History of the Blues Essay
History of the Blues
Conscious Hip-hop is the modern form of the blues. Both genres of music express the hardships of the African American people in their respective time periods or explain the culture surrounding the artist and/or their community. Through their lyrics, the artists from the two genres are able to spread the culture and experiences of the black race. Elements of the blues are rooted in African culture. The blues is one of the most influential styles of music, especially music of the early twentieth century. During its peak, the blues seemed to take on the role as the voice of the black population.
Artist like Ma Rainey, Robert Johnson, and others alike were some of the great blues musicians. Although each artist sings about something different, they implant an emotion as well as spread the tribulations expressed in the song. In today’s world, conscious hip-hop has become the new blues. Although there are many musical alterations, conscious hip-hop currently serves the purpose that the blues once served for the African American community. This style of music speaks about the new hardships experienced by the community, and portrays it in a way that can be felt by anybody who has had the same, or similar, experiences.
Blues Ma Rainey is considered the mother of the blues. She was known for her musical gifts, such as a wonderful bluesy tone. She was one of the pioneers of the blues as she was one of the first people, woman or man, to achieve notoriety and fame from this line of work. In Ma Rainey’s song, “Trust No Man”, she is lending advice to other women about the amount of trust that should be given to their male counter part. This song is one of the many problems experienced not only by black women, but women everywhere.
Though it is not directly stated, the woman is in a relationship where her husband or boyfriend is constantly cheating on her, or at the very least, has experience with cheating men. Rainey continuously advises the woman not to allow the man out of her sight. During the release of this song, the world was still considered a “man’s world”. Consequently, this gave birth to the idea that men were allowed to cheat on their women and do whatever they wanted. All while the woman of the house stayed at home and waited for him. The song was extremely controversial, as well as popular.
It was controversial because it was considered to be out of a woman’s place to speak her mind, let alone concern herself with the actions of what her husband was doing. With this in mind, Rainey’s song openly spoke out against it. It shined light onto the mistreatment of women by their men, as well as spoke against women letting it pass by as if it were acceptable to do so. As a result of all of those factors, the song was a female fan favorite. Ma Rainey gave a voice to the women who felt this way, but did not feel strong enough to speak out against it.
This is just one way the blues contributed or spoke for the people. Robert Johnson’s mysterious background gave light to the spiritual/ unknown side of African culture. Robert Johnson was a blues guitarist and vocalist from 1933-1938’s. The song “Crossroad Blues” was one of his greatest recordings. The song talks about an encounter between Johnson and a “figure” at the crossroads. This song came about great fame because it is suppose to shed light on a “true” event that happened to Johnson. The legend goes that one day, Johnson was performing on stage when people began to humiliate him.
Johnson ran out of town, and found himself walking down a lonely dark road. He came to a crossroad, where he had an exchange with the devil himself. The exchange was that the devil would grant Johnson musical talent if Johnson sold his soul to the devil. Johnson’s mysterious death added to the phenomena. The song talks about the unknown, which was something that was common in those times. Johnson, being a southern native, was probably exposed to things works such as voodoo, and selling of souls. Though this was not a hardship, it was a part of the culture for this time period.
Big Bill Broonzy spoke out on situations that relate more with hardships in his song “Black Brown and White”. Big Bill Broonzy was a Chicago blues guitarist and vocalist. His song, “Black Brown and White” tells a story of the normal everyday struggles that the African Americans went through. In “Black Brown and White”, Big Bill Broonzy says, “Me and a man was workin’ side by side, This is what it meant, They was paying him a dollar an hour, And they was paying me fifty cent, They said if, you was white, ‘t should be all right, If you was brown, could stick around, But as you black, m-mm boy, git back git back git back”.
African Americans were still considered less than whites, and segregation was still a huge part of society. As sad as it is, this was one of many social injustices imposed unto the African American community. Broonzy was able to use his music to share his experiences, as well as others’ experiences. Broonzy’s song “Black Brown and White”, gave a voice to the people who were enduring these hardships, and gave them hope in a “white ran” society that did not care about African Americans. Broonzy’s ability to speak out against the social injustice such as unequal rights was extremely influential.
His style of playing helped in these efforts. A guitarist of the same genre, or style, used his talents to shed light on a different aspect. Muddy Waters is another Chicago Blues guitarist and vocalist. In his song, “Hoochie Coochie Man”, there are a lot of sexual references. It is also an example of call and response between a singer and the musicians. The style of guitar playing left room for a clearer understanding of lyrics, or a fuller sound. In “Hoochie Coochie Man”, there is separation, or a call and response musical interaction going on.
But in many of Waters’ other songs, his guitar playing expands and thickens the texture of the music. The addition of the amplified harmonica, played by Little Walter, also helps add to the thickness of sound. The blues was changing; the use of the electric guitar, harmonica, piano (Otis Spann), and other musical techniques, brought on a new era and style of the blues. Muddy Waters was one of the pioneers in the change. The story of how the song came about is, Willie Dixon, Waters’ bass guitarist, was telling Waters about the song while Dixon and Waters were in the bathroom of a nightclub.
Since Waters could not read, he rushed out to perform the song immediately, so that he would not forget it. Telling the group to play in the key of A, and no rehearsal prior to its performance (which is part of the reason for a call and response), added to the song’s tone as well. It was an instant hit everywhere it was played. Although there are voodoo references in a small portion of the song (which can be connected to Waters roots back down south), this song does not accurately describe any particular hardship of the African community. Waters perfectly portrays the life of a blues musician.
