Tricia Rose is to hip hop scholarship what Q-Tip is to hip hop music: a trailblazer. In her 1994 book, Black Noise: Rap music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, Rose describes the three defining features of hip hop music: flow, layering and rupture.
Flow refers to the aesthetic of rhyming over beats and involves quintessential MC skills such as word play, accentuation, delivery and timing. Layering is the blueprint of hip hop music, comprising verse/chorus alternations and melodic/percussive structures which make up a song’s ‘groove’, i.e. the musical structure over which MCs ‘lay down’ their lyrics. Lastly, ruptures are those moments of lyrical, rhythmic and/or melodic discontinuity which highlight structural patterns (e.g. scratching and sampling).
In an often-cited definition, Rose (1994: 39) argues that these elements combine to
create and sustain rhythmic motion, continuity, and circularity via flow; accumulate, reinforce and embellish this continuity through layering; and manage threats to these narratives through ruptures that highlight the continuity as it momentarily challenges it.
All three elements were on brilliant display yesterday during a highly anticipated live concert by Q-Tip in Brussels. His first gig ever in Belgium brought everything you could expect from one of hip hop’s cultural icons: lyrical fitness and crazy flow – despite “early stages of laryngitis” – infectious beats, melodies and samples and a killer selection of A Tribe Called Quest tracks, mixed with songs taken from Amplified and The Renaissance.
Granted, as Funky Bompa pointed out to me afterwards, there was way too much bass at times, but the complete pandemonium that broke out when Tip dropped his greatest hits à la Check The Rhyme, Can I kick it?, Bonita Applebum, Scenario, Award Tour and the like more than made up for the poor sound quality. Big up to DJ Kwak and his crew for a truly relaxing evening. Much appreciated.
**update, 15 March 2009**