What is the Point of the Beat in Hip-Hop and Rap?
The Congolese musicians arrived. They went immediately into their complex bongo, conga, and chakra rhythms, making their opening sequence a tribute to their African deities. This was accompanied by a lively dance, performed by lithe, agile male and female dancers, each of whom had obviously been honing their craft since childhood. They wore hollowed-out Halloween-style pumpkins over their heads for masks, but not before they had engaged in loud and vehement arguments that they were going to wear their traditional African masks during this performance. Their adversaries had finally given in, but when the first hysterically frightened cries of the children attending this elementary school display of African dance culture reached the ears of the dancers, they relented, reluctantly putting aside their traditional African masks, replacing them with the equally frightening, although much more familiar, hollowed-out Halloween-style pumpkins, and, with no further disparagement or belittlement from the adults amongst the crowd, nor sincerely terrified screams from the mostly child audience, displayed the ultimate in reverence and piety to their gods through their unique form of dance. The young audience was hysterical in its approval.
The second act in the program was a rap and hip-hop group, which had been warned, in no uncertain terms, to avoid doing or saying anything on stage which would fall even remotely into the category of Parental Advisory. Verbally, at least in the area of verbal inflections, there was a discernable discrepancy between their words and their actions. The powerful electronic bass rattled the rafters, the repetitive nature of the beat allowed the youngsters to follow the rappers’ illustration of how one should wave one’s arm up and down, keeping time with the rappers’ teachings and patterns of behavior, which had little or nothing to do with dance. So antiseptic was this Mary Poppins-styled performance, that the group had felt obliged to make of their entire closing act a musical disclaimer. Discipline, was the name of this tune, rap, hip-hop beat, and as the certainty of non-payment of their fee had been part of their contract should they transgress, let alone the threat of prosecution, the door had effectively been closed to any uncouth display, and this segment miraculously was completed without any untoward incident. The kids, knowing no better, cheered their inexperienced heads off.
Between acts, an apparently drunken Congolese, the lead choreographer for the dance troop, wandered over to the rap and hip-hop band members, and, looking at their huge speakers, their turntable, and looking askance at their saggy pants, asked with feigned innocence, “Could one of you guys please explain to me, for the edification of my compatriots back home in Africa, please, what is the point of the beat in hip-hop and rap?”
“What?” reacted a hip-hop rapper whose thick, waist-length dreads appeared as if they had been dipped in yellow dye, possibly to serve as a source of great excitement or interest, but which, to the Congolese choreographer, were about as comprehensible as the hip-hop and rap about which he was seemingly innocently inquiring.
“It is only that I am quite unfamiliar with such an emphatic beat which, no matter how hard one tries, cannot be danced to. I mean, what might be the point of creating such an un-dance-able beat?”
The scandalized rappers and hip-hoppers looked at the Congolese as if he were a four-winged insect, incapable of recognizing how thoughtless and insulting such a question was.
“Are you a stand-up Congolese comic?” asked one of the rapper-hip-hoppers, stepping forward, coming to stand directly before this rudely inquisitive black man from the home country, who, it appeared, was bent on disparaging his African-American brothers. But the closer the hip-hop rapper came to the Congolese, the more the man began to resemble the façade of an extremely well-built brick building. Though thin and somewhat wiry, the man appeared to be a manifestation of the glamourized images of the gods in fairy tales, or of a statue come to life, carved to such a peak of perfection that . . . anyway, it was all the hip-hop rapper could do to prevent those present from seeing his surprise and dismay at this rock whom he had been on the verge of . . .
“My dancers,” the Congolese continued, as if the hip-hop rapper standing before him had only come nearer the better to hear and absorb the Congolese’s question, “when they first encountered hip-hop and rap, found it . . . exotic, strange. Interesting. They felt that it was something that had apparently developed independent of environment, since there was nothing in their own experience that they could think of that might have led them to the creation of the kinds of beats regularly utilized in hip-hip and rap. But that was probably due to the fact that they were dancers. In fact, I’ll let one of my troupe tell you of her experience.
