Competition in black music

DannyL

Wild Horses
I'm sure that everybody here is well aware of the directly competitive strands to be found in black music - MC clashes in grime and hip hop being the most obvious examples but you've also got things like soundclashes in reggae. I though it might be intereresting to discuss these phenomena.

A couple of random thoughts/questions at first:

Is it true that this comes out of these music beginning with a base in live performance i.e. sound clashes and MC battles? Music as something a bit more social, and responsive to audience demands than the overproduced studio masterpiece?

IIRC David Toop (in Rap Attack) traces back the "singing insult" to African bardic traditions. Does anyone know more about it than the brief outline he gives therein? Is what he says true? False?

Thirdly, I think I remember reading something about instrumental clashes in reggae in the early ska days? Does this ring any bells to anyone or is it just me confabulating?

And lastly, any points of comparison with other musics spring to mind? I said "directly competitive" above as these things seem unified around the idea of beating a definite opponent which seems a bit more complex than smply "being the best"?

Any thoughts?
 

gumdrops

Well-known member
you can find it in other genres too - like soul (who can sing the best), doo-wop (whose harmonies are more distinct/tighter), R&B (who can sound the wettest and wimpiest - ok i made this one up) etc - competition has always been an important part of black music.
 

zhao

there are no accidents
i'm pretty sure musical (and maybe even more than music - dance) competition as structure of the live event / ritual exists in many cultures... I'm pretty sure many of the thousands of different kinds of ethnic minorities in China have this dynamic in their performances, where each tries to out-do the other consecutively.
 

crackerjack

Well-known member
Competition used to be a rregular part of the Harlem Apollo, I believe.

Thirdly, I think I remember reading something about instrumental clashes in reggae in the early ska days? Does this ring any bells to anyone or is it just me confabulating?

Dunno about this, but Bass Culture has plenty of great stuff on the competition between sound systems right back to the 50s.
 

Slothrop

Tight but Polite
Dunno about this, but Bass Culture has plenty of great stuff on the competition between sound systems right back to the 50s.
I didn't think there was much live performance in the ska days, let alone instrumental clashes. On the other hand, the whole thing of answer records and diss records is an extention of the same thing.

Is it purely a 'black music' thing? I'd assume that fiddle competitions have been around in one form or another for quite a while in quite a lot of cultures...
 

stelfox

Beast of Burden
no it's not purely "a black thing". i've been thinking about writing a book about this very subject, or at least a significant article at some point. it might happen reasonably soon now that i'm unemployed! anyway, i'm off out any second now but direct competition (not virtuoso solo performances of the kind gumdrops is talking about) and face-offs crop up all over the place from uprocking to japanese kodo drumming, soundclashes to hillbilly mountain music and irish folk. it's a cool subject and i'll be interested to hear what people have to say, especially if there are any examples i don't know about (which i'm sure there will be). zhao, if you've got nothing better to do, go and research a bit more please. you're the only line i have on traditional chinese music and this could be really usefu!
 
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john eden

male pale and stale
There's a Brazilian folk tradition of street poetry where people diss each other in front of a crowd. I saw it while I was out there in 99 and the people I was staying with reckoned it was a very old thing. Just two guys and a tambourine iirc with a big crowd.

One thing someone translated for me was along the lines of

"you are no man
I saw you in a bar last night
you had two beers
and fell on your arse"

I have a photo of them somewhere and a half finished piece trying to prove that hip hop originated in Brazil. :p

obv Brazil is mashed up racially with lots of stuff carried over by African slaves etc.

There must have been competition between mediaeval troubadours and stuff as well, I would imagine - anything a bit nomadic where people are literally singing for their supper must have come to clash inna the arena at one point!
 

Gavin

booty bass intellectual
i'm pretty sure musical (and maybe even more than music - dance) competition as structure of the live event / ritual exists in many cultures...

