Category Archives: Hip-Hop

More Influence…

Another one of these. These aren’t actually songs but rather introductions to albums, but the influence cannot be ignored, just take a listen.This one is interesting because you would not assume that one of these artists would influence the other. However, despite the fact that they operate in different genres, I do actually think that one of them holds the other in high regard. A few clues:

– One of these tracks appears on an album recorded between 1995 and 1999 but not released until 2001, and the other is from an album from 2006.

– The tracks do appear in chronological order.

– Both artists have openly displayed a respect for the other’s style of music.

Track 1:

Track 2:

Any takers?


Euphemisms

Gaucho

Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, more familiarly known as Becker/Fagen in this regard, account for almost one hundred percent of Steely Dan’s composing credits. One of the few exceptions exists on the title track of the band’s 1980 release Gaucho, which includes the addition of piano player Keith Jarrett. The thought of a collaboration between Steely Dan and Mr. Jarrett probably makes more than a few fans drool, but unfortunately the song was not written on amicable or cooperative terms.

Steely Dan, “Gaucho”:

Rather, Mr. Jarrett claims that Becker and Fagen stole from him, and sued on the basis of copyright infringement. The song that Jarrett claims they stole is his own “Long as you know you’re living yours,” from his 1974 release Belonging. Fagen and Becker were rather straighforward about its influence on their music (from an early 80’s interview in Musician Magazine):

MUSICIAN: Are you familiar with a Keith Jarrett record Belonging, particularly a tune called “Long as you know you’re living yours”?

BECKER: Yes.

MUSICIAN: Have you ever listened to that up against “Gaucho”?

BECKER: No.

MUSICIAN: I’m not casting any aspersions now, but in terms of the tempo and the bass line and the saxophone melody it’s pretty interesting.

BECKER: Parenthetically it is, yeah [uneasy laughter]

MUSICIAN: At this point the reporter traditionally asks the cornered politican or athlete to “go off the record.”

FAGEN: Off the record, we were heavily influenced by that particular piece of music.

BECKER: I love it.

Keith Jarrett, “Long as You Know You’re Living Yours”:

As far as Becker and Fagen go, this is a remarkably candid response, and for good reason. As their 1974 hit “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” illustrates, the duo are no strangers to borrowing from their influences: the first 8 bars are an exact transposition of Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father.” Keith JarrettLike many other artists, Becker and Fagen see such interpolations as intrinsic rather than insidious. It is at once both musically inherent and traditional to draw from music that one admires. But what is the difference between drawing from and stealing from others? Apparently, Keith Jarrett knows the difference: over $1 million dollars in royalties. So is there a difference between Jarrett and Silver? Where do we draw the line between influence and pilferage? Historically, the line is blurred.

Beethoven “expanded upon” Mozart: The influence of Mozart on Beethoven was documented by the latter composer himself in sketches and notes. He even copied an entire section from Mozart’z 40th symphony and used it in his own 5th symphony. The eventual overshadowing of the 40th symphony by the 5th in the classical music canon shows that such unintended collaborations contribute to both the further development and increased popularity of music.

Ravel “drew influence from” Debussy: In 1903 Ravel debuted his String Quartet in F Major. Like his older contemporary, Debussy, it would be the only string quartet he ever wrote. When it emerged, many rejected its significance because of its obvious similarities to Debussy’s 1893 String Quartet in G Minor. Blair Johnston explains this:

The similarities between [the two] can hardly be avoided or ignored. During the early years of his career, Ravel was frequently and sometimes vehemently criticized for having copied Debussy, and it was only later that musical society began to realize that, in the realm of piano music at least, it was equally possible that Debussy had imitated his younger colleague. With the String Quartet in F, composed in 1902 and 1903 and then revised up to 1910, however, Ravel seems more certain to have relied on Debussy; as emotionally, psychologically, and even structurally different as the two works are, one could never accuse them of having a language barrier.

Yet despite the cries of musical heresy, there was one person in particular who appreciated Ravel’s Quartet for what it was: Debussy. In a personal letter, he told ravel “In the name of the Gods of music and in my own, do not touch a single note you have written in your Quartet.” It remains one of the most often-performed string quartets of the last century.

Bebop pioneers “developed contrafacts” from the Great American Songbook: Open the Charlie Parker Omnibook and you’ll find dozens of original songs that were staples of the bebop era. The only catch is that Parker and his contemporaries didn’t exactly compose the songs themselves, the chords were borrowed from “pop” songs of the day. To avoid the same legal action that later cost Steely Dan over $1 million, artists like Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Horace Silver and Tadd Dameron, among others, constructed new songs out of the works of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, and more of their contemporaries, as well as from traditional songs. These contrafacts exist today as staples of the idiom, as an invaluable base to an ever-developing style.  