The choreographer, whose name was Ulmundango, waved, signaling to a member of the dance troupe. Tall, sleek and muscular, the girl was barefoot, attired, if one could call it that, in grass anklets, wearing a brief grass skirt and a grass “tank top”, if you will; she was freely perspiring, for since the group had finished its routine, its members had not ceased practicing, bending, stretching, leaping, all of which indicated that they were in top physical form, as their dance performance had demonstrated. She was also beautiful.
“This is Flamba.” She smiled at the hip-hop rappers. “Flamba,” Ulmundango said with obvious pride, “is one of our more recent additions. I discovered her while traveling along the Ivory Coast. She was not dancing. She was merely walking along, balancing a large basket on the top of her head, in the manner familiar to the people of that area, and indeed, in many parts of Africa. What impressed me about Flamba was her relaxed poise and the seemingly effortless balance she exhibited as she serenely walked along this really rough patch, near the river’s edge, which was composed of tall grasses, fallen trees, sharp-edged rocks, low-hanging tree branches. She moved along this path as easily as I have seen some or your American beach combers stroll along your many sandy beaches. I was greatly impressed.
“My chief motivating force, however, was that I was at that time in need of a young lead dancer, someone who might be capable of performing some of the newer dance innovations I had decided to incorporate into my troupe’s dance performances. These new moves would require a person of utmost strength of body, someone who was quite muscular, yet sleek, slim and well-balanced. A very unique individual, in other words. When I spotted Flamba, as my boat coasted along their shore, coincidentally keeping pace with her progress, I also noticed, in the brief, intermittent glances I caught of her as trees and bushes began to regularly intervene, cutting off my view, that she was walking barefoot. There was nothing at all unique about this, considering the impoverishment of the coastal inhabitants. Nevertheless, I was still impressed. All this time, I did not once observe her to wince, to stumble, or to make any movement about which she was not absolutely certain, not a single movement she made that was not graceful. I was, as you Americans say, dumbfounded. It was as if this strange young girl from the Ivory Coast, this tall, slender youth, who was merely going about her daily toil in service of her tribe, making no effort to impress anyone, had been born to perform the very difficult and intricate task which I saw her performing.
“Anyway, all at once, I noticed that the trail along which this vision of beauty and agility was so graciously walking along would shortly curve further into the jungle, that this meandering trail would very soon take this unique individual up the side of a very high tree-covered hill, and that the trees which grew thick-leaved and very tall on this high hill, would very shortly make it impossible for me to continue to follow her with my eyes. In that moment, I realized, to my dismay, that I was about to lose track of this very special young lady; that I might never discover her again.
“So, it was without thinking that I quickly kicked off my sandals, practically ripped off my shirt, and, hearing in the near background my faithful oarsman shouting “No! No! Dang. . .” in shocked surprise, leapt from the safety of my boat and dived into the muddy river.
“Now, I am an excellent swimmer, to be sure. I am also an expert diver. But, though my dive was steep, my body barely making a splash, and my entry into the water therefore practically soundless, a large crocodile – and, along this coast, crocodiles are known to grow quite large, some reaching nearly twenty feet in length – a crocodile, I said, sunning itself on a nearby sandbar, apparently possessed of very extraordinarily senses, must somehow have noticed something hitting the bottom of this very shallow river, disturbing the mud.
