Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Define the decade?

The whole Decades thing last weekend got me thinking of the decade that is nearly passed. I remember only a couple of years ago finding it hard to categorize the 90's but now we are on the verge of another decade ending and this one is even harder to pin down! It is a very difficult task trying to define a music decade and it may take a good few years to decide what this decade really meant. But it's definitely interesting trying. Since the column is pretty much based on the hip-hop and soul side of things, that's what i'll be paying the main attention here!

On the surface this current decade is not over-flowing with music artists who really made an amazing mark. Many of the big players were already established from the 90's and there hasn't really been a major sound revolution in the music for a good while. The impact of the great producers such as the Neptunes and Timbaland has become even more pronounced but both of these were well known already in the 90's. Both have enjoyed huge crossover commercial success and there is no doubt that hip-hop and r&b producers are now massively in demand in the pop world too. Of the artists to capitalise on this Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake have done best, and both are unlikely r&b stars in 2009, alongside the Ushers and Ne-Yo's of the world.

In commercial terms it must also be recognised that another two huge names, Kanye West and Alicia Keys, were both very much products of this decade music wise. Both were schooled on the great music of the past, but both have made credible strides forward this decade while selling millions of records; a pretty difficult task! Alicia Keys is is total control of an impressive young career and she already has at least 3 or 4 classic soul singles to her name. Kanye has become bigger than ever while taking lots of risks, and it's not bad for a guy who was written off as a nobody when he first came out. The other commercially successful artist who has defined this decade is Amy Winehouse, remarkably so given that her first album was a slow-burner that didn't sell.

Mark Ronsons involvement in the second album helped, and his own style echoed another of this decades trends; live funk instrumentation rather than just samples. You can find this in much of the best soul and hip-hop these days and it's a welcome development. Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild and many more soul and r&b artists continue to make quality music, and it's fair to say that there is a better appreciation of the past than ever before aswell. In hip-hop this is also the case, and we now have live jazz bands paying homage to hip-hop classics that sampled jazz originally! But hip-hop, as much as it thrives underground, has had a more conflicting journey through commercial success.

There's more rappers selling more music than ever before, but the charts are awash with lightweight pop rap. In a way, this was always the way, and we should be thankful for the great hip-hop that still comes out today. Again, many of the best are not exclusively from this decade. Jay Z, MF Doom and even Missy Elliot, are three i've picked who have had a good decade, but all are rap veterans. This decade saw the world accept that the late J Dilla was one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all time, but many of the true heads knew this back in the 90's. Dr Dre, another great producer but one who sells lots of records, has helped define 3 different decades of music now but he is also not new. Hip-hop in the 00's will live under the shadow of previous decades.

In similar terms to Dre but with less hype, the soul singer and producer Raphael Saadiq has been doing it for years under his different guises but in truth i could mention many more. It is great to see artists such as M.I.A. and Santogold mixing up various styles into something new, and it's the same for the amazing Outkast and Cee-Lo of Gnarls Barkley (another 90's veteran). His side-kick Dangermouse is even more eclectic and produced seminal music all decade, as did Madlib and plenty others too. The more i think of it, when we look back in 20 years time, this decade may start to look better than it does right now!

Here are some tunes from the decade gone by! (Check out the Jay Z vid with Timbaland too)

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    I'm a DJ from Cork in Ireland. I work with RedFM, presenting Red Drive, The Hitlist and my specialist show, Black on Red. I'm probably best known for being one of the main hip-hop/soul DJ's in Cork and Ireland. I've been DJing in Cork since the early 90's in legendary clubnights such as Sweat in Sir Henrys, Mor Disco, Free La Funk, Yo Latino and also Jam and Jam Junior at the Savoy and the Pavilion. I've also held down long term residencies at clubs around Ireland such as Brown Sugar at the Kitchen in Dublin, U-Turn at Ri Ra in Dublin, Jazz Juice at the GPO in Galway, Thompson Garage in Belfast, the Soul Clinic, Dee-Bop, Meltdown and Mo Bounce in Limerick and i've played abroad in the United States and the U.K. on numerous occasions. I also write a music column for the Evening Echo and i'm a regular contributor to the U.K.'s Blues and Soul, the longest running black music magazine in the world. These days i run the Pavilion, a music venue in Cork, which hosts my Jam night every few Fridays also you can catch me at