On the latest episode of the Ben Shapiro Show, political commentator Ben Shapiro has a conversation with hip-hop artist Zuby and claims that rap music isn’t music at all. Here’s why that’s both wrong and missing the point of the music of the last century.
Fortunately, Shapiro does provide some logic to back up the claim that “rap isn’t music,” which he stated in a tweet previously on Jan. 9, 2012. He states that in his view, and “the view of my music theorist father who went to music school, there are three elements to music. There is harmony, there is melody, and there is rhythm. Rap only fulfills one of these, the rhythm section. There’s not a lot of melody and there’s not a lot of harmony… It’s not actually a form of music.”
This triune view of music is a remnant of the music theory of the past. Before the 20th century, music restricted itself to this view that music was simply three parts made whole: melody, harmony, and rhythm. Pretty much every other musical dimension followed suit. Levels of volume were pretty much dependent on what kind of harmony a composer was using. Instrumentation was set into molds such as the string quartet, or the classical symphony orchestra. Granted, at the cusp of the 20th century, these molds were beginning to dissolve with the late Romantic composers adding or subtracting from the set instrumentations of the day, but they were still beholden to them. It was not until after the turn of the century that music began to evolve and laid the groundwork for rap and hip-hop.
During the 1900s, both classical music and popular music were growing and changing exponentially. In the classical music world, you had composers like Ives, Shoenberg, Britten, Barber, and Crawford-Seeger revolutionizing what was possible with music. Instead of three equal parts, music became more like a pizza pie, with many interconnected factors that a composer could change as they saw fit. In the popular music side of the things, music was developing at a similar catastrophic rate. Each decade of the 1900s saw some new musical invention that only sought to build on the previous one. Eventually, we get to hip-hop and rap that was invented by the practice of emcee’s in clubs speaking over rhythms played by drums. Eventually, the simplicity of its origin gave rise to a whole generation of hip-hop and rap artists that would change the world.
To say that rap music isn’t music is just patently false. Music is merely the organization of sounds, regardless of what those sounds may be. “Home on the Range” is music just as much as Penderecki’s St. Luke Passion is music. To say otherwise is to be a musical gatekeeper and that is the true death of the free creation of art. When music is guarded behind pay walls and other barriers, music’s nature as a communicator is abolished.