The devolution of modern Music “aka” What in the Hell happened to the Bass?

by Arvel Blair

What’s amazing is that “as our society becomes more complex what we end up categorizing as “MAIN STREAM or POPULAR” music becomes more simplistic.

As each genre of music progresses we begin to hear less and less instrumentation. Classical music incorporated a complete orchestra that would have anywhere from 40 to 90 members. Then we had jazz orchestras, they basically got rid of the string players and rolled with a rhythm section (drums, piano, bass & guitar) and a horn section with at least four trumpet, trombone and sax players. Fancy bands also had a clarinet player. Then we moved from A Jazz orchestra to a Jazz combo. A combo mainly consisted of a rhythm section and a few horns.

The Jazz combo became the basis for most modern music regardless of the genre. Whether it was Rock and Roll, The Blues, Pop, Country, Funk, Soul or Gospel the four-piece rhythm section became the glue of all modern music with a few sweeteners added. A sweetener would be extra instruments like an added organ part for Gospel and Rock. A slide guitar, violin aka “a fiddle” and or banjo for country and blue grass music. You get the point. Rarely do we hear full horn sections. Today we’re lucky if we a horn section with one trumpet, sax and trombone but even those parts are often played by one extra keyboard player on a synthesizer.

It would be hard to recognize any modern form of music without acknowledging the contributions of black artists. We pretty much created. Gospel, Blues, jazz, Rock, Soul, pop and of course, Rap. There has even been a debate as to whether Beethoven was of African descent. But one of the main foundations of all Black music regardless of genre was A STRONG BASS LINE. What’s a jazz trio without the walking bass? Can you imagine folks shouting in church without the accompaniment of that strong bass line on the foot of the organist or amplified bass player? A rock riff without bass? Hell, a dance groove doesn’t get poppin until the drummer and bass player lock in the groove. But in todays modern hip hop many of todays hip hop players have killed the bass line.

Who in the hell sent out that memo? In truth I honestly understand the socio-economic dynamics that have led to the death of the bass line in much of todays modern music, but what makes me angry is when black folks complain about white artists like Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars appropriating the BLACK SOUND just because they seek out music with BASS LINES. Miss me with that non-sense when it was young BLACK producers that killed the bass line in modern music.

I remember when rap music really hit the nation with the song rappers delight. The sugar Hill gang basically sampled the first four bars of Chic’s classic “Good Times” and the rest was history. But what many people don’t realize is that when rap first started many of the producers of the day didn’t want their music used for rap. After all, they were into composing complete compositions and rap artists mainly just wanted a strong breakbeat to rap over. As the sample became more popular many of the artist who wrote the original music became angrier and angrier because they weren’t getting credit for their music. That is when the lawsuits began, and I think rightfully so. Anyway, as more and more rap artist were being sued, losing in court and paying out big bucks many wished they had the ability to create their own beats as opposed to paying for the samples they were stealing. I mean using.

So that’s when THE BEAT MAKER came into existence. Prior to rap music most song writers and producers either played piano or Guitar as their main instrument and of course they added bass and drums to complete the rhythm section of their song, but rappers didn’t need all that. They just needed a beat. Now since my original instrument was drums you would think I’d be happy. But in all do honesty I thought a song with just a drum beat and a rapper was boring. So in the end many rappers decided to create their own beats. They literally no longer cared or desired to learn how to play an actual instrument. So, in homes all over America young folks started rapping over the $59 Casio keyboard their uncle Jam brought them for Christmas.

So, it was the modern day beat maker that killed the bass line and the classic sound of R&B. Rarely do I hear pianos, guitars, horns, strings and other sounds that make music interesting. Lord I swear I’d give a kidney to hear a great sax or guitar solo at the bridge of a song. Hell, I’d like to hear a song with a bridge for that matter. Today many hits are simply a drumbeat a vocal and a silly monotone sound and that usually bores my ears after 30 seconds. Personally, I’m glad folks like Bruno Mars are keeping the full Rhythm and Blues sound in the ears of mainstream music. Would I like THE ORGINATORS of that sound (i.e. young black folks) to take back their rightful place in popular music? Of course, I would, but they need to learn how to do more than simply make beats. Thank God for the young folks in New Orleans and other places who still love the sound of real instruments. At least we still have our HBCU marching bands keeping that full sound alive. I better count my blessings.

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About Randi B.

Randi is a diversity and inclusion strategist, speaker, trainer and writer, focusing on making connections and cultivating empathy in this diverse world one trip, speech, article, book and conversation at a time.

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