Today I showed the students enrolled in my “Bebop to Hip Hop: Young America and Music” course the first 45 minutes of Beyonce’s 2016 “Lemonade” visual album. I feel like I am way behind because this work has been analyzed quite a bit since its release.
But I haven’t seen it peeled apart in the way I hope my students will be able to peel it apart in the coming week, which is to say, I am looking forward to how they will be able to see the progress in America since the Second World War alongside the room for improvement (I call it the “messy postwar period”), and more importantly, be able to state as much in emphatic terms.
For now, they are getting their analytical feet wet. I enjoy seeing them do so via the first in-class reflection some completed today.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, we head to our university’s main library. There, they will get a tour of our music holdings and then, go to the student media lab where they will get a short tutorial on Garageband software. In groups of two, they will make a beat that must be presented to their classmates and me by the end of the semester.
They are presently learning how so much of the hip hop music heard today features samples of music that have been with us for a while, in some cases, a long while. For example Kanye West’s 2005 “Gold Digger” features Ray Charles’ 1954 “I Got a Woman.” Last week, I mentioned an argument made by French essayist Nicolas Bourriaud concerning the rising reinterpretations of existing art forms in recent years. He suggests that such a dynamic is owed in part to the chaotic abundance of things we can access as modern people. Why invent anything new? There’s too much out there already. Or so it may be thought by some.
This past summer, while in Scotland, I interviewed deejay Saleem Andrew McGroarty about his sampling of Grant Green’s “Idle Moments” and “Maybe Tomorrow” for his own personal pleasure nearly twenty years. I told him how Kendrick Lamar, among others, sampled the latter in recent years.
Students in this course are free to play with existing music or come up with new beats. I look forward to seeing their motivations. Will they like McGroarty be interested in sound and the smoothness of a loop? Or a message? Or the legacy of a musician or singer’s life? We shall see.
Along the way, they will be introduced to many musicians. Today, I mentioned Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a singer and guitarist who is considered the Godmother of Rock n Roll. With a background in gospel, she helped create a sound that influenced a generation of people. I’ll return to her next week – on the other side of that FSU-Crimson Tide game. In the meantime, prayers continue for the people in Houston.