On YouTube there's a lot of rivalry between the Chicago juke/Detroit ghettotech/Baltimore club scenes, but far more to do with each genre's associated dance steps (juke/jit/rock, respectively) than the music differences. Probably due to the age of the participants (teenagers); there's some convoluted hemming and hawing over whether house or techno came first, but that stuff is much older than the people involved in the dancing. The comments sections on these are heated!


http://youtube.com/watch?v=Mf0AsckXYUM

http://youtube.com/watch?v=DP2K5XZxwM4


There was a juke vs jit competition in Detroit a couple months ago. Low quality vid/sound.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=hIiCq9nBAyI

http://youtube.com/watch?v=UhMIUSNUoAs&mode=related&search=

One rhetorical trick in this battle was to whip out some old local access Detroit TV. The D had its own version of Soul Train called The New Dance Show (successor to the earlier show The Scene) which had people dancing to 80s techno, house, and Miami bass, the music popular in Detroit at the time. I highly recommend searching out more clips from these shows -- great mixes, hideous fashion.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=sS8tOXeS3vY

The comments over here have some rivalry between the Bmore and Philly branches of club. I though Philadelphia's adoption of club music was mostly by hipsters -- Diplo and Low-B and those Hollertronicky people. Does anyone know how much the music's penetrated Philly's urban market?

http://youtube.com/watch?v=aaZyRDyzqYc&mode=related&search=
 

Gabba Flamenco Crossover

High Sierra Skullfuck
I think it comes down to the performer/audience bond being more concrete in black music than in typically white styles, though that is a massive generalization. When you hear about competition-type scenarios in music (battle of the bands, talent night, instrumental face offs, etc), it's really about the audience asserting thier real-time control over the yardsticks of quality - saying to the performers, "you are up there on our terms... if you don't deliver what we want, we can haul you straight back down again".

Maybe it's more obvious in black music because it's generally more participatory and more localised, although white styles with those characteristics often have a competitive element too (metal being the best example, with it's shred wars between different guitarists ).

I read some stuff about Motown which nicely illustrates how competition keeps the music simultainiously at the cutting edge and close to the street: In Detroit in the 60s, each block had a band, which would play at parties, dances, etc. And because Detroit was a very musical city, you had to be shit hot to even get into the block band. Above them, there was a hierachy of neighbourhood and district bands playing progressively more prestigious events - if a hot new musician emerged in the block bands, they were spotted and wooed by the bigger bands using all kinds of subterfuge to steal one on thier rivals and stay ahead of the game. And at the very top, you had the city-wide bands, the biggest of whom were the motown backing band, because motown was the biggiest gig in town - and the system ensured that motown only got the very best musicians, who could go toe-to-toe with anyone in the world. It sounds like a premiership scouting system for musicians. (In fact, pretty much every aspect of motown was run on the principle of dog eat dog competition).

As an aside, the reality TV talent show format is HUGE in Ghana, where I just got back from - no shit, they have 7 or 8 shows running simultaniously. Probably the low cost is big appeal, but the whole concept seems to trigger something in the Ghanaian psyche - my friend who lives there says the charts are totally random, you can get OAP nuns or fat middle aged market traders in the charts as easily as groomed young pop stars.
 
Nice dance links from Gavin.
That "really old" detroit video can't be older than 96 cos that's when the tune came out that they are dancing to.
So the fashion is doubly reprehensible!

But given that the tune's vocal goes "jit jit jit jit", it's obvious that the dance already existed before the record got made.

In fact jit is just a contraction of jitterbug which goes back to the 1920s, and the chicago style really looks like 1920s-30s hoofers anyway.

So it's a silly argument they're all having given that they are just variations on the same thing.

But I liked seeing the vids.

Sorry for derailing, everyone as you were......
 
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barry_abs

lil' beyutch
directly competitive strands to be found in black music - MC clashes in grime and hip hop being the most obvious examples
in rap, the fact the audience buy into the whole thug/gangsta shit gives artists a license to carry on all retarded and negative.. and be adored for it!

while that kinda shit is encouraged, it will occassionally get out of hand.. rap didn't used to be like this..

nwa were the first to admit they went out of their way to get that Parental Advisory sticker.. coz sales went through the roof.
 