“Now, when it comes to the ability to very quietly slide into a body of water, these animals make the seemingly impressive (to humans) but clumsy (to crocodiles) dives of humans seem about as quiet as one of your New Orleans Second-Line Brass bands are, when they enter a party at its finale. Yes, I have attended parties in the Big Easy. May I live to attend many more. Anyway, this crocodile, fortunately for me, as you will soon learn, must have been ravenously hungry, for instead of sliding stealthily into the water, setting itself into a high-speed downward glide in my direction, getting to me before I had any chance to react, this huge crocodile came on like one of those Second-Line Brass bands, splashing heavily into the water, so that I could not fail to notice it, almost as if it desired to scare me to death with the shockingly loud sound of its 600 to 800 pound body slamming into the water. This mystery, however, the mystery of the crocodile’s uncharacteristically giving away its presence to its helpless prey, was quickly solved when I looked up and saw a large crocodile zeroing in on me, trailed immediately my a much larger crocodile. My first impulse was to use my bare hands to attempt to dig a hole in the soft river bottom, cover myself up with mud in a hopelessly futile attempt to hide, since I hadn’t brought along with me a big knife with which to commit Hari-kari, as the Japanese say. But, as I prepared to meet my Maker, I realized what was happening, just as the big crocodile caught up with and violently attacked the lead crocodile from behind. Now, talk about the mother of all battles, it was as if Medusa’s head, grown to huge size, having been severed, this head-full of wriggling snakes that had brazenly passed for her hair, also grown to monstrous size, and, now that their beloved mistress was no more, the dozens of huge snakes were fighting one another to the death in order to determine which of these devilish horrors would now be king of the hill.
As the two crocodiles struggled madly, shiny schools of tiny and not so tiny fish, shot by, desperately determined to escape this action, blindly darting away in all directions, so that at one point I was forced to hold my arms and hands before my body in order to block the terrified hordes from battering my face and neck and torso and legs by the virtual hundreds. Soon, the muddy river water was clear of the frightened fish, but the crocs still fought like two maniacs.
“However, I didn’t like the smaller crocs chances. It fought valiantly, but as I watched, the large croc, whirling about, darting about, spinning about – vaguely reminiscent of some of my new dance routines – finally clamped its huge powerful jaws crushingly on the body of the spinning, darting, now profusely bleeding, smaller croc. I had never in my life held my breath so long. And, I had no air reserves left in my lungs that would enable me to remain underwater an instant longer to observe the outcome of this truly colossal struggle. Bending my knees, I sprang up out of the mud and frantically kicked for the surface. When I hit the surface, gasping for blessed air, immediately re-submerging, then resurfacing, I saw that I was still a dangerous distance from the shore. My boat was nowhere to be seen. I kicked towards shore.
“I felt as if I was making decent time, that the preoccupied crocs would not be able to extricate themselves from their battle in time to catch me before I reached the shore and destroy me, when there came this truly blood-chilling scream. The scream came from the direction of the shore. But, instinctively, I knew that that horrific scream was a reaction to something in the water.
“Foolishly I glanced back, only to see two large black eyes cutting towards me, with terrifying speed. I turned and kicked wildly, not because I believed that I had even the slightest prayer of escaping what was apparently bigger croc, which, it seemed, must have been victorious in its battle with the smaller crocodile, and, having dispatched it, was now coming to collect its well-earned spoils. I kicked because, when all is said and done, when there is nothing more you can do, you kick.
I had no chance. But I kept kicking.
Just as I was on the point of giving up, turning around in the water and allowing myself to face and be savagely devoured by my killer, I felt something strike the back of my hand with, a particularly painful strike. I looked ahead. It was a tree branch. Someone was standing on the shore, holding out this tree branch to me, and, although I knew that it was far too late, that I was about to die a most violent death, I grabbed the end of the branch and held on. I was nearly on shore, my knees in the mud. I looked up, blinking water from my eyes, but blinking more because I could not believe my eyes. It was the girl who had been walking along with the basket atop her head! She was pulling the branch, and I was holding on, being pulled out of the muddy bank, still certain that in an instant, I would feel the heavy clamp of a crocodile’s jaws chomping down on my feet and legs, also fearing that I might pull this girl to her death. Then I was standing ashore, dripping water and mud. But, only for a split-second, for the girl, seeing that I was merely standing there, choking and breathing like a steam engine, making of myselfa perfect stationary target for a swiftly approaching giant crocodile, grabbed my hand and started pulling me behind her. I stumbled immediately, and we both went down, but we were quickly up again, now running, just as the huge, angry croc crashed ashore.
