Further discussion of compositional process

Kyle Adams



Volume 15, Number 2, June 2009
Copyright © 2009 Society for Music Theory


[1] For those interested in how the inverted compositional process that I describe in “Aspects” and in this response operates in other rap songs, and other genres, a brief series of examples follows.

[2] “Still Shining” is not the only earlier rap song in which one can safely assume that the music existed prior to the text. The rap classic “Paid in Full,” an audio clip of which is presented as Audio Example 3a, begins with a dialogue between rapper Rakim and DJ Eric B. At around 20 seconds into this introduction, Eric B. says, “since we talkin’ over this def(1) beat right here that I put together, I want to hear some of them def rhymes.” This strongly suggests that the musical accompaniment existed prior to the lyrics.

Audio Example 3a. Eric B. and Rakim, “Paid in Full” (1987), 0:00–0:37

[3] At least in some rap genres, this compositional process seems to be alive and well today. Williams himself gives two examples from recent rap in which one can assume that the basic beat, or a significant portion of it, had been composed prior to the lyrics. In paragraph 15, he cites both Jay-Z and Lady Sovereign responding to aspects of their accompanying track, which must mean that some or all of that track existed prior to the vocals. Likewise, in an interview discussing the immensely popular single “In da Club” (2002), rapper 50 Cent describes its composition as follows:

Dre,(2) he’ll play dope beats ... [He’ll say], “These are the hits, 50. So pick one of these and make a couple of singles or something.” The very first time he heard [me rap on] “In Da Club” he said, “Yo, I didn't think you was going to go there with it, but, you know, it works.” He was probably thinking of going in a different direction with that song.(3)

[4] This description is striking because it indicates that not only did the music exist prior to the lyrics, but that Dr. Dre had specific ideas of what the lyrical content might be based on the music.

[5] Finally, this compositional process is not limited to rap music. Another type of music in which it is used is the jazz genre known as the “vocalese,” in which words are composed to a famous instrumental solo. One of the best-known examples is “Moody’s Mood for Love,” with lyrics set by Eddie Jefferson to a pre-existing saxophone solo by James Moody. Audio Example 3b is an audio clip of the original saxophone solo, Audio Example 3c is the vocalese set to it.

Audio Example 3b. “Moody’s Mood for Love,”
saxophone solo by James Moody, 0:00–0:42

Audio Example 3c. “Moody’s Mood for Love,”
vocalese by King Pleasure with Blossom Dearie, 0:00–0:36

    Return to beginning    



Footnotes

1. “Def” is a 1980’s slang word defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “excellent, outstanding; fashionable, cool.” Opinion seems to be divided as to whether the word derives from “death,” via an inverted process like the one in which “bad” came to stand for “good,” or from “definitive.” 
Return to text

2. Rapper and producer Andre Young, known as Dr. Dre.
Return to text

3. Reid, Shaheem, et al. “50 Cent: Money to Burn,” at
http://www.mtv.com/bands/123/50_Cent/news_feature_021203/index.jhtml (accessed April 14, 2009).
Return to text

“Def” is a 1980’s slang word defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “excellent, outstanding; fashionable, cool.” Opinion seems to be divided as to whether the word derives from “death,” via an inverted process like the one in which “bad” came to stand for “good,” or from “definitive.” 
Rapper and producer Andre Young, known as Dr. Dre.
Reid, Shaheem, et al. “50 Cent: Money to Burn,” at
http://www.mtv.com/bands/123/50_Cent/news_feature_021203/index.jhtml (accessed April 14, 2009).
    Return to beginning    



Copyright Statement

Copyright © 2009 by the Society for Music Theory. All rights reserved.

[1] Copyrights for individual items published in Music Theory Online (MTO) are held by their authors. Items appearing in MTO may be saved and stored in electronic or paper form, and may be shared among individuals for purposes of scholarly research or discussion, but may not be republished in any form, electronic or print, without prior, written permission from the author(s), and advance notification of the editors of MTO.

[2] Any redistributed form of items published in MTO must include the following information in a form appropriate to the medium in which the items are to appear:

This item appeared in Music Theory Online in [VOLUME #, ISSUE #] on [DAY/MONTH/YEAR]. It was authored by [FULL NAME, EMAIL ADDRESS], with whose written permission it is reprinted here.

[3] Libraries may archive issues of MTO in electronic or paper form for public access so long as each issue is stored in its entirety, and no access fee is charged. Exceptions to these requirements must be approved in writing by the editors of MTO, who will act in accordance with the decisions of the Society for Music Theory.

This document and all portions thereof are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. Material contained herein may be copied and/or distributed for research purposes only.

    Return to beginning    


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
SMT

Prepared by Brent Yorgason, Managing Editor and Cara Stroud, Editorial Assistant