Genre fusion 'bridges the gap'

03.05.2008
Critics and fans alike have talked for years about the fusion between genres - specifically between rock and hip-hop - so much that the phrase "bridging the gap" has went from a prophecy to a tired clich.
Few would go so far to say, however, that one of the best rappers of this musical generation is actually a member of a rock band.

I've never been a fan of placing artists in specific genres.
Is Kanye West rap or R&B?
Is Bionic Jive rock or rap?
Is Peaches electronic or hip-hop?
The list could go on and on.

But you can imagine my confusion when, a few years ago, I heard a group called Xero (who would later change their name to Linkin Park) and noted the individual credited as "lead vocalist" was actually one of the best new rappers I'd heard in a long time.

This "lead vocalist" is named Mike Shinoda, and he's the centerpiece of one of the most important groups of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Not only is he responsible for all of the group's lyrics, but he's their album producer and (though uncredited) A&R as well.

Shinoda is extremely important to the hip-hop music scene because he shatters the musical constructs that have limited hip-hop music for years. His lyrics aren't about specific people, events or instances, but about feelings and emotions - for the most part, they're rock lyrics rapped. His beats are extremely layered and never repetitive - a deviation from typical snare and bass over piano, percussion, brass and effects. He doesn't sample (not that there's anything wrong with sampling), and I've never heard him swear on a record.

It's sort of a shame that Linkin Park blew up and won a Grammy awhile back because, in terms of advocating progression, awards and accolades are generally a no-go. If you're an underground hip-hop fan with an open enough mind to consider Shinoda hip-hop, you shouldn't be listening to Linkin Park's multi-platinum records ("Hybrid Theory" and "Meteora"). Instead, you should check out "Reanimation," a remix album of the 1999 release "Hybrid Theory," which Shinoda created while wasting time in the back of the group's tour bus.

The record features a who's who cast of underground rappers and producers, like Jurassic 5's Chali 2na, Planet Asia, Evidence of the Dialated Peoples, Motion Man, Kutmasta Kurt, Black Thought and the X-Ecutioners, among others.

"Reanimation" is a crash course in Linkin Park's style.
Beyond the remix album, about an album's worth of lost tracks exist when the group was just coming up out of southern California.

Originally, they were a rapper/DJ combo group called Xero (Shinoda and the group's turntablist, DJ Hahn). Songs like "Carousel," "Esaul," and "Step Up" are a better example of industrial hip-hop than their commercial releases.

I'm not saying Linkin Park's methods alone comprise good hip-hop music. I love the way KRS-One and Slick Rick tell stories. I think Dr. Dre - even though he follows a format for every beat he makes - is one of the best music producers ever to strap on a set of headphones. I respect the way P. Diddy can sample a song and use it as the groundwork for a track that's familiar but completely original.

And I enjoy the way Eminem uses language to fashion verses that would make Lil' Kim blush.
But precisely the problem with most commercial hip-hop today is that it's too restricted. When I write that Shinoda has never cursed on his records, readers probably interpret that as evidence that the group is soft, optimistic or (gasp!) happy. But all their records have as much angst and resentment as anything Public Enemy, Ice Cube or any hip-hop legend does.

Is there anything wrong with experimentation in hip-hop ?
Is it bad to make a record that's unconventional ?

The music won't be able to grow and progress until current and future artists start answering those questions with a resounding "NO!"

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