“Of course the crocodile did not stop upon reaching the shore, snap its deadly claws, say, ‘Aw, shucks, he got away!’ and head back into the water. It kept on coming. And we kept running, darting up the meandering trail, the angry crocodile following suit. To me, it felt as if we were outlaws, being tracked down, not by law enforcement authorities, but by vigilantes, by an angry mob, bent upon bloody vengeance. Finally, I was spent. I went down. She screamed some foreign words that I assumed were violent curses, mixed in with admonitions that I get the hell up. I expected her to leave, to get away. The crocodile had not slowed, and it was just as agile on land as it had been in the water. I looked up at the girl, and, for a moment, I believed I saw that she was still holding that big basket on top of her head, while she was helping me to escape. The crocodile came crashing through the trees, mud and grass. She screamed, grabbed me, helped me to stand, and urgently pointed up into the tree branches. We would have to climb a tree. Did I have the strength? Well, I would have the strength, or I would die. With a massive effort, courtesy of the terrifying croaking of a swiftly approaching monster crocodile, I stood with my back to a tree, held my hands together, to make a step. Understanding immediately, she stepped into my hands, and screamed when she felt my hands almost give way, dropping her. But, somehow, they held. She reached up, grabbed a branch, pulled herself up onto a tree branch, just as the crocodile broke through the trees. Seeing the huge crocodile closing in on me, she screamed for me to make a last effort to climb a tree. It was too late.
The giant crocodile came on. It was huge. It was the largest, most dangerous animal I had ever imagined. Its massive, long, twisting, wriggling mottled green body glistened with river mud, its monstrous claws were otherworldly, its open manhole of a mouth, wide open now, dripping bloody-red, much of this red certainly due to its recent kill of the smaller crocodile, which had also had mealtime designs on me. And its teeth – like knives . . . The girl screamed . . . I closed my eyes. The wildly accelerating croc crashed forward, roared . . .
Then, as I waited for the jaws of death to most violently snatch me from this world, I suddenly heard several very loud explosions. The croc rushed forward, its mouth, gigantic bloody teeth bared. Several more very loud explosions. The crocodile pitched forward, its heavy snout slammed violently against the center of my chest, and I went flying backwards, seeing the world entire go black and blue, with blinding lights. I felt as if I had been struck by a speeding automobile. But, luckily, the crocodile’s usually gaping mouth had been closed. It moved. Spasmodically. Its huge tail whipping wildly left, right, as if in attempt to trip up whatever had come upon it unawares and pumped it full of lead. Then it was as still as a rock.
Now a man came running out of the trees. It was my oarsman. He a was carrying my large game rifle, designed to take down a tiger, a wild boar, possibly even an elephant, should we be attacked while on shore. The supposedly dead crocodile – had it been playing possum? – whirled!
“Look out!” The girl up in the tree screamed. The enraged crocodile lunged for the oarsman. The oarsman came to a stop, took aim, backed quickly as the re-energized crock came charging at him. The big gun exploded several more times, striking the crocodile with a force several times greater than that of the blows of a sledge hammer, with each shot. When at last the crocodile finally lay still, I struggled up, went to the tree the girl had climbed, held my hands together for her to step into, and she scooted down from the tree. She was trembling, sweaty and ragged from struggling up the tree, as well as from outright terror, but, otherwise, fine. Me? I was a muddy bloody mess. You see, when the crocodile had been right up in my face, its mouth open to take my entire body in one big bite, my oarsman’s rifle shots, repeatedly striking the gator’s tough body, had splashed me with great hot sticky red gobs of the animal’s blood. The crocodile must have understood that it had been mortally injured, and that the death blows had not come from me, but from somewhere behind it. Therefore, it had played dead, then, hearing whatever had been attacking it closing in for the kill, it had sprung to life, whirled to meet its attacker, who, fortunately, used the big rifle to finish the job.