Hip Hop producers “sample” anything and everything: Hip hop production is based almost entirely on sampling. What started as DJing and spinning turned into modern beat-making: pioneers such as Prince Paul, RZA, Dr. Dre and DJ Premier composed beats for MCs that were comprised of parts of any vinyl they could get their hands on. Pete RockWhat started as a combination of sometimes even more than 15 often unrecognizable samples in a song paved the way for instrumental artists such as DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist, who more overtly used samples to create their pieces. In more recent years, the style of sampling has become legally accepted, and after certain rights are obtained, producers like Kanye West create singles that are little more than exact copies of the songs they sample.

Cut Chemist, “The Garden”:

Despite the ominpresence of mutual influence in today’s music, however, some artists still decide to take it to heart. The Rolling Stones sued The Verve for 100% of the royalties for their biggest hit, “Bittersweet Symphony”, claiming that the entire song is based on a previous arrangement of a Rolling Stones original. Asked to comment, Keith Richards said “If the Verve can write a better song, they can keep the money.”

In the most absurd example to date, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), Joe Satriani, and the band Creaky Boards are all seperately claiming that Coldplay’s hit single “Viva La Vida” was a copy of their own. These accusations (some requesting royalties, some not) exist despite the fact that “Viva La Vida” is an extremely simple melody that bears similarities to not just these other examples but also to the standard “Everything Happens to Me” and the them from Zelda.

A professor of mine once scoffed at a famous musician’s claim that he was “self taught.” No one is self taught, he argued, we all get our influence from somewhere. And in most cases, even when it is blatantly obvious, it is generally understood and accepted. But sometimes, money becomes more important. The truth is whether it be stealing, adapting, drawing from, interpolating, interpreting or even blindly and unintentionally copying, drawing upon other artists for influence is the way music develops. Those who accept and admit this fact are essentially just admitting that they are real musicians, and the ones who deny it are only proving that money becomes more important than the art itself.

Such a distinction separates artists like Steely Dan and Keith Jarrett. Asked whether he thinks Keith Jarrett is happy with the royalties he ended up receiving from Steely Dan, Walter Becker replied “I certainly doubt it, but I’m fairly happy with mine.”



A~~Z – David Matthews – Dune

David Matthews - Dune

No, this is not a Dave Matthews album. That’s the first question that everyone asks upon seeing this album. In actuality, David Matthews has been the name of numerous famous musicians. There is of course the Matthews of DMB fame, the singer-songwriter who has generated a uncontestedly debated and thus ambiguous influence upon modern pop music. Then there is the Matthews of the classical field. Born and raised in Britain, he is one of the island’s foremost classical composers of the last 50 years. Then there is the Matthews of this post. Within the jazz community, this Matthews has generated a reputation very much akin to the Matthews of DMB fame. A pianist, composer, arranger and producer, David Matthews has dipped his toes into a wide array of sub-genres and has been associated with many of the music’s most famous musicians, but you probably have still not heard of him. Among his more famous collaborations include being an arranger for James Brown, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon and Billy Joel, a producer for Idris Muhammad, Steve Gadd and Esther Phillips, a piano player for Nina Simone, Jim Hall, Art Farmer and (along with being a co-founder) the Manhattan Jazz Quintet. Matthews even has, indirectly, made a strong influence upon hip-hop. This is largely through the impact of his album “Dune”, which has become somewhat of a hip-hop producer’s classic, contributing to beats for Method Man and Redman, Large Professor, RJD2, and more.

The album’s history bears a strong resemblance to that of the leader’s, in the sense that it has notoriously been confused with the soundtrack to the David Lynch movie “Dune”, despite it’s coming over 8 years before the release of the film.

The impressive lineup on this particular disk is mostly the result of the partnership with Creed Taylor. Matthews was given full access to CTI’s full roster of talent, which included (on this album) such 70’s heavyweights as Grover Washington Jr., David Sanborn, Steve Gadd, Hiram Bullock, Randy Brecker, Lew Soloff, Jon Faddis, Eric Gale, and Will Lee. The first half of the disc makes up a sort-of suite that Matthews wrote, and contains the best material of the disk. The latter side is more of an ode to sci-fi, including appropriate covers of David Bowie and Star Wars-related numbers. (The disco take on the Star Wars theme shant be missed for those nostalgic for this missed era).

When taken for what it is (and perhaps with a generous serving of salt), this album stands as a classic example of what CTI and 70’s era arrangers such as Matthews were capable of. It’s legacy lives on in, if nothing else, it’s sample-ability and the classic hip-hop tracks it has influenced.