Revolutionizing Music

Looking down my blog, “Music Through My Ears,” I wince at the small grey text beneath each post title. It reminds me that I have neglected sharing my ideas with my audience for several months. Writing blog posts is neither a duty nor a catharsis in my eyes, but a practice and interest that marks my personal drive. I am passionate about music, therefore I write. Even so, couldn’t I maintain this appreciation without writing about it on the Internet? Who am I sharing for, I wonder? Above all, for myself.

I realize that the last few months have been filled with intellectual progress, with schoolwork and college essays, successful grades and finished applications. As a high school senior, I’m busy enough, right? No. A part of me grasps a responsibility to share what I feel to a small slice of the public, so in that sense being to busy is understandable. Yet a greater, more personal piece, yearns to simply clarify my ideas.

Regardless, my time away from writing by no means infers that I’ve stopped listening to a broad variety of music, suggesting my favorite songs and albums to friends, or revolving ideas for posts in my head. A month or two ago, I latched onto a blog post concept while listening to a track released on Soundcloud by French producer 20syl. Some of my favorite songs by the Nantes native include a remix of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud”, a rap classic with CL Smooth, and a remaster of budding English star King Krule’s “Easy Easy.” But this specific production struck me, titled Game Set & Match and paired as a two-part selection united by #tennis, marking the beat-maker as a game-changer in my eyes. If you listen to the original track (the second in the collection), you’ll know what I mean. If you’d rather be lazy and just keep reading, imagine listening to “Technologic” by Daft Punk in the middle of a court at the U.S. Open.

This one song is not what I want to focus on, though. The personal significance of “Game, Set & Match” is that it commenced a train of thought about what truly revolutionizing music means (thus, this post). Think about the most recognizable musicians that influenced generations, the name-brand guys. I’m only born in the 90’s, but off the top I can name bands such as Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Nirvana, singers like Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan. But were these stars the real transformers of music itself?

Delving back into the history of Western music, one can mark transitions within Classical (Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, etc.), Pop, Rock & Roll, Jazz, Hip-Hop, and every category of music that has ever cropped up into existence. Who are the doers, the mover and shakers, the revolutionaries? By definition, a revolutionary is radically new or innovative; outside or beyond established procedure, principles, etc. To me, a music revolutionary is a figure that transcends the bounds of popular music, heeds only individual inspiration, releases work that is completely original except for its base in music theory (but no prior genre), and changes the minds of music-lovers and listeners to be attracted to his/her new sound.

We can all determine our own interpretations of a genuine “music revolutionary.” But let’s assume my definition is plausible and accurate. Now, how many people can you think of that fit this description? To answer the question with the proper limitations, you have to name the “Fathers of Genres.” And even then, there is always dispute in regard to the forerunner of any type of music.

Take Rap / Hip-Hop for example. A friend of mine from Trinidad & Tobago claims that real rap was born from a place of peace in the streets of Brooklyn, when gangs halted their violent tendencies in favor of breakdancing competitions, opening up Disc Jockeys to spin the turn tables. In this tale, guys spinning their bodies in the streets and DJs mixing beats evolved into rappers spitting bars. Music-wise, some call funk master James Brown the main influencer of recorded rap music, others put faith in Lightnin Rod’s 1973 album “Hustler’s Convention.” And then you get to the more recognized leaders of the lyric-based hip-hop movement, from Chuck D of Public Enemy to Rakim to Sugarhill Gang (check this remix of Rapper’s Delight).

This type of progression only leaves me tracking my own footprints in an endless circle. The truth is, there are no real revolutionaries. Public Enemy was no more revolutionary to rap than Beethoven or John Coltrane. Each new ‘player’ in the game brings a different take to an already existing, rapidly evolving sound. Each new puzzle piece must link to one already set on the table. Rap could not exist without Jazz, Rock would never have taken off without Blues, Gospel, Bluegrass, and R&B. I think my definition still holds though, with one simple change. Just scratch the requirement that a music revolutionary “heeds only individual inspiration.” Inspiration can come from anywhere: the wind in the trees, a teacher, classical music, or even a tennis court (shoutout 20syl). A revolutionary must only believe in his personal vision and ambition, the rest will come naturally.

I’m just waiting to see what the world has in stock for the future of music.