A few months back when 50 Cent expressed his interest in making dance music he received quite a bit of negative feedback and chatter from the hardcore rap fan base on blogs and websites with many even making mockery of him for having the thought. It was one of those moments where depending upon perspective and personal taste many formed an opinion and even made a judgment without taking the time to listen to what 50 intended creatively and business-wise.
And it is only from those two points of view business and artistic creativity that one could appreciate the wisdom in what 50 was contemplating.
From a business perspective, as I have written in the past, 50 Cent is not as commercially popular as he was in the past, not because his music or rhymes have fallen off but because so much of his success is attributable to an intense interest in his personal story and a particular fan base that is aging. That kind of intensity and of course youth cannot be maintained over an entire decade. As older fans tuned out, not enough younger ones were produced.
Its the natural demographic death that almost every rapper experiences.
I dont have time or space to revisit these concepts that Ive written about before at AllHipHop.com but you can get a quick refresher by reviewing:
-The 17 Year Old: The God Of Rap
-The Business Of Story (A Rappers Brand and Image)
-The New Synth Pop: Ke$ha, Young Money and Justin Bieber Got This!
Accepting this I dont think has been easy for 50 but I definitely think he has the kind of KOS (Knowledge of Self) that allows him to adapt to the changing circumstances of his career. The challenge for 50 is that he is such an image and story-oriented artist that if hes not careful a turn to dance music (especially if that only means uptempo music) can cause his brand, image, and reputation to get out of alignment.
Although he thrives off of that rebel and upstart energy 50 Cent can never again be the #1 rap insurgent the young kid emerging on the mixtape circuit willing to take on the establishment and say whatever he wants, violating political correctness (can he really make Ghetto Quran and How To Rob again?) He is the industry establishment, today.
So, like any great political leader he is no longer as concerned with his current demand and is looking for new voters (consumers), his emerging demand. Hes also dedicated himself to new markets in the form of a career in acting and film production.
So in a business context it is easy to see how he would view dance music its an emerging market, and a lucrative one at that, capable of adding to the longevity of his music career.
Probably 9 out of 10 rap fans who criticized 50 for even thinking about dance and techno have little grasp of how large that market is internationally and how fast it is growing in the United States.
Sadly, but genuinely, most of us fans dont think past personality beefs in rap and whos hot in our own neighborhood or region. But if we took the business point of view wed see that the same place where Hip-Hop sales are dying the United States (while in some formats growing internationally) is the same place that dance music is booming again.
From a July 2, 2010 article in The Financial Times, The worlds biggest music market finds a new groove on the dance floor:
The noise from the pumping electronic beats was deafening, but the 185,000 young people packed into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last weekend did not care. They were too busy dancing to tracks from some of the worlds best DJs, including Moby and Deadmau5, a Canadian house and techno producer who wears a giant mouse head when performing.
They were in the stadium that hosted the 1984 Olympics for the 14th Electric Daisy Carnival, an event that only attracted 5,000 people in its first year but which has skyrocketed in popularity as dance music has gone mainstream in the US.
Interest in the genre in the worlds biggest music market has reached a level unseen since the disco era, says Pete Tong, the BBC radio DJ and electronic music pioneer. And in Las Vegas, where club promoters and casinos are signing DJs to lengthy residencies, dance music in the US even has its own unofficial capital to rival Ibiza in Europe.
Finally, almost 40 years since the start of disco, dance music is starting to stick, says Tong. He points to electronic acts like Frenchman David Guetta, who produced The Black Eyed Peas hit I Gotta Feeling the biggest selling track ever on iTunes and a growing number of dance music festivals and events.
David Guetta has been the Trojan Horse, he says. Suddenly, US radio has changed its sound and hip-hop acts are releasing dance records. The underground culture is also really embracing it and what started out as raves have turned into real music festivals.
The trend has not gone unnoticed by record labels. Theres always been a subculture of dance music in the US, but its always been confined to the east and west coasts, says Nick Gatfield, president, New Music for North America and the UK at EMI.
