City Paper is not for tourists
THE RECENT REVIEW OF the Dream Warriors disc (Music,7/7) is typical of recent reviews of new rap groups: The reviewer is trying hard to make us believe there is something new in this overworked and morally bankrupt subgenre. Unfortunately, Bobby Hill exemplifies many of the new music reviewers, in that they have as little knowledge of music and musicianship as do the groups they review.
First, two examples of other reviewers lack of knowledge: 1.) M.D. Carnegie made some incredible remarks concerning John Coltrane in one of his reviews for your paper a year or so ago. He denigrated Coltrane for his playing in the “free” style on some recordings (Books, 2/4/94). While it is true that Coltrane recorded in this style on his last few recordings, the bulk of his recorded career was typified by a mastery of the “straight-ahead” style that will be studied into the next century for its complexity and beauty.
2.) A feature article in the Washington Post in ’93 on Digable Planets. The writer constantly praised them for their incorporation of “bebop riffs of the fifties” into the rap sound, with “band” members agreeing several times on this point. The problem is, bebop was a product of the early ’40s; those forward-thinking bop musicians (notably Miles Davis) had moved on by the ’50s into the “cool” sound, Latin influences, straight-ahead, and more.
Finally, 3.) Hill’s review. It is truly indicative of intellectual bottoming out when reviewers enlist fabricated words (“phat”) to describe works of art when plain good English should suffice. If I called a bass tone “bhig” instead of “full” or “sonorous,” I would be guilty of murdering the language (or of not knowing enough about the language). But there’s much more. Hill twice uses the term “trumpet blast” to help inform us of the artistry of this “band,” yet doesn’t mention the trumpeter’s name or give any indication that trumpets can be beautiful instruments—only “blasts.”
Now for the two worst points of the review. First Hill states that rap’s “butter beat” (read monotonous) “defines and limits the art form—in much the same way that the walking 4/4 bass line defines and anchors jazz”—another example of a little knowledge being dangerous. The “walking 4/4 bass line” is indigenous to a certain area of jazz, but neither defines nor limits a music with so many dimensions that this two-dimensional “rap reviewer” has no idea of the subject he is broaching.
Finally, the paragraph noting the band’s “sampled [stolen] Pharoah Sanders four-note bass/sax unison phrase, with alternating fourth notes interrupted by a high-pitched trumpet blast” makes no musical sense at all. There is no such thing as a “fourth note” in music—they are called “quarter notes,” and if the phrase had three or four trumpet “blasts,” then it would be a seven- or eight-note phrase, not a four-note phrase.
It is a sad commentary that the musicians who help our tastes evolve and the reviewers who explain how it is done now can do neither.
Takoma Park, Md.