Comments: "Bring the Noise"

I must confess, I know very little of James Browns' work. What makes you think so highly of him?

Posted by cemmcs at November 7, 2009 12:57 AM

As one of those white devils created by Yakub on Patmos, I can't say I agree with "Farrakhan's a prophet that you ought to listen to" but other than that I'm with you.

Posted by dylar at November 7, 2009 02:39 AM

Hey cemmcs, give him a listen! Even Norwegians who don't understand music know James Brown is The Man. But beware, if you listen for more than a few seconds you may start to boogey to all those funks and grooves, because when the godfather of soul tells you to get up offa that thing, you just gotta do it.

Posted by N E at November 7, 2009 09:42 AM

For me, any mention of PE and Elvis immediately summons this memorable lyric by the former.

Anyway, here is how I remember it:

"Elvis was a hero to most - but never meant shit to me. The sucker was racist, simple and plain.

Mother-Fuck him & John Wayne!"

Posted by john at November 7, 2009 09:49 AM

A jazz scholar once showed me how to read the whole history of jazz from a single drum set. Very cool and very convincing. Likewise, the history of pop music can be read off the evolution of rhythm. James Brown is behind (often against his will) most of the major developments of the last 40 years: funk/disco/techno/hip hop... Michael Jackson, Prince, George Clinton. That's all James Brown. Even the moonwalk was stolen from James Brown.

JB was a musician's musician. He was not a top-40 kind of guy. But he was the Miles Davis of pop. As I said, no one comes anywhere near in terms of innovation and influence.

Technically, every rhythm figure in pop you can't find in the blues or in gospel you can safely attribute to James Brown. I'll give you just one example. Virtually all of rock music follows the blues pattern of emphasizing the backbeats: in 1&2&3&4, you hit the snare on the 2 and the 4. There's harmonic meaning to this. Simply to say 2-4 instead of 1-3 is not terribly helpful to understand what's going on since in an endless sequence 123412341234... 1-3 and 2-4 should be essentially indistinguishable. The whole point of rock rhythm is that it seeks to play down the chord changes. In classical music when you move to a new chord you often want people to notice, so you time it on the first beat of the measure, the downbeat, where the conductor moves the baton down. In rock and blues it's the opposite. You de-emphasize the chord changes.

James Brown decided the old classical music guys were on to something after all and that you gain a sense of energy by hitting the snare on the downbeat. This confused everybody, for whom 2&4 is carved in DNA. Not to mention his frequent injection of polyrhythms (to my knowledge, the only major pop musician to do that).

As in jazz, in Brown's music, rhythm is a voice; not merely a loud metronome keeping time as in standard rock. Ask yourself: how could Ringo Starr hold his own in a major rock band even though the guy can't drum? You hit the offbeats and throw in a couple of baby fills now and then, and you call that a rhythm section. It works because the beat is background: it's not a voice.

Brown gave hip hop its rhythm, but to give him credit for rapping, too, would be going too far. What makes hip hop remarkable is that it adds two voices to traditional rock (JB style rhythm and rap). By contrast, consider that white rock never added any new voice: it just rearranged the standard ones.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at November 7, 2009 11:19 AM

Yo, Bernard, MY MAN! Now you're talking. I just introduced my 12 yo to PE (have every one of their CDs, even the Prof. Griff solo) and he immediately recognized the power and superiority over the stuff he's surrounded by. Chuck D truly is the spokesman for his generation. Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos still cold sweat every time I hear it. That kickass final refrain: "Death row--what a brother knows." Rage Against the Machine did a cool cover (with Chuck D, no less), also Tricky, both available on the untertube. Worth a listen. Thanks for spreading the WORD.

Posted by Oarwell at November 7, 2009 07:29 PM

Uh, Last Poets, anyone? Maybe their approach was too simple. But when I heard PE's albums when they first came out that's who I thought of. Still awesome.

I do agree with everything above about PE and JB. I saw JB do a bunch of rap at the Circle Star sometime in the early '90s, but it didn't work for me...

Posted by Russell L. Carter at November 10, 2009 12:14 PM

Um, it's been 20 years since NWA. So I guess this means gangsta rap isn't a short-lived commercial abberation.

Posted by Dave E at November 11, 2009 01:05 PM