He estimates that more than 50 per cent of the American Top 40 pop chart has electronic influences. Top-selling acts such as Lady Gaga and Ke$ha have embraced the genre to chart-topping effect. A lot of R&B and hip-hop acts are incorporating these sounds into their music.
EMI represents Guetta and has struck a so-called 360 deal with Deadmau5 that entitles the label to a share of touring and merchandise income.
Like the rest of the music industry, live performance has become the most lucrative part of the business for dance acts, says Mr Gatfield. Dance music, he adds, is relatively mature in Europe but still has a lot of growth potential in the US.
In Las Vegas the biggest resort hotels have begun signing DJs to lengthy contracts to attract regular crowds. Its a city thats been built on residencies, whether its Frank Sinatra or Celine Dion, says Mr Zimmerman.
But there is more to the story than just business.
Creatively, there is something currently missing from the sound of Hip-Hop music that one finds in dance music and other genres.
Here is a critical point that 50 Cent made regarding the creative experimentation he initially took part in for his new album tentatively titled, Black Magic:
Black Magic had a different style to it, a different vibe. I was playing with different song structures, music from different genres like rock music. The way rock music allows the energy to decrease and then comeback to high energy I was getting music that had that kind of vibe to it. I did some things that were a little dance inspired, the tempo was higher. Just playing with a lot of things.
When most people think of dance music they think of beats per minute and faster tempo, as 50 describes. But dance music also delivers what 50 attributes to rock music when he says, The way rock music allows the energy to decrease and then comeback to high energy I was getting music that had that kind of vibe to it.
Very few Hip-Hop producers are able to build crescendo, which is another word, among others for what 50 is describing. That was one of the points I made in my last column, In Search of The New Sound (Goose Bump Music) at:
To me it is not the beats per minute or tempo that makes Dance, Trip-Hop, and House music powerful and able to do things that most Hip-Hop beats today dont, it is the way that its sound has two qualities: spatial location (the ability to create an impression that sound is coming to the listener from a particular location) and reverberation (the ability to create a perception of how close, or far away we are from the source of a sound i.e. the difference between hearing music in a studio, echoing in a shower, heard in a nightclub, or experienced in a large concert hall.
Both of these qualities create emotion in the listener, including a sense of pain, joy, suspense, anticipation and excitement.
You can always find it in movie score music.
Over the last few weeks, when I took a few columns off Ive been listening to albums from certain artists not just for enjoyment but to notice certain qualities in the sound. On my playlist have been the new album from dance artist Kylie Minogue (Aphrodite); the new album from Big Boi (St. Lucious Left Foot The Son Of Chico Dusty); the music of Deadmau5; the first two albums from the legendary house music group Ten City (Foundation and No House Big Enough); and the latest album from The-Dream (Love King).
If you want an excellent and simple example of spatial location and reverberation listen to Nikki 2 by The-Dream and the uptempo Cant Beat The Feeling by Kylie Minoque (pay attention to what happens with the energy level, and how different sounds are slowly re-integrated from the 2:11 minute mark to 3:14, especially if you do so while you think of someone you love-smile). It is exactly what 50 Cent describes, The way music allows the energy to decrease and then comeback to high energy
Thats the crescendo that dance and house music creates that the vast majority of Hip-Hop music lacks today.
If you want a good example of contrasting sounds weaved nicely around vocal delivery, Shutterbug by Big Boi is nice, too.
Over this same period I had a very good and brief exchange with an AllHipHop reader about one of the best lyricists I have ever heard, Joe Budden.
The reader, quite properly wanted to know what I thought of him in relation to my last column on Goose Bump music.
This is usually the kind of advice I give an artist in private but for the benefit of the readers and because the sky is still the limit for Joe Budden here is that exchange:
TM: Reading your article on goose bump music I couldnt agree more but I have been listening to Joe Budden for a couple of years now and I have put links to some songs where I believe he shows flashes of that Goose Bump music I know it gives me the chills its a perfect combination of lyrics which match the mood of the beat, so take a listen and let me know what you think.
