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The fifth element – the art of making beats

Facebook, the trolling frontier. Beacon of much that is vain and narcissistic in modern society. Conduit of the stupid. Bastion of the fickle. The cybernetic spade used to shovel much of the s#!t spewed forth by the human consciousness. But sometimes, while carefully navigating the minefield of pointless memes, aimless videos and charmless posts, you unearth gems of  relative comedic, emotional or intellectual quality. The latest of my virtual discoveries to fall under this umbrella, put forth an intriguing supposition that immediately tickled my grey cells.

DJ MCSDJs, MCs, B-Boys and Graf artists the world over have long been established as necessities to the stability of the four cornerstones of Hip Hop culture. They were there when it began to take hold worldwide and will be there long after we are gone. But at the time of conception nobody could have imagined what Hip Hop would grow to become and how the concept of making a beat would mature alongside it. It is this ‘outside looking in’ hypothesis that prompted one of the UK’s greatest exponents of the art, Ty, to pose the question. “Should the art that is Making a Beat become the fifth Core Element of Hip Hop?”

ProductionIn the days before Hip Hop’s flirtations with mainstream acceptance became permanent, the phrases of choice when referencing aspects of songs, more often than not, was ‘The MC’ and ‘The DJ’. But over time, the digital metamorphosis of the industry in general, and the new generation of torchbearers becoming social media mouthpieces, instigated a coming together. Now, whenever I hear the culture being discussed or one of its top delegates being sought out for comment, the utterance is ‘The Music’.  Somebody, somewhere, somehow is always appreciating, denigrating or disrespecting ‘The Music’. Yet this ‘Music’ they speak of consists of two elements of its own. The MC and the Producer.

During this same period the DJ became an entity in it’s own bubble. Of course to us heads the DJ has always been revered but no longer were they merely the pipeline between a crowd and their need to ‘Get Down’. The dawn of the celebrity DJ (in all genres) meant that some were now being paid five and even six figure sums to spin for and support many of the world’s biggest stars. They were now being found on stage on some of the biggest tours in modern music history and front & centre at many an exclusive showbiz party. Instead of only keeping the clubs jumping, they were making heads nod and rumps shake on festival stages and in arenas.

The Neptunes

This new level of recognition was already being discovered in other ways with the dawn of the super producer. Puff Daddy and his Bad Boy stable, Trackmasters, The Neptunes and Timbaland were among those who initially benefited from the rise of the music video. Producers were now to be found hanging out in front of the cameras as much they had been previously toiling behind the boards. The anticipation of new music was now (at times) primarily down to production credits. Songs were being announced on radio with both the microphone master and the beat bully receiving equal billing. For Hip Hop in general the era of superstardom was upon us.

The traditional definition of the DJ and the long-established philosophy that goes with them is not about to disappear. But the split that defines the differences between the present day DJ and Producer is an all too obvious one to a Hip Hop novice, let alone a seasoned veteran. There will always be talented exceptions to the rule but like everything in music, styles change, technique’s improve, artists evolve. It is what keeps fans like myself, coming back for more.

I am not a key (or even a minor) exponent of any of the elements. What I am is a lover of the culture, along with (almost) all of the greatness, eccentricities and foibles that come with it. I for one appreciate that it takes years of dedication and effort to become a great MC, DJ, B-Boy or Graf Artist. But that doesn’t mean that the other glaring linchpin of the culture can’t join them. I have yet to meet another scholar who doesn’t rank making consistently great beats alongside the other disciplines. The traditionalists may well kick up a fuss but surely an elemental update is loooong overdue.

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