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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Hip hop is just a noise

Yesterday I bumped into a distinguished academic. He was on his way to record an item for the Today programme about whether rap music had a corrosive effect on society. He was going to argue that rap was all part of a rich tradition of words. Similarly, Annie Nightingale is in The Times this morning talking up Radio One's Hackney show and saying that Plan B is "a brilliant wordsmith".

Hip hop, if we can call it that, certainly features a lot of words but it isn't about words so much as sound and that sound comes from the way it's done. This music and all the variants that have come along in the last thirty or so years is about hooks, drama, personality, comedy, sex, tone of voice, anything it takes to achieve the required air of sad swagger. That's why in all those thirty years it hasn't really produced a single worthwhile song, not in the sense of one that you could sit down and play. That's why live performances of hip hop always look like a bit of an afterthought.

Fifty years ago they used to have the same arguments about Bob Dylan. Was he a poet or just a noise? This was the wrong question, the same wrong question they now ask about rap. As a poet Dylan was mediocre. As a noise he was immense.