The Percussive Approach in Hip-Hop Music


Since I just handed in my final draft for my undergraduate thesis, I wanted to talk a little bit about it. Basically, I use percussiveness as a structural basis for African diasporic music and philosophy. Percussiveness is not only about percussion instruments, but also about social impact, or how different rhythms and patterns of music, society, ideas amongst other things interact. My thesis is divided into three chapters before I conclude with percussive politics and the percussive field:

1) Percussiveness in hip-hop music and language, which includes how parts of the diaspora influenced hip-hop music.

2) Social percussiveness, which connects social ritual, dance, ecstasy, spirit possession and identity.

3) Percussiveness as a symbolic form of resistance, which is how the music and its terminology is used a way to “beat back” against oppressive societies.

So, I would like to present a few songs (not hip-hop) that show the significance of percussiveness and rhythm in black music:

1) Michael Jackson – Rock With You

Let that rhythm get into you/ Don’t try to fight it/ There ain’t nothing you can do

Relax your mind/ Lay back and groove with mine/ You gotta feel that heat/ And we can ride the boogie/

Share that beat of love/ I wanna rock with you….

In my paper, I discuss the importance of rock, beat and groove in our music.

2) The Whispers- And the Beat Goes On

“And the beat goes on/ Just like my love everlasting/ And the beat goes on/ Still moving strong on and on

Do you ever wonder/ That to win, somebody’s got to lose/ I might as well get over the blues
Just like fishing in the ocean/ There’ll always be someone new/ You did me wrong ‘cos I’ve been through stormy weather.

And the beat goes on/Just like my love everlasting/And the beat goes on you’d better believe it/ Still moving strong on and on

Don’t stop for nobody/ This time I’ll keep my feet on solid ground/ Now I understand myself when I’m down
Like the sweet sound of hip music/ There’ll always be something new/ To keep the tables turning
Hey this super song/ There’ll never be an ending

This song exemplifies how the beat is god-like (“everlasting”), hints at the importance of the ground (the rock, and the bass), the use of rhythms as a form of rebirth or circularity, as well as the trickster aspect of meshing together opposites (up/down) in our cultures.

3) Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions- It’s Alright

Now listen to the beat/Kinda pat your feet/You got soul and everybody knows…

Besides their name Impressions (to impress is to make an impact), the song equates rhythm and beat with soul.

4) Ike and Tina Turner – Take You Higher

Boom shacka laka laka Boom shackala boonka boo…. Beat is here to make you move/Music’s here to help you groove/ Music sounding good to me/ But take your places…

The beat is describe here as enabling movement in general, which is part of my social percussiveness. It can be dance, social and political movement and spiritual movement or transcendence. Also, the words at the beginning are a form of mouth-drumming as Robert Farris Thompson calls it, and  take your places sounds like positioning oneself for spirit possession.

So, here you can see how significant and pervasive percussiveness is in our diaspora.

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One thought on “The Percussive Approach in Hip-Hop Music”

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