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Monday, April 24, 2006
They may both pucker, but a whistle ain't a kiss
The mashup of "Kiss" and "The Whistle Song" (and a li'l bit of "A Bizarre Love" I think), which you can hear aroundabout here (it's the first track on the player), is one of those things that are interesting because they don't actually work. That little whistle riff just doesn't quite fit with Prince's funk, even though both are so wide-open that it seems like they could fit with anything, especially since both theoretically spring from the same tradition. But put one on top of the other, they're at odds, and because of this even the vocals don't quite match up, all of which indicates that they are in fundamentally different musical modes.
As I say, this should not be the case. Hip-hop production derived directly from funk, in a quite literal sense, for most of its existence. That it's shifted away from that is undeniable, but I think the thing people focus on is the sonics. Clearly, those have shifted, and this has had an effect on the musical mode: with a greater focus on the low end, basslines have become much less busy, and the high end has become almost a drone at time, with very little of the sharp horn breaks and hi-hat patterns that characterized hip-hop's first decade and a half of productions. I get the sense that all this started with G-funk, as modern hip-hop productions seem to have taken the keyboard lines and ditched everything else, reducing the bass to single-note hits and thus flattening out a lot of the emphasis on a particular key that funk tended to do, ending up with more free-floating lines, untethered to any particular center, which certainly works with the slippery vocal style most modern MCs employ. That's why I think the mashup doesn't work: funk's emphasis on a particular, definite note, and the particular, definite intervals above that doesn't really gel with the darker turn you hear in the production of "Whisper Song."
But what I can't figure out is what exactly that turn is, and how it's acheived. What I'm trying to say with "mode" is: if I had to create a Dipset kinda production with a marching band, how would I do it? I know how I would create a funky backing track: aside from the obvious rhythm requirements, I'd have a bassline that stayed around the tonic but elaborated it with a lot of octaves and 4ths and 5ths in particular places in the pattern, as well as major 7th chords and short bursts of triads that leaned heavily on octaves. But I don't know how to do that with the modern hip-hop production style, because I don't know quite how those lines would be classified. Are they minor? Are they in a particular minor mode? How much do they rely on the note the bass is emphasizing? Does it even matter what note the bass is emphasizing? (My sense is no, but I could be wrong.) Is there any particular relationship, even an accidental one, between the low and the high ends? How do producers think of these things as they're creating them? Not the producers doing more unusual productions, but the run-of-the-mill guys. This is what I wonder about, maybe because I wonder how it could be productively twisted.