Gavin

booty bass intellectual
In fact jit is just a contraction of jitterbug which goes back to the 1920s, and the chicago style really looks like 1920s-30s hoofers anyway.

Here's an article on the genealogy: http://www.hardcoredetroit.biz/jit/jit.html

Edward, here are some older Detroit shows. I thought the New Dance Show was off the air by '93, but maybe it kept on for a few more years.

The Scene was the real shit though:

A Number of Names - Share Vari


Kano - I'm Ready

Looking at the TV dancing, it's waaaay less competitive than the jit competition... Probably the age of the dancers, but I think it's also got something to do with what GFC's saying about having an audience. The difference between being an object/spectacle for mass consumption and being a participant/competitor among other participant/competitors?
 

Slothrop

Tight but Polite
I think it comes down to the performer/audience bond being more concrete in black music than in typically white styles, though that is a massive generalization.
Erm, just a bit. Ever been to a pub session? Or for that matter, the sort of local scene indie gig where there are about twenty people in the audience all of whom are in bands?
 
Thanks for the links G. Article looks interesting, the Share Vari vid is mental, guy with a guitar.....

Let's start a dance video thread (or is there one?)


It looks a lot like the Soul Train line on the old Soul Train shows. I guess it's not so competitive cos it's being done for the camera rather than the other dancers and the camera having an unobscured view is paramount.

Are you from Detroit?
 

Gabba Flamenco Crossover

High Sierra Skullfuck
I think it comes down to the performer/audience bond being more concrete in black music than in typically white styles, though that is a massive generalization.
Erm, just a bit. Ever been to a pub session? Or for that matter, the sort of local scene indie gig where there are about twenty people in the audience all of whom are in bands?

Ok, fair enough, but that supports my wider point. Those mini indie gigs are about the audience indulging the artists creativity. MC battles and instrumental face offs are about forcing the artist to entertain on the audience's terms.
 

DannyL

Wild Horses
I don't have a lot of time to respond today (can't watch Yotbue at work either) but thanks for all the responses and links. I'll try and get back to talk about some of these in a bit.

Stelfox- Another example from Rap Attack sprang to mind last night, which I'll have to Google - "the dozens" - hyming insults, used by kids in the states, often aimed at you opponents mum. It's funny to think that this is indirectly related to al the "your mum" disses we know and love (and I swear we didn't have that class of insult when I was a kid - it seems to have crossed over from the US at some stage). The Pharcyde's "Ya Mama" deserves an honourable mention here, being the record which eleveated this it's artistic pinnacle.

I remembered that Toop called the Afrcan singers "griots" - anyone know anything more about this?
 

viktorvaughn

Well-known member
I don't have a lot of time to respond today (can't watch Yotbue at work either) but thanks for all the responses and links. I'll try and get back to talk about some of these in a bit.

Stelfox- Another example from Rap Attack sprang to mind last night, which I'll have to Google - "the dozens" - hyming insults, used by kids in the states, often aimed at you opponents mum. It's funny to think that this is indirectly related to al the "your mum" disses we know and love (and I swear we didn't have that class of insult when I was a kid - it seems to have crossed over from the US at some stage). The Pharcyde's "Ya Mama" deserves an honourable mention here, being the record which eleveated this it's artistic pinnacle.

I remembered that Toop called the Afrcan singers "griots" - anyone know anything more about this?

Griots are West African singer/joker figures if i remember correctly. They are known for wearing jazzy/unusual and brightly coloured clothing. Well respected and permitted license to poke fun at people far above their social station because of their jester status. It's like in King Lear - the only one who can ever really insult or advice Lear is the fool. It also has a shade of social caste about it - a Griot's son also becomes a Griot. They are possible slightly mendicant/wandering figure, living by their wits - can't quite recall.

Check 'Inner City Griots' by The Freestyle Fellowship for an interesting inter-textual reference.
 
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