Cedric Muhammad: The only small criticism I have is that while he is an incredible lyricist I believe that too often he cares more about how he says things (flow) than in conveying the meaning of what he is saying (through voice inflection and dramatic cadence) and reaching a broader audience who would be touched by his story. In other words, he is a master rhymer who is VERY introspective and can tell stories but yet not a great introspective story-teller (Scarface, Cube, Pac, Beans, Jay). Its too often the curse of the talented northeast rapper who appeals to the mixtape audience - where flow matters more than feeling.
TM: Thank you for your response and I hadnt looked at in that way his focus more on flow has been a hindrance for him to have a more accessible story to a wider audience I do contend though he is one of the most lyrically candid mcs in the game right now.
Cedric Muhammad: Yes, Joe Budden could be one of the greatest introspective rappers. He has all of the qualities - story, vocabulary, diction, emotion. Unfortunately things like beefing with artists on his website and trying to convince everyone how nice he is (which he is) as an MC, cause us to think of him more as someone who rips tracks rather than someone who makes moving music.
What I did not get too deep into with this insightful reader is that part of what Joe Budden needs is a new sound. Im not saying that he needs a gang of uptempo dance beats. I think we all know that would bring his brand-image-reputation out of alignment. But if you listen to how honest, revealing, and descriptive he can be, it is not hard to see that if Joe Budden could find a producer or team of them (and more importantly an arranger) with the discipline to just focus on things like spatial location, reverberation, and a theme or concept album (and not just hot beats) he is capable of producing classic music down, mid and uptempo. Joe Budden is really that talented and special of an MC.
Nonetheless, I think he has had a good career and his business sense and understanding of how to create a cult of personality via the Internet put him light years ahead of most artists.
But, to me, he has never been able to find the right balance between freestyling, battle raps, and songwriting as he and I discussed back in 2003 in a BlackElectorate.com interview(http://www.blackelectorate.com/articles.asp?ID=881):
Cedric Muhammad: Well, listen, there was this interesting line I saw in this interview you gave to The Source magazine, where you made a distinction between freestyling and making a song. And, looking at your evolution, I thought it would be interesting to hear you explain the transition from freestyling and making a song. Was it difficult? What were some of the things you had to learn quickly?
Joe Budden: You know, I had to adjust to making a freestyle. Thats what I had to adjust to. Because I am a songwriter
Cedric Muhammad: So you went backwards with it?
Joe Budden: Yeah, I had to go backwards. I have always written. I started out writing in school - homework - and I was good at that. Then that went to having a daily journal. Then that went to having to write in therapy; then that went to poetry; and that went to spoken word; then that went to battle raps; and that went to songs. I always skipped the freestyles. I wasnt too knowledgeable about the mixtape game and about how big freestyles were until I started getting on them. So I had to learn what the f to say. I was real good about talking about me and spreading my own feelings and being real introspective on a song but I had to learn how to get peoples attention. So, I realized that I had always been real good at metaphors and punch lines from back in my battle rap days. So I tried to do that and the people definitely liked it. So I stayed in that but I didnt want to get caught in the Canibus syndrome whereas, as you know, a few years ago, Canibus killed every mixtape but when he put the album out people found out he cant make a song - which was the truth. So, I threw out songs early on when I thought the people were listening, from the popularity of the freestyles.
Cedric Muhammad: So, in essence, where are you right now? Do you think that you are back in your element with making songs for your album?
Joe Budden: Yeah, definitely back in my element. But I mean dont get me wrong. I love doing the freestyles. I love it because it just gives me the chance to just run off at the mouth about whatever I want but with the songs I can get real personal, so while making an album, I definitely feel back in my element.
These words that Joe spoke to me in 2003 are still his dilemma. He actually was lured away from being the great songwriter (that he already was - You know, I had to adjust to making a freestyle. Thats what I had to adjust to. Because I am a songwriter I was real good about talking about me and spreading my own feelings and being real introspective on a song but I had to learn how to get peoples attention.) by the pressures and culture of the mixtape circuit and raps obsession with beef.
