Thursday, May 22, 2014

Beats vs. Lyrics: Which Is More Important?

     The Under-Cover Album Review was made for one simple reason; reviewing albums. This initial concept has expanded into reviewing singles and videos, interviewing exceptional artists, and acting as a polestar for people looking to get their music fix from fresh faces and names. Whether people hear of this site in a negative connotation or not, they have heard of it, and that is enough to further push the creative envelope to expand The Under-Cover Album Review until it reaches it's full potential. That being said, something readers expect to see more of, is editorials.

     That being said, I'd like to pose a question that is often asked to hip-hop fans; is it more important to have good production, or good lyrics? While every artist hopes that their album or track incorporates both of these qualities, the fact of the matter is that (for the most part) they usually don't. In today's world the radio pushes terrible rap that gives the entire industry a bad rep, though it doesn't seem like people are too concerned with subject matter by any means. A lot of songs you'll hear on the radio are about nothing more than the objectification of women, this shows that a small portion of the industry is representing the majority, making for a diluted, and unfortunate perception of hip-hop. Commercial beats and commercial lyrics aside, I'm wondering what makes a great album or song great.

     Let's start with the lyrics shall we? Clearly if an emcee has awful lyrics that hardly rhyme, no one will want to listen to that. Though, plugging headphones into a very lyrical album or track can completely blow listeners away. The vocal power that rappers have is far too often undermined. Any word that they say, people take note of and analyze and the best lyrics create a feeling inside of the listener, to where they can feel understood at times. Take Blu & Exile's Below the Heavens for example, Blu spoke from the heart and people really took a liking to that. Blu spoke on subject matter much more mature than the common song. He talked on religious views and ideas, but not once did he try to make the listener change views to what he believes. He simply gave the listener a question to think about what they as individuals believe. These kind of lyrics are extremely powerful, and no matter how great the production was on that album, Blu's lyrics stole the show.

     There are many subcategories that branch off of lyrics. This includes flow, pronunciation, energy, and most importantly, delivery. These subcategories have to be taken into account when debating if the lyrics or the beats are more vital to an albums worth. A good emcee will stay within the confines of the beat, but a great emcee will create their own beat using nothing more than their mouth. No, not beat-boxing, but saying their words in a way that fits the beat perfectly, but at the same time making its own rhythm. Don't follow? Well, think of Busta Rhymes, he is a master of delivery and his style is so hard to emulate. He has energy, he has emotion, he slurs his words in a way that adds syllables but doesn't once slow down the track. Busta is a rare breed, who is often overlooked in terms of ability, however, he has the qualities in a rapper that are seeming to die out in the new breed of emcees.

     To wrap up the lyrical side, thoughtful subject matter is a huge upside. One clever line that not only rhymes well, but also infuses conscious lyricism can alter any given track. Lyrical artists are highly praised here at The Under-Cover Album Review, and for good reason. They are keeping a genre alive, and an older generation of emcees sleeping well knowing that the indie rhymers are taking care of their sacred genre. Though lyrical ability will only get an artist so far, the overlooked qualities in rappers can also make or break an album. Just having clever lyrics isn't enough anymore, artists have to find a way to deliver their rhymes in a way that is not only innovative, but also satisfying to the listeners.

     Now you've seen the grass on the lyrical side, but are the beats still the backbone to every good Hip-Hop album? Take this into consideration, there are albums out with no lyrics only beats, while I personally have yet to hear an album with no beats and just lyrics. Instrumental albums aside, a good producer will be able to incorporate many styles into his own, while still creating something for rappers to spit over. Whether there is live instrumentation or not, producers can still inject various other genres into a beat, add a steady drum kick, and you've got a boom bap track ready to go. Hip-Hop is a melting pot in the sense that it can be a combination of Jazz, R&B, Soul, Pop, Rock, Blues, even Swing! All of those genres and more have been incorporated into our beloved Hip-Hop. Though at the very same time, Hip-Hop can include none of those genres and still be, well...Hip-Hop! This is all up to the producer and how they decide to create their sound.

     Let's revisit the Blu & Exile album previously mentioned. As stated prior, Blu used a lot of religious references in his lyrics. While in theory he could have put those lyrics over any beat, he put them to an Exile produced beat, and that made all the difference. Exile built off Blu's style, and created beats that took off of a more religious style. He did this by sampling from Soul tracks and other records that had a religious feel with a touch of gospel. Even going back to Busta Rhymes, his intensity and energy is matched only by the beat that he raps over. If there is no beat to set the tone for the emcee, then there is no track. As much as lyrics play a role, it seems that there is nothing that can outmatch the presence that the production brings.

     Quality production is key, because if the beat is nothing more than a constant sound, it wouldn't matter if the greatest lyrics ever rapped went with it, no one would listen to the track. The beats carry the tracks while lyrics can only go so far. Without the right production behind the lyrics, the song's theme could get misinterpreted or distorted. The beat elevates any good lyrics to the next level, and play an extremely valuable role in setting the mood. As stated earlier, Hip-Hop producers can blend various other genres into one, which when done right, can sound amazing. Producers are also tasked with fitting the mold of the emcee, and matching the elements that they bring to each track with their subject matter.

     So now that you have been presented with strong arguments for both views, it's up to you, the reader, to decide which is more important; the beats or the lyrics. To weigh in the debate, simply select which you think is more important in the vote box below. If you have any side arguments you'd like to state, do not hesitate to post your thoughts in the comment section. Be sure to share this post on Facebook and Twitter to see everyone's opinion!

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