Most blues musicians were in situations similar to the one that is described in “Hoochie Coochie Man”. Lustful women, who were looking to have sexual interactions with the artist, were constantly approaching blues musicians. The artist’s fame and social status attracted the hormones of many. This song reveals to the audience this aspect of a blues musician lifestyle during that time period. Hip-Hop Lupe Fiasco is the supreme example of conscious hip-hop’s claim to be the modern blues. Lupe Fiasco is a Chicago born artist who has produced and recorded many songs. He is today’s ideal conscious rapper.
To define conscious rap “Conscious rap is a sub-genre of hip-hop that focuses on creating awareness and imparting knowledge. Conscious rappers traditionally decry violence, discrimination, and other societal ailments. It’s propelled by the conviction that radical social change comes through knowledge of self and personal discovery. ” (about. com/consciousrap) Formally known as Lupe, he has three records, each touching on a subject that is currently affecting the African American community today. “He Say She Say” is a conversation, between three people, given from two different perspectives.
The first perspective is between two people. An African American baby’s mother is discussing an issue with the father of her child. The two are not together, and consequently, the father neglects his duties to his son. As time passes, it takes a toll on the child academically and emotionally. The second conversation is the actual child and the father. The son discusses the way he feels about his father’s absence and how it is affecting him. The feelings of anger, sadness and disgust are felt through the tone and lyrics of Fiasco.
There is no clear ending as to what happens next, so the listener does not know if the situation betters afterwards. This is a current problem today. Many African American children grow up fatherless, which leaves the mothers to play both roles. Fiasco’s inspiration was not an internal factor, but rather his friends and people around him in his community. Actually, Fiasco’s father played a huge role in Fiasco’s persona. While reading through biographies about him, I got the idea that Fiasco understands that without his father, Lupe would not be the person he is today. Jonylah Forever” is one of Fiasco’s most recent hits. It is about the life story of a six-month-old baby, Jonylah Watkins, who was shot five times (and killed) while in the minivan with her father (who lived). The song starts off saying “How bout them bullets ain’t slow you up You ain’t really die, we watched you grow up”, giving her the opportunity to live.
The song goes on a path that guesses at what her life could’ve been. It talks about how the shooting changed her life and made her interested in learning. She graduates high school early, becomes a doctor, and in a intriguing twist, Fiasco ecreates the shooting that took her life, and makes it so that in the song, she was able to save herself. Sadly, this did not happen, but Fiasco’s lyrics opens up the eyes of many listeners so that they can see the pain and suffering violence causes, which is still one of the biggest crimes in America, especially in the African American population. In “Bitch Bad”, Fiasco brings up the influence of today’s provocative and vulgar music. A innocent young boy, who is no older than six, is defiled mentally while relaxing with his mother.
The mother is listening to, and repeating, music, that refers to herself as a bad bitch. This corrupts his idea of what exactly is respectful and endearing. Since his mother is his only source of womanly standards, he believes all women must be that way; they must all be a bad bitch, or appreciate when he calls them a bitch. Parallel to the young man’s story, a little girl watches music videos that have a lady dressed in a bikini, shaking her booty. Although her favorite rapper made the video that the little girl is watching, Fiasco says that the little girl is barely listening to the lyrics.
She is actually much more influenced by the lady dancing with her favorite rapper, so she pays more attention to that. As stated in the song, “Yeah, now imagine a group of little girls nine through twelve, On the internet watchin’ videos listenin’ to songs by themselves… They’re young, so they’re malleable and probably unmentored… Until that intelligence meets their favorite singer’s preference “Bad bitches, bad bitches, bad bitches That’s all I want and all I like in life is bad bitches, bad bitches” Now let’s say that they less concerned with him And more with the video girl acquiescent to his whims” (rapgenius. om) This paints a picture that the music most artists produce today, is not just music. Music is a means of molding and sculpting the younger generation. Conclusion The two genres of music, the blues and conscious hip-hop, have a striking relationship. The blues speaks out to the emotions and experiences of the community. It also spreads the culture and mindset of the community. Ma Rainey’s “Trust No Man” was a public service announcement to women. Her strength and strong will stood for what was right. The same is true for Fiasco’s style of music in general.
He is a strong believer in removing the vulgarity from the music. Though the mistreatment is in a different form, the two are closely related. Women in today’s African American culture have been seen as nothing more than sexual objects. The clothing they wear, the lyrics that people rap about them, or even the dances, creates this idea that they are supposed to be treated in such a horrible manner. Just as controversial as it was for Rainey to speak bout such mistreatment, Fiasco’s approach to hip-hop is anti hip-hop today. Jonylah Forever” relates a lot with the emotion with which Johnson sings with in “Crossroads”. Johnson’s wife died before the recording of it, and the deep emotion and pain that is felt as he is singing Crossroads, is the same type of inflicted emotion that is caused by listening to the story of Jonylah Watkins. Though Fiasco paints a picture where she does not die, when the listener comes to the understanding that the six-month-old baby was actually shot to death, the feeling that her father must feel is casted upon the listener.
The other songs I’ve listed on my playlist like Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man”, or J. Cole’s “Lost Ones” serve just as other listens that support my thesis. The bond shared between the blues and conscious hip-hop is strong. I am not saying the blues is conscious, nor am I saying the opposite. Clearly, conscious hip-hop does not follow an eight, twelve, or sixteen bar chord progression. Nor does the blues poets speak their words without some type of melodic tone.
However, I do believe that today’s conscious hip-hop serves the same purpose that the blues served in its early beginnings. Both were the voices of people, and both used their musical talents, insight, and lyrics to positively portray the people. The music correctly depicts the mindset or thinking of their respective communities and eras. Their music is for the hopeful, motivation for the hopeless, and actually has substance to it, which is the ultimate purpose of both the blues and conscious hip-hop.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 12 October 2016
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