Saturday, November 13, 2010

Q On Producing

I heard something today that kind of got me down about Hip Hop for a minute, to be honest. I was watching an episode of The Colbert Report that aired Thursday night. Quincy Jones was the guest, and he was there to promote his new album and book.

One of the first questions Stephen Colbert asked of Jones was "What does a music producer do?"

He answered, "Put it like this...if the cover is bad, if the tempo is too slow, or too fast, if the key is wrong, if you got the wrong engineer, you got the wrong studio, the wrong background singers, the wrong arrangements, and the song doesn't work then it's the producer's fault...if it's a hit, it's the artist".

That last part was kind of tongue-in-cheek, obviously. But, he made a good point about what it means to produce a piece of entertainment art. A film producer would be responsible for things in much the same way. But, not so much in Hip Hop. At least, not in a lot of cases, it would seem.

When constructing a Hip Hop song/album, the MC meets with (usually) several "producers" who more often than not have spent time by themselves in a room making instrumental tracks prior to the meeting, which they put into a collection to play for whoever is requesting their talents. Sometimes there is no meeting at all. Sometimes the MC will just have a bunch of tracks sent to them, and pick out what they like to rhyme over, never even sitting in the same room with their collaborator.

My point is that the way a guy like Quincy Jones' approaches music seems to be lost on most "beat makers" in Hip Hop today. This is probably because a lot of these guys aren't really producers at all. They layer sounds in a computer program, but have no ear for how to arrange vocals and instruments. Additionally, when there is no understanding of an artist's unique ideas or abilities (pardon the pun), no give and take of ideas, no unique application based on who you're working with, what you get is generic, cookie-cutter music that will sound the same no matter who is involved. And that's not always the producer's fault either. A lot of times it seems to be the MC who is too lazy or insecure to actually sit in a studio and create something. So, "beats" end up being made by the hundreds and delivered to the highest bidder with no real interest in what finished product comes out of them.

To hear such an accomplished musician like Jones talk about what he does made it depressing to think about what has passed for production and for music in Hip Hop a lot of the time in this last decade. Bottom line there are a bunch of people that really need to step it up if they want to consider themselves artists or musicians. I know that the way a Hip Hop track is built is often much different from how someone constructs one in another genre, but the creativity and real collaboration is clearly absent a lot of the time.

Thankfully, there are also more and more artists coming out with exciting music in our genre these days as well, and are pushing themselves to really create something while inspiring many more. The use of live instruments and outreach into other sounds is helping a lot, as are single-producer albums that have come back into popularity with Hip Hop artists recently - this especially forces the producer to take responsibility for the entire finished package that is delivered on a project. The passion for the music is really being expressed by some of my new favorite artists. And, some of the older ones have reignited theirs as well. So, for the most part I feel good about the direction being taken. But, for fucks sake if you're gonna collaborate with someone the first step is being in the same room with them.

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