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Humanities LibreTexts

8.3: The R’s- Rock, Rhythm and Blues and Rap

  • Page ID
    54364
  • The popular styles of music that we hear today, like most other Western musical styles, grew out of combinations of elements borrowed from the styles that preceded them. Rhythm and blues (R&B), rock and roll, and rap all resulted from combinations and changes of music practices that were borrowed from jazz, gospel, country, and the blues.

    Elements of Contemporary Popular Music (the popular music we hear today) are the following: it is easy to listen to; its melody and lyrics, that is, words, are most important; it has a simple structure and strong melody; it is easy to sing and repetitive, with the form comprising repeating sections; it has a strong beat (with Rap, it IS the beat) and clear/regular phases; and it uses few chords.

    Rhythm and Blues

    The term “Rhythm and blues (R&B)” was first used by Billboard magazine in 1948 to refer to music recorded by black musicians and intended for use by the African American community. It has changed definitions several times over the years and is now very much in the mainstream. At one point, the term encapsulated several different musical styles, including soul and funk. Early rhythm and blues ensembles often featured a twelve-bar blues form with a strong backbeat (emphasis on beats two and four.) These early groups typically consisted of a rhythm section augmented by a saxophone or background vocalists. Georgia native Ray Charles was one of the early innovators of R&B.

    Screen Shot 2020-06-25 at 12.45.10 AM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Ray Charles by Heinrich Klaffs. Source: Wikimedia

    Ray Charles – “Hit the Road Jack”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8Ti...17733726B17DBF

    “Contemporary R&B” generally refers to music with jazz, gospel, and funk roots that uses electronic instruments, drums, horns, and vocals. This Earth, Wind & Fire example of contemporary R&B includes a rock rhythm section, brass, and synthesizer—plus a great groove. Many other excellent examples exist from groups like Kool and the Gang and The Ohio Players.

    Earth, Wind & Fire – “In the Stone”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNNaK0hSkrA

    Rock and Roll

    Early rock and roll grew directly out of the tradition of rhythm and blues. The term “rock and roll” is widely credited to the disk jockey Alan Freed, who used it to describe the R&B records he played on Cleveland’s WJW radio station. Rock and Roll was marketed and consumed primarily by a teenage audience. Eventually, the term “rock and roll” was shortened to “rock” and evolved into an all-encompassing international music with a wide variety of subgenres such as glam rock, heavy metal, new wave and grunge. The cultural impact of rock influencing almost every facet of popular culture, from fashion to language.

    Although early rock and roll bands often featured a variety of wind instruments such as the saxophone, by the 1950’s, the typical rock and roll band was defined by the electric guitar. Invented in 1931, the instrument used an electronic device called a pickup to convert the vibration of the strings into electronic signals run to a speaker. The earliest electric guitars were merely used as a means of amplification, but rock and roll guitarists began to experiment with various effects, such as distortion that would alter the sound of the instrument.

    Screen Shot 2020-06-25 at 12.46.59 AM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Elvis Presley . Source: Wikimedia

    A typical rock and roll band often included two guitarists. One guitarist typically played “rhythm guitar,” which mean supporting the band by strumming the chords of the song. The second guitarist played “lead guitar, which meant playing solos in between the vocal lines or in open solo sections. These two guitarists were backed by a drum set and a bass. Often, one of the guitarists doubled as the lead vocalist, while other members might sing background harmonies. Like R&B, rock and roll music places a strong emphasis on the backbeat. These accents are very noticeable in Chuck Berry’s “rock and roll music,” which features snare drum accents on beats two and four.

    Chuck berry – “Rock and Roll Music”

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XSaKQlBZuE

    Screen Shot 2020-06-25 at 12.50.37 AM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Electric guitar, solidbody, Kramer XKG-20 circa 1980 by User “BellwetherToday.” Source: Wikimedia

    Elvis Presley was one of the most important figures in the history of rock and roll, and one of the most celebrated recording artists of the twentieth century. He was born in Tupelo, Mississippi but grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. His recording career began in Memphis in 1954 when he worked with Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records. Elvis combined the sounds of country music and rhythm and blues into a style that was initially called rockabilly. Elvis soon moved to the RCA label, and his first single record “Heartbreak Hotel,” released in 1956, became the number one hit in the United States. By embracing music from both sides of the civil rights movement, Elvis became both very popular and very controversial at the same time. In many ways, he helped bring the popular music of African Americans into the mainstream of white society and paved the way for groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, who were heavily influenced by black artists. Elvis later branched out and recorded many successful ballads and rock tunes. He died of a drug overdose in 1977.

