In this blog I am going to be exploring the 1990’s Alternative band Radiohead and the 1990’s Hip Hop artist, 2Pac.
First off, I will explain “alternative rock”. Alternative Rock emerged in the late 80’s and early 90’s and is usually characterized by bands who have a “do-it-yourself” or non-conformist attitude; hence “alternative”. It is said to have been the most popular music of the time period.
Now, let’s talk about Radiohead. I learned that Radiohead was formed when the members were students in 1988, and that Pink Floyd, Pixies, R.E.M. and Nirvana heavily influenced them. They are considered to be one of the most critically beloved bands of all time. The song I have been listening to, Karma Police, is off of their 1997 album, OK Computer. It has been said that no other album from the 90’s decade has left such a lasting legacy. This album marked a clear transition from hook-oriented Britpop to more experimental, prog-friendly rock. From the simple introduction of the song with the guitar and piano, to the vocal, bass and drums coming in simultaneously, the song slowly builds its message. The lead singer perfectly draws the picture, but the arrangements fill in the colors and make the song. The song is about fate and how it will always catches up with you, so when the lead begins to sing: “Karma Police arrest this man”, he draws you into the story. During the second verse a haunting synth sound, akin to that of the Theremin, begins to play and further sets the solemn mood of the song. For me, the chorus drives it home. When the drums stop and he sings, “This is what you get” and that piano hook plays with the harmonized “Ooh’s with the synth I was totally into it. I got teary eyed at the end when he began to sing, “For a minute there I lost myself.” I felt his performance and the band obviously knew that there was nothing else needed, because all that ends it is a rising “siren like” pulsating guitar wail coming up through the music. Bravo. Radiohead just gained a fan.
When I read that Radiohead was one of the most beloved bands, I decided to choose one of the most beloved rappers ever, 2pac (Tupac) Shakur. I believe that his death elevated him to a larger global status, but the work he left does speak for itself. Because of the effect the Radiohead song had on me, I chose a song that had a deeper meaning.
Before I delve into his story, I have to give honorable mention to rapper Eminem, who has been proclaimed to be the King of Hip-Hop. Uh huh, let that marinate. I’m sure you’re asking: “Why?” The answer is easy: Eminem has done what no other rapper has been able to do. He has sold over 155 MILLION albums and singles worldwide AND he is also the SECOND BEST selling individual male artist, falling behind Garth Brooks. That is major. I like Eminem, but I was shocked at the statistics. His cumulative album sales have grown to 44.91 million (in the SoundScan era), and continue to swell.
Now that I have paid homage to the King, let me continue exploring 2pac. 2pac was born in New York City, to two Black Panther party members. His parents separated before he was born, and he grew up moving around the country with his mom and sister, mostly living at the poverty level. In spite of this, as a teenager, he gained acceptance to the Baltimore School of the Arts. While at the school, his creative side flourished and he began to write raps and act. I was totally shocked to find this out. I had never heard it before and felt that this background was very important to what made 2pac so special and relevant to whom he became as an entertainer. It is also reminiscent to that of the great Brian Eno where his art flavored his music. 2pac even has a book of poetry, The Rose that Grew from Concrete, that was released posthumously.
The song I listened to is Keep Ya Head Up, which comes off his second album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. The song is designed to encourage women and could also be described as an ode to women, especially black women. I learned that it was also dedicated to the memory of Latasha Harlins. Latasha Harlins was a 15-year-old black girl who was shot dead in Los Angeles by Soon Ja Du, a Korean store owner. Du was only convicted of voluntary manslaughter, and was incredibly sentenced to only five years probation, 400 hours community service and a $500 fine.
As I dissected the song I discovered that the music from the song is built around a loop from a song called “Be Alright by Roger Troutman and Zapp. The Hook is arranged with the words: Keep ya head up and the “Ooo child” chorus from a 1970 song written by Stan Vincent for the “Stairsteps” that has been recorded by a multitude of artists. It also features the soulful vocals of Dave Hollister on the Hooks.
2pac’s lyrics are catchy and he rhymes in a song form at times. The lyrics that stood out for me were these:
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?
I think it’s time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women
It seems the rain will never let up
I try to keep my head up, and still keep from gettin’ wet up
You know it’s funny when it rains it pours
They got money for wars, but can’t feed the poor
There were other lines that fit the world we live in today, but those really stood out. This song didn’t affect me like the other song, but as a woman, it was nice to hear a man saying them.
Alternative Rock Definition. Urban Dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Alternative+Rock
Jackson, J. February 24, 2012. The 90 Best Albums of the 1990s. Paste Magazine: wasington.square. Retrieved from http://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/lists/2012/02/the-90-best-albums-of-the-1990s.html?a=1
Songfacts. Karma Police by Radiohead. Retrieved from http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=2461
PPCorn. April 7, 2015. The Top 10 Greatest Rappers of All Time. PPCorn. Retrieved from http://ppcorn.com/us/the-top-10-greatest-rappers-of-all-time/
The News Nerd Staff. August 12, 2014. Jay-Z Says Eminem is The Most Overrated Rapper of All Time. The News Nerd. Retrieved from http://www.thenewsnerd.com/music/jay-z-says-eminem-overrated-rapper-time/
Erlewine, S. (n.d.). Biography: 2pac. Allmusic.com. Retrieved from http://www.allmusic.com/artist/2pac-mn0000921895/biography
Whosampled. Retrieved from http://www.whosampled.com/sample/583/2Pac-Dave-Hollister-Keep-Ya-Head-Up-Zapp-Be-Alright/