ancient orality. However, by examining studies of purely oral tradition, interesting similarities between the two ages come to the surface, illuminating elements of pre-literate tradition in the modern genre of hip-hop. Tricia Rose, author of Black Noise, discusses the various constituents that go into the creation of the rap sound in her work. She examines the cultural implications and potential of rap music within American society, illustrating the ways in which the art form represents its creators as a voice for their marginalized position within society. Rose discusses rap's legitimacy as a musical form, the significance of rap's starting in urban centers, and the ways in which the music utilizes technology and industry. By addressing the larger scope of issues associated with rap music, Rose tends to sidestep a deeper analysis into rap's cultural influences, taking the art form at face value in order to apply her analysis of the various causal relationships between rap and its environment. Rose uses lingustic theorist Walter Ong's term "postliterate" to describe the arena in which rap music was created. "Postliterate orality describes the way oral traditions are revised and presented in a technologically sophisticated context." (Rose 86) Rose places considerable emphasis on rap music as an emblem of the age of mechanical reproduction. She goes into great detail regarding the commodification of rap, the advent of sampling technology, and the consciousness of authorship in modern rap acts. Rose views any intimation of rap's having roots in African American oral tradition as an undermining of rap music as a form of cultural expression. To link modern rap back to traditions such as jump- rope songs or the dozens is to take the art form out of its cultural context; her analysis cements rap music into its cultural milieu, excluding any exploration into historical, transcultural connections between rap and past oral traditions . If we avoid looking at rap culture as a means to an end, or as an outgrowth of cultural and political circumstance, we can focus on the music itself, and make such...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document