    Listen to the blues influence in Elvis’s singing and the guitar and piano solos in “Heartbreak Hotel.”

    Listening Guide

    For audio, go to:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9BLw4W5KU8

    Composer: Tommy Durden and Mae Boren Axton
    Composition: Heartbreak Hotel
    Date: 1956 recording by Elvis Presley
    Genre: Rock and Roll

    Form: Strophic

    Nature of Lyrics: About a hotel that embodies the feelings of being heartbroken

    Performing Forces: Elvis Presley – lead vocals, Scotty Moore – electric guitar, Chet Atkins – acoustic guitar, Bill Black – double bass, D.J. Fontana – drums, Floyd Cramer – piano

    What we want you to remember about this composition:

    • Each verse repeats the same form, always ending with “Heartbreak is so lonely...”
    • Each verse follows an 8-bar chord progression
    • Notice how Presley’s singing style is a mix of blues, country, and gospel influences
    Timing Text and Form
    0:00

    Verse 1:
    Well, since my baby left me,
    I found a new place to dwell
    Its down at the end of lonely street

    At heartbreak hotel.
    Heartbreak is so lonely baby,

    Heartbreak so lonely,
    Heartbreak is so lonely I could die

    0:21

    Verse 2:
    And although it’s always crowded,

    You still can find some room
    For broken hearted lovers
    To cry away their gloom.
    Heartbreak is so lonely baby,

    Heartbreak so lonely,
    Heartbreak is so lonely they could die

    0:42

    Verse 3:
    Well, the bell hops tears keep flowin’,

    And the desk clerks dressed in black.

    Well they been so long on lonely street

    They ain’t ever gonna look back.

    Heartbreak is so lonely baby,

    Heartbreak so lonely,
    Heartbreak is so lonely they could die

    1:02

    Verse 4:
    Hey now, if your baby leaves you,

    And you got a tale to tell.
    Just take a walk down lonely street

    To heartbreak hotel.
    Where you will be lonely baby,

    Where you will be lonely,
    You’ll be so lonely you could die

    1:22

    Verse 5:
    Guitar solo followed by piano solo

    1:43

    Verse 6:
    And although it’s always crowded,

    You still can find some room
    For broken-hearted lovers
    To cry away their gloom.
    Heartbreak is so lonely baby,

    Heartbreak so lonely,
    Heartbreak is so lonely they could die

    One of the most famous rock and roll groups of all time was The Beatles. This British group toured the United States in 1964 and changed the face of popular music and the recording industry from that time forward. The Beatles popularized the use of electric guitars as the basis of the modern rock band and went on to add strings, brass, organ, and other instruments to the list of instruments used in rock performances and recordings. Their use of straight eighth notes on the cymbals and accents on beats two and four on the snare drum are classic rock and roll rhythm elements. Most Americans are unaware of the influence that Chuck Berry and other American artists had on the style and content of the Beatles’ music.

    The Beatles – “I Want To Hold Your Hand”

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1_zdt_FNmM

    Rap

    Rap is a form of spoken word delivered over a beat. It can be improvised or written out in advance. The history of rap music is intertwined with the history of hip hop and even disco music. An excellent history of hip hop and rap can be found on the Hiphop-Network site linked below.

    www.hiphop-network.com/articl...onofhiphop.asp

    While the origins of rap can be traced back to Africa, rap as we know it came into being in the Bronx, NY in the 1970s. However, not until the art form was recorded did it enter the cultural mainstream. One of the first important rap recordings was the 1979 hit, “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang. Kurtis Blow (Kurt Walker, born August 9, 1959) is the first rapper to sign with a major record label. “The Breaks,” a single from his 1980 debut album, is the first certified gold record rap song.

