Modern Hip-Hop and West African Percussion

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To many, music is like a constant companion. We listen to it when waking up, while in transit, at work or school, and with our friends. It can bring us joy and motivate us, accompany us through difficult times, and alleviate our worries.

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Many people make the argument that music existed earlier than language itself. Primitive tribes and religious practices have used music to reach enlightened states for thousands of years (www.psychologytoday.com). Music has evolved greatly over the past centuries, but can be traced back to Africa were percussion was prominent in daily life. West African percussion practices and techniques have made a significant contribution to modern day hip hop despite the constant imposition of Western culture.

Hip hop music, also called hip-hop or rap music, is a music genre developed in the United States by inner-city African Americans in the 1970s which consists of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping (a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted).

Melodies in modern day hip hop incorporate various techniques and structures from African music. For example, today the huge majority of rap songs utilize a musical form called adlibs. This is when something is stated within the song and is followed up by another lyric that is faint in volume and on the side. This method can be traced back to the African melody technique of call and response. African singing often includes glissandos. These are slurs, whistles, yodels and swoops and types of sound such as a raspy or buzzy quality. We can see this also in many modern day songs.

Percussion in modern day hip hop is highly influenced by African culture. Percussion and hip hop today, is mostly credited toward Black Americans in the media. In many traditional African societies, the drum was a sacred instrument possessing supernatural power that enabled it to summon the gods into ritual communion with the people. In some societies drums were regarded as deities, deities whose voices were the percussive sounds that emanated (https://academicworks.cuny.edu). When enslaved Africans were first brought to North America during the 1600s and 1700s, slaves from the west coast of Africa used drums to communicate with each other in much the same way as they did at home, sending coded rhythmic messages Europeans could not understand over long distances. In this way slaves held in different encampments could stay in contact, and rebellions could be planned. But after some time the masters realized that the drums could talk. So in 1740, they passed the Slave Code of South Carolina where it stated that It is absolutely necessary to the safety of this Province, that all due care be taken to restrain Negroes from using or keeping of drums, which may call together or give sign or notice to one another of their wicked designs and purposes.

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