Came across this link on twitter a few weeks back (thanks to David Moynihan). It’s an interview with Simon Reynolds about his latest book, Retromania, and it includes a strangely worded question about his opinion of the Boom Bap Continuum mix and theory. I say strangely worded because the question implies that he never stressed hip hop’s importance enough which wasn’t quite how I’d intended for the whole thing to be understood.
To be clear, we used the name continuum partly as a joke – as the Hardcore Continuum theory Simon pioneered was getting a good trashing in 09 when we put this together – and partly because it’s the most accurate word for these theories that look at how music evolves, especially in a modern context. His response is a great one though and the whole interview is a good read. Quote and link below.
Hardcore vs. Boombap continuum? – In 2009 2tall (Jim Coles) and Kper (Laurent Fintoni) realesed a free mp3 super-mixtape called ‘A Boom Bap Continuum’ (http://www.aboombapcontinuum.com) through which they wanted to synthetize ten years – 1999-2009 – of hip hop aesthetics, an ‘evolution in continuity’, from Lootpack, Company Flow, Sound Providers, Busta Rhymes, through the J Dilla (and Dabrye and Prefuse73 and Madlib) revolution, up to nowadays Paul White, Dam-Funk, Hudson Mohawke, Nosaj Thing, Harmonic 313, Pritchard’s and Om’Mas Keith’s Wind It Up, etc. including also some key dubstep/grime tunes by King Midas Sound, The Bug, Joker and Loeafah. They state that hip hop has evolved from and MC-rap dominated form to an instrumental producer dominated one, still mantaining the funk focus over all those idiosincratic subgenre labels like glitch, wonky, abstract etc. So, since its title (Boom Bap continuum), the compilation seems to polemize with your ‘hardcore continuum’, suggesting that you have never stressed properly the influence of hip hop in English electronic popular music and stating that hip hop, out of the mainstream millionare rappers dominated charts, is still alive, fresh and productive… What do you think about it?
I thought it was an interesting narrative and a good mix. There are many other musical narratives within beat-based groove music that co-exist with the hardcore continuum. They’re not in antagonism with each other. There’s a trance continuum, a gabber/Euro-hardcore continuum, a house continuum, and so forth. They intersect at particular points — for instance Belgian hardcore of the early Nineties intersects with both the hardcore/jungle continuum and with the gabber continuum. But you can follow a line through all the tangled proliferation of sounds.
I don’t think trip hop is part of the hardcore continuum, there are points where they intersect, through figures like Roni Size maybe. But some of trip hop was great–particularly Tricky and Massive Attack–and perhaps where it belongs is in this boom-bap continuum. Certainly the more instrumental forms of trip hop like DJ Vadim or Ninjatune output would belong in that lineage. Boom-bap is a particular version of hip hop that stresses the head nod rather than dancing, so that would be where trip hop fits, since it was always more about the slow groove and a stoned, immersive, contemplative response to music.
The idea that I’ve never properly stressed the influence of hip hop in British electronic dance music is wrong, though. I was the first journalist to point out that the breakbeat direction in rave was the most adventurous and productive thing going on in British dance music, that it would lead to greater things than stuff like progressive house and trance, which in 1993 were receiving vastly more media attention and critical praise. Breakbeat hardcore and jungle were all about the collision of hip hop with house music and also with reggae. But crucially hardcore was much more about fast rap. Public Enemy were a huge influence on all the British B-boys who then turned onto acid house and became ravers. Shut Up and Dance, who were hardcore pioneers, liked to call themselves as “fast rap group”. Public Enemy were never boom-bap, they were much more about a high-energy blast of noise and this apocalyptic, insurrectionary atmosphere. Very much a punk approach to sonics, a mid-frequency roar. Hardcore rave picked up on that aspect of late Eighties rap: the more uptempo, riff-oriented and sonically shrill stuff like “It Takes Two” by Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock, productions by Marley Marl, the early Def Jam stuff. I think when hip hop went mellow and conscious from 1989 onwards and turned in this crate-digger boom-bap direction, some of the British B-boys didn’t like it so much. They had heard acid house, which was mindblowingly futuristic, and their metabolisms were being hyped up by Ecstasy, so they kept the bits they liked from hip hop–the breakbeats, the sub-bass, the shrieking samples, the scratching, the rabble-rousing rapping of “hype man” MCs like Flava Flav–and they started to combine that with house music. In America, “hip house” –the Jungle Brothers rapping over Todd Terry tracks–was a fad, but in Britain they took the idea seriously. Terry, whose New York version of house was full of hip hop attitude and much more about sampling than Chicago house, was a god to the British rave scene.
So my larger point here is that “boom bap” isn’t the only story in hip hop. There are several other strands within hip hop and rap itself. The line from Eighties electro to Dirty South styles like bounce and crunk, for instance. My two favourite phases of rap are the mid-to-late Eighties (Def Jam, Marley Marl, Salt N’Pepa, Erik B & Rakim, Public Enemy, etc) and then the late Nineties/early 2000s (what I call street rap: Cash Money, Ludacris, Ruff Ryders and DMX, Lil Jon, etc). I like some of the more conscious, groove-oriented, boom-bappy stuff (J Dilla is a favourite) but overall my favourite rap is brash, aggressive, harsh, often futuristic, not really very groovy.