7 years later, I still believe, with the right sound Joe Budden can make the kind of classic album that has eluded him thus far.
Because of these kind of dynamics, radio playlists that focus on bpms more than moving music, and producers who rely on synthesized sound too much, Naughty By Nature remains one of the most underappreciated groups in rap history and Kay Gee in particular, as a producer. The way he integrated the use of the piano into rap to create a new sound is something no other producer in Hip-Hop has ever come close to.
And in some ways Treach is an example of a master lyricist who understood it was more important for his career and the betterment of his group to stay within the pocket of a certain sound even one that could cause him to be called corny. Because Naughty admittedly made feel good music (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAcIZ0N3Ez8) Treachs place among the top MCs of all time remains disputed to some. But anyone who knows anything about MCing and making hot songs and concept albums knows the New Jersey native is one of the best that ever did it. KRS-One said it best in the early 1990s when he said lyrics were like a dog to Treach they would go wherever he wanted to take them. The Teacher also said that you could look in Treachs eyes and feel the intensity of his creativity. I know of no one else who ever received this kind of endorsement from KRS-One or a group for whom he showed such appreciation for their ability to make great song, after song. He said Naughty could go song-for-song with him, as early as back in 1992-1993.
One of the underappreciated aspects of the rise of Dirty/Down South music is its ability to bring new sounds into the game. In this sense among others, Mannie Fresh remains one of the most underappreciated producers. His ability to integrate the sounds of other genres of southern music, including elements of the instrumentation of the marching bands of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) is something that remains to be studied.
He was also excellent and building crescendo and that is one of the secrets of the popularity of Back That Azz Up, by Juvenile featuring Mannie Fresh and Lil Wayne (aside from the captivating movements note the string instruments shown in the video at the very beginning: http://new.music.yahoo.com/Juvenile/videos/view/Back-That-Thang-Up2150407).
Note what Mannie Fresh does at the end of the song (the 2:50 minute mark) leading into Lil Waynes cameo and beat-box influenced ad lib, combined with the synth, strings, horn-sound section, timing of the drums; and of course the well, captivating movements of those dancing in the video. It is what makes that song so memorable and is a major part of what made for a young Lil Waynes rise, which has continued for over 10 years.
String instruments, building crescendo, spatial location, and reverberation are small things to some but they are what make a very good lyrical artist like Beanie Sigel sound classic in terms of introspection on the first two verses on a track like Got Nowhere produced by Kanye West (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmnFNp9rG58). Again, note the use of strings, horns and piano to create crescendo.
The Rick Ross-affiliated producers like Lex Luger are also bringing a lot of subtle things to the table these days. B.M.F. is a beast of an arrangement (more than a beat) so basic and disciplined, its sophisticated - including the flows of Styles P. and Rick Ross which let the beat speak as loud as they do. Too many lyricists would have tried to rip the track and take it over with excessive wordplay. The song is one big crescendo movie score music and anthem all in one.
So, to me the talk about Hip-Hop artists making dance music is about a search for greater sound creativity as much as business.
Theres something missing in the music and everybody feels it. Its time for a breakthrough.
Recently while with a friend, I turned to the local Hip-Hop and R&B station a typical booming but boring beat came on. She said to me, How could anyone listen to this all day?
My answer was, Only two reasons either they dont know anything different and the power of other sounds in music, or, they are just conditioned to like it because of habit and repetition.
Those two reasons arent enough anymore to stop the revolution in sound thats coming.
Let me get back to pumping All Loved Out by Ten City
Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist, and monetary economist. Hes a former GM of Wu-Tang Management and currently a Member of the African Unions First Congress of African Economists. Cedrics the Founder of the economic information service Africa PreBrief (http://africaprebrief.com/) and author of The Entrepreneurial Secret (http://theEsecret.com/). He can be contacted via e-mail at: cedric(at)cmcap.com