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Hip-Hop Undercover
Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Last month New York City emcee Jesse Abraham broke into both Outkast’s “Bombs Over Baghdad” and Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff” while performing at the Acoustic Cafe in Bridgeport. The crowd went wild for both songs, rapping along and showing the kind of appreciation a DJ normally receives when he, or she, throws on a classic cut.

Abraham isn’t the only emcee covering past hits nowadays. Cover songs have slowly worked their way into a number of hip-hop artists’ sets.

Hip-hop has always been a culture of authenticity, with a huge onus placed on emcees writing their own rhymes. Pretty much the worst offense for an emcee, short of wearing a shiny suit and letting your producer dance in the background of your video, is to be known as someone who doesn’t write their own songs. For many artists that idea of authenticity is also linked to why they perform the occasional cover. The basic feeling being - what could be more authentic than showing one’s inspirations?

Abraham feels “for the artist, it’s a chance to not only convey a sense of gratitude towards another musician’s work, but also to encapsulate whatever energy he, or she, may have felt when experiencing that song as a fan.” He adds that it’s that idea of the fan experience that inspires such performances. “We’re still appreciators of work just as much as we are generators of our own work,” he explains, “and the idea of celebrating our shared efforts to create is rather special.”

In Abraham’s estimation, cover songs are also an extension of a time honored tradition in hip-hop. “Hip-hop’s roots were founded in sampling other artists’ music to create break beats.” For many artists, covering the songs that inspired them is their way of making history have an impact on the present.

Something that’s a huge aid to this is hip-hop’s age. Hip-hop was born well over 30 years ago, and that amount of time passed is something Dyalekt, of the Brooklyn based hip-hop band Deathrow Tull (pictured above), feels is an important factor in all of this. “The idea that something is classic,” he explains, “classic enough to cover the song without looking like a biter, is new.”

Abraham feels another important aspect of a good hip-hop cover is the disparity between the style of the artist and the style of the artist he, or she, is covering. “The wider the breadth of distinction that exists between the two artists, the more engaging the cover usually is.” Perhaps this is part of the reason why the crowd at the Acoustic Cafe went so wild when Abraham broke into “Bombs Over Baghdad.” Abraham, a native New Yorker, sounds nothing like Andre3000, a native ATLien, and usually sports a slower flow than the frantic “Bombs Over Baghdad.”

For fans, Dyalekt notes cover songs give “an insight into the artist.” Brooklyn based emcee iLLspoKinN, who has recently thrown A Tribe Called Quest and Outkast tribute shows with Baldi of Tru Statement Entertainment, where current underground acts cover the songs of the group they’re paying tribute to, seconds this, saying “I think it’s important to show love to our influences,” adding, “we make original music and we don’t have a problem spittin some Outkast or A Tribe Called Quest... hell, we do it every time it’s on anyway!”

Performing a classic song that’s influenced the artist does more than just give an insight into that artist, though. iLLspoKinN points out “a group like Outkast has younger fans that may not be exposed to their first albums. Older fans may not follow hip-hop anymore, but love what made them fall in love with it. Both generations (get) exposed. Win win.”

Those major differences between younger and older fans were what was on Baldi’s mind when he was coming up with the idea for the tribute shows. “I think in hip-hop more than other music there’s a large generational divide, and we’re trying to make sure these artists continue to span over that divide by providing an outlet for people to experience their music live.”

Baldi also notes there’s an added bonus for the artists performing in such tribute shows. “These events help introduce people who don’t know about the scene to all the characters and artists involved in it.” This is because the people who don’t know Jesse Abraham or Deathrow Tull might be huge Outkast fans, go to an Outkast tribute show, and suddenly see all the talent their local hip-hop scene has to offer.

The one thing that’s imperative if an emcee is going to attempt a hip-hop cover is the same thing that’s imperative if an emcee is going to attempt to write a song of their own - they need to have the skills. “The skill of an emcee will allow him, or her, to do nearly anything they want,” explains Abraham. “If an emcee is remarkably talented, they could rap the alphabet and it would be dope.”

Rapping the alphabet might be considered a Sesame Street cover. If that’s the case, Big Bird better break out his shell toes and get ready to show some moves.

Story originally ran in the FairfieldWeekly.

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posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:35 AM  
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