    Kurtis Blow - “The Breaks” (1980)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAk2wlv1N1I

    By the 1990s, rap had evolved into a more sophisticated musical style featuring complex rhythms and clever wordplay. The instrumentation of rap music varies greatly depending on the artist and, often, the individual song. Early rap concerts featured DJs creating beats on turntables, which allowed the DJ to create music on the spot by playing and manipulating records. One well-known technique on the turntables is scratching, or improvising a rhythmic solo on one turntable over a beat.

    A Tribe Called Quest is widely considered one of the greatest groups of the so-called golden age of hip hop during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Listen to the track below, “Can I Kick It” by A Tribe Called Quest. Like many rap songs, this track utilizes a technique called “sampling,” in which a clip of a preexisting song is isolated and looped underneath the rapper (in this case, the bass line for Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side). The song also features the use of scratching mentioned above.

    Screen Shot 2020-06-25 at 12.54.11 AM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): A Tribe Called Quest by Jame Chutter. Source: Wikimedia

    Listening Guide

    For audio, go to:

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=71ubKHzujy8

    Composer: A Tribe Called Quest (Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Phife Dawg, Jarobi White)
    Composition: “Can I Kick It”
    Date: 1990
    Genre: Rap
    Form: Verse-chorus
    Nature of Text: recited to a steady beat

    Performing Forces: Rap vocals over looped music backdrop incorporating a variety of musical samples from previous recordings
    Rappers: Q-tip and Phife Dawg

    What we want you to remember about this composition:

    • Listen for the verse-chorus form
    • The first verse features clever wordplay, with the last word of each phrase rhyming. Notice how the last syllable of each line slowly evolves from words like “cuz” and “fuzz” to “rug” and “hug” and finally to “love” and “shove.”
    • In the second verse, most of the phrases rhyme on the sound “ayer” as in “layer”or “player”
    Timing Performing Forces Text and Form

    0:00

    Q-tip

    Chorus or “Hook”:
    Hey y’all, we is havin’ a ball
    And you know they ask me to get on the MIC And they ask me
    Can I kick it? Word yes you can
    Can I kick it? Yes you can
    Can I kick it? Yes you can
    Can I kick it? Yes you can
    Can I kick it? Yes you can
    Can I kick it? Yes you can
    Can I kick it? Yes you can
    Can I kick it? Yes you can
    Can I kick it? Yes you can
    Well I’m gone, gone

     

    Q-tip

    Verse 1:
    Can I kick it? To all the people who can Quest like A Tribe does
    Before this, did you really know what live was? Comprehend to the track, for it’s why cuz
    Gettin measures on the tip of the vibers
    Rock and roll to the beat of the funk fuzz
    Wipe your feet really good on the rhythm rug
    If you feel the urge to freak, do the jitterbug
    Come and spread your arms if you really need a hug Afrocentric living is a big shrug
    A life filled with fun that’s what I love
    A lower plateau is what we’re above
    If you diss us, we won’t even think of
    Will Nipper the doggy give a big shove?
    This rhythm really fits like a snug glove
    Like a box of positives it’s a plus, love
    As the Tribe flies high like a dove

    0:13

    Phife Dawg

    Verse 1:
    Can I kick it? To all the people who can Quest like A Tribe does
    Before this, did you really know what live was? Comprehend to the track, for it’s why cuz
    Gettin measures on the tip of the vibers
    Rock and roll to the beat of the funk fuzz
    Wipe your feet really good on the rhythm rug
    If you feel the urge to freak, do the jitterbug
    Come and spread your arms if you really need a hug Afrocentric living is a big shrug
    A life filled with fun that’s what I love
    A lower plateau is what we’re above
    If you diss us, we won’t even think of
    Will Nipper the doggy give a big shove?
    This rhythm really fits like a snug glove
    Like a box of positives it’s a plus, love
    As the Tribe flies high like a dove

    0:50

    Phife Dawg

    Hook:
    Can I kick it? Can I kick it?

    Can I kick it? Yes you can

    Can I kick it? Yes you can

    Can I kick it? Yes you can

    Can I kick it? Yes you can

    Can I kick it? Yes you can

    Can I kick it? Yes you can

    Can I kick it? Yes you can

    Well I’m gone, gone