Friday, May 7, 2010

The Singing Rapper

A trend, I’m here to announce, has reached its crest. Rappers have always toyed with singing—singing being the older, more established way of delivering lyrics—but there’s usually been a pretty firm demarcation between singers on one hand and rappers on the other.

The trend started as a joke song by a joker:


You’ll have to trust me when I say that the music video probably tips off the fact that it’s a joke (Biz Markie is featured wearing a wig playing the organ.) Nevertheless, the idea was born; the seed was planted. Some rappers played with the idea of “rapping” or “singing” but never really both at once; probably the most famous practitioners have been Mssrs. Dogg, Snoop and Nate:



But, again, this was a mere blip. These were mere precursors to the “trend.” What it took to turn from a mere sideline to an actual singing/rap hybrid was an artist who was inventive, and had such an ego that he believed he could actually pull the switch off. You know to whom I refer, Kanye West (though Mos Def has played with the idea, though it was so forgettable I believe Mos forgot it too):



And newer, prominent young rappers have embraced the idea strongly:







Why are rappers so willing to sing now? One of the bedrock tenets of the hip-hop genre—like supporting the free market for a Republican—is that you have to rap. It would seem almost sacrilegious for so many rappers to abandon that. But the other virtue of hip-hop is its willingness to cross-pollinate: the genre, as we all know, started with MCs rhyming over other people’s records. So the idea of elegantly repurposing someone else’s work into something new—whether by sampling or quoting or alluding or what have you—is basic hip-hop. So you’ve got to do something new by borrowing from something old. And something old is singing. Think about that.

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