“I saw that right after you dove into the water,” said my oarsman, “two large crocodiles that I had seen resting on the shore, immediately entered the water. The first one slipped in silently. But the second one, the really huge one, crashed into the water. I knew at once that those two crocs were up to no good. Next time I saw you, you were just reaching the shore, the girl, who we now know as Flamba, was helping you out of the water and the big crocodile was right behind you, moving in fast. I beached the boat a little ways away. Wouldn’t have done anybody any good to land right there and have the crocodile kill me, then go after you two. I took the big rifle and a pocketful of big bullets. I leaped onto the shore from the boat, and ran up the same trail that I saw you and the girl and the crocodile took. I was running like mad, because I knew that crocodiles are fast. I got close to where you and girl had stopped at a tree, saw her use your hands as a step to help her reach the tree branches, and scramble up. Saw that that big croc was zeroed-in on you, ready to bite down on you and swallow you whole. Lucky you brought this big rifle along. Anything smaller and he wouldn’t even have felt it. The girl had just got up into the tree, and the crocodile was really digging towards you, his great big toothy snout swinging wide right and wide left with every step he took, and he was taking those steps fast. I ran up behind him, still no closer than several yards. Stopped and opened fire. I’da waited to get closer, I would had to cut that croc open to get you out. Anyway, at the last second, just as he leaped at you while you were stumbling back, I pumped about ten of these big shells into that big croc’s back. Look like he didn’t even notice he was being shot till about the sixth shell hit him. That’s when he used what shoulda been his last strength and jumped at you, knocked you backwards. Lucky that big mouth was closed, his big jaws clenched tight from the devastating pain of being hammered in the back of his head by all of those big shotgun shells! Still, I thought that was it for you, flat on your back like you were, with a big wounded and angry crocodile standing over you. But all of those big shells I had been steadily pumping into his back, his sides, his tail, and especially in the back of his head, must have finally had their effect. After he crashed into you, sent you flying backwards like a ragdoll, he went wriggly, all crazy, like a big angry rattlesnake, for a moment. Then, after what looked like a final wild roaring blood spewing head toss, it dropped like a big giant rock. And stayed as still as a rock, this time. He didn’t fool me, though. When I run up on him, to finish the job, ‘cause I had to finish him ‘fore he tried one last desperate trick, he heard me coming – and suddenly come sprang to life. He whipped that big green blood-soaked body around like lightning. I heard the girl scream, ‘Look out!’ but I was already back-peddling, firing beaucoup shells directly into its big ugly face. He wanted me bad. Real bad! Man, if I had uh stumbled – I don’t even want to think about it! But I didn’t stumble. And when those final shells slammed into that mean old croc, I saw those big black eyes go out, like the electricity inside him had been suddenly shut down. This time, when he dropped like a rock, he wasn’t faking. He was dead.”
“I thanked the girl,” Ulmundango told the mesmerized hip-hoppers and rappers, “this lovely young lady you see standing here before you, thanked her for saving my life.” The newly acquired dancer smiled and bowed to her audience. “Flamba, here, joined our expedition – after I spent literally hours pleading with her to do so, telling her that I was convinced that she would be a perfect fit for our group – she came along with us from the Ivory Coast to join our dance troupe – with the blessing of her parents, of course – which took a few more hours. But, finally, they agreed. And the rest, as they say, is history.”
Needless to say, the hip-hoppers and rappers had been completely spellbound by this tale of a choreographer and his sensational young dancing find, who just happened to have saved him from disappearing into the merciless jaws of a huge Ivory Coast crocodile.
“Man, you guys are real,” said the lead hip-hop guy, and shook the hands of the choreographer, and the heroic dancer. All of the hip-hoppers and rappers crowded around them and they all exchanged warm greetings and hopes that one another’s future endeavors would meet with success.
After a few moments of quiet reflection, Ulmundango indicated by raising his hand that he had one more thing to add.
“Now, as I was inquiring before I called Flamba over to speak of her experiences with hip-hop and rap music, which she will get to in a moment. Fellas, please tell me –
What really is the point . . .?
The hip-hop rappers look at one another and groaned.