In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”
It is easy to understand how someone could find a pre-school appropriate cover of “Big Pimpin” musically lacking. By stripping all lyrical content from hip-hop and infusing a heavy dose of xylophone, artistic value becomes shaky. While this style of cover might fit well in a high school talent show, superficially they offer little more than a tight chuckle and warrant slightly more than a participatory prize.
So, why are these covers being defended?
Most of us are familiar with the Mozart Effect – the notion that classical tunes blasted at the womb while there’s a baby in it will pay off in cerebral dividends later in life. Despite the humorous imagery of headphones sweetly delivering Brahms to a women’s enlarged midsection, it is altogether unfounded. However, it has been found that introducing the tender developing minds of infants to a litany of melodies does yield results. By providing a child with as diverse a musical library as possible, you encourage cerebral development. Children exposed to a diverse music selection see on average higher IQs, improved spatial-temporal skills, and ultimately higher academic test scores later in life. And a proper musical library is not complete without some Hip-Hop selections.
Jammy Jams – Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems (Notorious B.I.G cover)
Rockabye Baby – Big Pimpin’ (Jay-Z Cover)
Parents: when designing a proper library for your child, it’s reasonable that you’ll want to include the greatest sample of a Diana Ross song ever, found in Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems.” Granted, some parents might find Biggie’s message slightly inappropriate. Even more would be less inclined to introduce their diaper-clad compadre to the experience of “thug em, fuck em, love em, leave, because I don’t fucking need em” a la Jay-Z‘s “Big Pimpin’.”
Rockabye Baby – All Falls Down (Kanye West Cover)
Well, why not simply listen to an instrumental track?
Of course! Instrumental tracks strip away some of the graphic content and leave the full integrity of the song intact. Well… not quite. One of the beautiful traditions in hip-hop is the delicate balance between backing track and vocals. For instance, Kanye West’s “All Falls Down” is less an inspirational summer track and frankly a bit dull without vocals, even with the Lauryn Hill hook.
This is no fault of Mr. West’s. The intention of this song was not to be dissected into separate parts. Luckily, there exists an alternative – a cover appropriate for those with (or without) object permanence that is designed to be heard sans voice. A lullaby cover!
So, if they can deliver an alternative so well, what’s the problem with these covers? Well, the main obstacle is the initial comedic barrier. For some, Hip-Hop is exemplified by glamour, women, and hetero-normative displays of wealth. Hip-Hop, though, truly is a genre designed to be a platform to discuss serious ambitions, polarizing issues, and the common struggle of a people. Being a stylistically unique genre that seeks to provide a voice to the voiceless brings a hefty challenge in making a lullaby cover; retain enough of the original to be legitimate, uncompromising and age-appropriate.
Really though, what is Hip-Hop? Nas has stated that he considers Queen’s stadium-rock anthem “We Will Rock You” a Hip-Hop track. In the magazine Above Ground, Tyler Hakes muses that Hip-Hop is less about a set of elements and is more about who produces the music. He takes the stance that Hip-Hop is the culture of the underprivileged – the challenge in Hip-Hop is creating music from nothing. If finding expression and beauty in rare places is the focus, these lullaby covers are a new vanguard of Hip-Hop intention.
Jammy Jams – Ready or Not (The Fugees Cover)
If you are still on the fence, consider Jammy Jams or Rockabye Baby. As the pillars of lullaby covers, they offer the gambit from Coolio to Jay-Z, 2Pac to Eminem. The Jammy Jams album Once Upon a Rhyme 2 is a prime example of the quality and range of these covers – in particular the Fugees‘ song “Ready or Not”; the depth of feeling, contrasted against the simplicity of the xylophone, keeps faithful to the original. The pain each member of the band was experiencing is conveyed to the mature listener, while the charming minor tones are an experience for the swaddled listener.
Rockabye Baby – Empire State of Mind (Jay-Z Cover)
Another cover that manages to remains on point is Rockabye Baby’s cover of “Empire State of Mind.” While a hearty reverence for New York is the brunt of this tune it can be boiled down to something much more universal – Joy. While not every (or maybe any) toddler can appreciate the gritty complexity of the Big Apple, they can take part in something joyful without issue. Rockabye Baby boils the tune down into something blissful. What’s more, the grit and landmarks might be removed, but the reminiscence of the struggle remains fresh.
There is no overabundance of lullaby Hip-Hop covers. And for this reason, the ones currently out there are done well, hitting their mark nearly every time. At the end of the day, creativity and the voice of a people can be conveyed even to the youngest among us. Hip-Hop shows its universal nature in these lullabies, as an art form driven by emotion and simplicity above all else.