Why Instrumental Hip Hop Doesn’t Suck: A Rebuttal

I came across this article in the San Francisco Weekly by Phillip Mlynar stating that “Instrumental Hip Hop Sucks. Ban It Forever”. Now if you have been a follower of Flea Market Funk, you know that not only do we promote the vinyl from original artists that fuel instrumental Hip Hop, but support today’s producers and artists that make quality music. Some of them are strictly instrumental Hip Hop. In his article, Mr. Mlynar rips the entire genre (except DJ Shadow, for some reason he gets a pass and “is exonerated from the crime of instrumental hip-hop by virtue of his music being more correctly in the lineage of Steinski’s witty cut-and-paste experiments.”). He goes on to bash artists like DOOM, Diplo, RJD2, and Dilla. While this is America, and of course just an opinion of Mr. Mylnar, I am really offended, and appalled that a writer for a national weekly was allowed to publish such trash. What came across was an ill informed, horribly researched, personal witch hunt on music he doesn’t like. If you look back on the articles he wrote in 2011, they ranged from “The World’s Most Regrettable Hip Hop Tattoos” (oh wait I saw an ice cream cone on a guy’s face!) to multiple articles on Kreayshawn, some *surprise*, DJ Shadow, and a whole lot of lists that look like something ego trip list would publish. Let’s break down why this article doesn’t make sense.

“It’s music without a start or end, without peaks and momentum — it’s hip-hop without a money shot. Tragically, it also forgets what makes hip-hop so invigorating in the first place.”:

Obviously, there is no research in the this at all. Way before DOOM or Madlib released the instrumentals, way before he was on DJ Shadow’s dick (I’m surprised he didn’t refer to him as “Josh” in the article), there were instrumentals. DJ’s cut up the breaks, extended the groove, and made people dance. We all are aware of that. Let’s take it back to mid-80’s, when Delicious Vinyl was not yet started (although it was a concept without the label really), and the Dust Brothers were making instrumental Hip Hop. These guys made sample based instrumental records and played them way before they even had a record label off the ground. People danced to this on the weekly at clubs like Power Tools, where their originals were mixed in with Funk, Disco, Heavy Metal, and underground Hip Hop of the day. These instrumentals would become the back bone for one of the best sample based record ever, the Beastie Boys Paul’s Boutique. Were these mid 80’s tracks, played in the LA club scene way before the Beasties or Tone Loc or Def Jef rhymed over them without a money shot? If you think there is not one money shot in any of the songs on Paul’s Boutique, you’re nuts. They were some of the most creative instrumentals made, and were filled with more money shots than a Swedish Erotica Johnny Wad film. You can’t tell me that a record like DJ Z-Trip’s Shifting Gears, primarily an instrumental record (with a bit of rapping) has no money shot, or Cut Chemist’s The Audience Is Listening is a boring repetitive effort akin to “Chinese water torture”. What about newer producers like Tall Black Guy, Odisee, 14 KT, Small Professor, or vets like Price Paul and Jake One? There is no way you can even state that their music is boring and can only be understood by consuming massive amounts of weed. This is rubbish, and I haven’t even mentioned Jay Dee yet.

Going further, he states “that quaint, nostalgia-saturated scene has nothing to do with the modern idea of instrumental hip-hop”.

How does this have nothing to do with instrumental Hip Hop? It’s the backbone of it. It applies the same technique: sample based music. A reinterpretation of the music, chopped, cut and made into a different product. Highlighting (obvious or not) the original artist (sample) and using their creative artistic freedom to make a song of their own. It’s a natural progression from early Hip Hop, where rhyming over the beat had turned into another genre. OK, Hip Hop gave born to Trip Hop which then birthed Instrumental Hip Hop. What’s wrong with that? Like I said it’s a natural progression, a maturation of the raw, infancy of classic Hip Hop, into IMHO, a polished genre with no rhyming. Why did DJ Shadow get a pass because his record was more like Steinski’s cut and paste style? He’s not the only one who was influenced by him, but maybe the first who was vocal about it. Shadow has made a lot of instrumental Hip Hop, and just because Endtroducing (which is definitely championed here at FMF) was done more in the style of “The Lesson” type records, doesn’t mean his samples and beats aren’t repetitive. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that Madlib or DOOM, or artists like RJD2 or even Cut Chemist are not relevant. Both RJD2 and Cut Chemist have made records that give respect to the pioneers while creatively sampling records, obscure or not. Cut has transformed sides using Brazilian records that take you on a beat filled journey of ebbs and flows that you don’t need to get high to enjoy. RJD2 has sampled everyone from Elliot Smith to Sophy (Check out “1976” to hear this gem), and is far from boring. These artists have pushed the envelope of IHH and done it with some beautiful creativity.

“DJs and producers seemed to decide that they were on a pre-ordained artistic mission to conjure up — ahem! — “atmospheric soundscapes” instead of getting on with their jobs and making rap tracks that bang.”

