After his well deserved Mercury Prize nomination at the end of last year the BBC gave Ghostpoet a chance to, track-by-track, talk through every moment of his debut album. It was fascinating.
Recently I’ve noticed a slate of artists starting to provide similar accompanying commentary tracks. Oddisee’s first solo release, People Hear What They See, comes with a few bonus tracks featuring Oddisee explaining the method and concepts behind a few of the single worthy beats. Elsewhere, Rhymesayers recently released fifteen videos – one for each track – of Aesop Rock breaking down tracks off his new album, Skelethon (Although I’m not entirely sure what I think of these coming out before the album actually drops).
To the well trained ear these mostly just affirm what you have already deciphered from a few repeat listens. Albeit mixed in with the stories and origins behind every track. It’s still nice for even the more hardened hip-hop fan to get a little insight into tracks, but I don’t think these commentaries should be aimed at them.
How many alternative hip-hop fans got into their genre after listening to readily available mainstream rap before they figured it all out? I know I did
We’re always going to be fighting an up-hill battle with any form of progressive hip-hop and understanding concepts in tracks – unless you’re giving the lyrics your full attention – isn’t always as obvious. Sure we definitely shouldn’t insult the audience with dumbed down explanations of what every word is in the hip-hop lexicon.
But rappers constantly use complex metaphors & similes to keep the storytelling and concepts interesting and these can give casual listeners a barrier to entry. Face it, there is a learning curve with hip-hop. How many alternative hip-hop fans got into their genre after listening to readily available mainstream rap before they figured it all out? I know I did.
Commentaries, track breakdowns or behind the music pieces – or what ever you want to call them, they keep the artists honest, and they also allow the listener honesty, understanding & greater appreciation. Or as YouTuber Ktingles6 commented on an Aesop Rock track breakdown put it “sometimes I enjoy listening to my favourite artists just talk more than listening to their music, it’s the person behind the art that makes you appreciate it far more”. Good point.