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Hip Hop and the Black Urban Experience

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Hip Hop and the Black Urban Experience

From its conception, hip hop has been branded as music for uneducated street hoods. But, the debut album of the obscure group, Midnight Voices, shatters this stereotype with its thought-provoking commentary on the Black experience in urban America. Featuring saxophone, keyboards, guitar, bass, and percussion, along with the scratches and cuts typically found in rap, Midnight Voices delivers its urgent message of racial injustice with its equally impressive music. The group merges the styles of hip hop and funk to create a refreshing alternative to mainstream rap, which is often characterized by the repetitive sample of beats. In doing so, the band effectively expresses the lyrical content of the songs through its music, and succeeds in creating a complementary blend of provocative lyrics and musical ingenuity.

True to the mysterious character of their name, Midnight Voices opens the album with a curious chant titled “If You Knew Us.” Beginning with a gradual fade-in, the group chants the puzzling phrase “If you knew us, then uh . . .” repeatedly and without any musical accompaniment. A steady rhythm is maintained throughout, even when the Voices modify their chant by including their names. After the chant is repeated a few more times, the group throws in yet another mysterious line, which further heightens the listener’s curiosity. The line, “If you knew the voices, then uh . . . you would know the world and uh . . .” provides a hint to the listener of the social commentary to come. The chant then returns to its first verse, and slowly fades out. This short piece serves as an introduction to both the group and the general message of their music and album.

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...n to the musical background. By not using any fancy accompaniment, the group shows that the power and effectiveness of their music need not necessarily be enhanced by any studio tricks commonly used in today’s hip hop and popular music in general. Wylie even comments on the effectiveness of this simplistic approach in raising issues to his listeners: “R you ready for the relevant rapper/rampaging never running/with knowledge I’m stunning/and gunning/down ridiculous rhymes/that rely on Romper Room beats/no knowledge? Why?”

Throughout the album, Midnight Voices manages to dispel the popular belief that hip hop is not “real” or “respected” music. Through the group’s gripping lyrics and original music, Midnight Voices has succeeded in proving that rap should be recognized as a unique cultural expression, as worthy of respect as any other art form out there.

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