Webster’s Dictionary defines artist as the following:

noun \ˈär-tist\
Definition of ARTIST
one skilled or versed in learned arts
one who professes and practices an imaginative art b : a person skilled in one of the fine arts
a skilled performer; especially : artiste
one who is adept at something

At last glance, all of these artists are skilled, and adept at something, in this case making beats aka instrumental Hip Hop. Why are any of these people less of a performer because they don’t have music that sounds like Wiz Khalifa or Kreayshawn? Who made the rule that there has to be some snappy lyrics to accentuate the beat? I know that I’m not the only person who shares the idea of ridiculous lyrics about flossing bling take away from a good beat. Could it be possible that theses artists’ “atmospheric soundscapes” appeal to a different audience than the aforementioned rappers? What is the definition of banger? Does it have to be accepted by a Top 40 audience, win a Grammy (something Wiz didn’t win last night thankfully), or be played to death in every sporting arena, Hot 97 playlist, or by celebrity DJ to be considered a banger? A banger is a tune or beat that, well, bangs. It may or may not be repetitive, I mean most instrumentals are. Most songs are for that matter, aren’t they? An IHH beat is quite different than the latest Top 40 garbage because it’s creative. Why is a repeated and beat into the public’s head “so called banger”, that makes the public feel like “this is what music should be” because it has lyrics, better than an IHH song? IHH is filled with creativity, something the lemmings that follow Top 40 lack.

“ When Shadow addressed the issue in “Why Hip Hop Sucks in ’96”, he was not just letting the listener know how bad Hip Hop was at that moment, but contributing to the foundation of a new genre in instrumental Hip Hop. ”

I guarantee that many people could not tell you who Dilla was, or understand the creativity he had. I’m sure many Hip Hop fans today know more about Weezy than Dilla’s contribution to music. Besides being one of, if not the best producer of all time, his legacy and style has influenced a whole new generation of producers. Do your research son. His contribution to classics from ATCQ, the Pharcyde, and more weren’t just rhyming over a banger, the beat stood out by itself. Technically it banged. It could be played on it’s own and still get a great reaction. Dilla’s beats did repeat, but who cares? They were some of the most creative beats out there. What about Pete Rock? Pete Rock has released a slew of instrumentals (Petestramentals anyone?), and DJ producer vets like DJ Cam, DJ Honda, and DJ Krush have made long lasting careers out of IHH. Who said that their job was to just make songs than bang? They’re artists, creative in their own right, who can make any music they want. They’re respected and like I said, have made long lasting careers out of doing things their own way, most times without lyrics.

In conclusion, I have to say that Mr. Mlynar is way off base with his article. He is entitled to his opinion, but I really think that he should have kept it to himself in this situation. Just because you don’t like IHH, this is no reason to say it should be banned. Producers like DJ Premier, if they never made another lyrical Hip Hop song again, could live on the strength of the instrumental. When you hear a Premier beat, you know it’s Premier. People listen to the music not to get high to (although it does goes on), but most do it because they appreciate the music and hard work that goes into making this music. IHH is an art, an art that has evolved through the evolution of Hip Hop itself via sampling, production and the further refining of the art by people like DJ Shadow, Premier, Dilla, Alchemist, Jake Uno, Cut Chemist, Prince Paul, Pete Rock, RJD2, Diplo, and many others. IHH is growing every day, and with such sites like Soundcloud, bandcamp, and others, will no doubt grow larger through the momentum in gains from people refining the art of beat making. Just because you don’t like some genre of music, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not good. When Shadow addressed the issue in “Why Hip Hop Sucks in ’96”, he was not just letting the listener know how bad Hip Hop was at that moment, but contributing to the foundation of a new genre in instrumental Hip Hop. Since that time, many artists and producers have built on that foundation to creatively solidify a faction of a genre that continues to knock down sonic barriers and leave a lasting footprint in this life we call Hip Hop. “The banal, meandering stepchild of Hip-Hop” has reared it’s ugly head and declared it’s here to stay.

8 responses to “Why Instrumental Hip Hop Doesn’t Suck: A Rebuttal

  1. Well said! When I read the original “article” my head exploded & I couldn’t come up with a reply… Thanks for doing it for me!

  2. I would honestly and whole heartily argue for the opposite of Mr. Mlynar. Hip Hop
    MUSIC has forever and will always be the backbone of hip hop. Rapping was absolutely an afterthought in the evolution of hip hop. I never and still don’t honestly care for a second about what the rapper is saying. Rap rap rap rap rap…who cares? It’s like a sprig of parsley on a rib eye. Its the t-shirt in a wet t shirt contest. Unnecessary window dressing. It’s about the beats and has been since Flash rocked doubles. Recognize.
    You can rock a party with just hip hop instrumentals. Ain’t no MF’ing rap accapella groups!

  3. Pingback: » Hip Hop – Obama says no to Instrumental·

  4. all you need to make a hip hop instrumental is a 1 bar loop.. period. rappers prefer simple beats to rhyme over.. the simpler, the better.. and if it aint simple then it aint hip hop.. its breakbeat, nu jazz, or disco.. or trip hop! so keep it simple.. any of the TOP dogs will be first to tell you..

  5. The original article reads like it was written by a hipster who saw the Graffiti show at LA MOCA and suddenly decided he’d discovered the “four elements” of street culture truth, the Hip Hop Bible if you will. And like all Bible-thumpers, he tossed-aside half its teachings with a shrug while insisting the other half was the gospel and all heretics must be banned from society.

    Or, to be more concise, Kool Herc started off spinning breaks instrumentals so if you think instrumentals aren’t Hip Hop then take it up with the man.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s