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Studio E • Thursday evening, 7:30–10:30

Rhythm and Meter in Popular Genres

Kyle Adams (Indiana University), Chair

Ben Duinker (McGill University) 

The Emancipation of Metric Displacement Dissonance in Hip-Hop Music

Mitchell Ohriner (University of Denver) 

(Why) Does Talib Kweli Rhyme Off-Beat?

Robert Komaniecki (Indiana University) 

Analyzing Collaborative Flow in Rap Music

Stephen Hudson (Northwestern University) 

Meter Without a Fixed Cycle: Headbanging 3+3+2 as a Metering Construction

Abstracts

The Emancipation of Metric Displacement Dissonance in Hip-Hop Music

Ben Duinker (McGill University)

This paper investigates metric displacement dissonance (Harald Krebs, 2009) between hip-hop music’s main textural layers: flow (the rapped vocals) and beat (the instrumental track). In hip-hop music, such dissonance occurs when syntactic units of the flow and metric units of the beat exhibit groupings that are out of phase with each other. The analyses put forward in this paper suggest that the perception of displacement dissonance in hip-hop music can involve two features. First, while the dissonance is often easy to identify by ear, it is not always clear which textural layer is referential and which is dissonant. Second, because of musical attributes common to hip-hop such as looped harmonic and metric units, displacement dissonances might remain unresolved or behave inconsistently in their resolutions.

I model hypothetical hearings of displacement dissonance for songs by A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, and Kool Keith. These models demonstrate that multiple hearings of meter are possible when the dissonance remains in flux and/or does not resolve. In the context of electronic dance music, Mark Butler (2006) describes the possibility of multiple hearings and non-resolution of dissonance respectively as interpretive multiplicity and the emancipation of metric dissonance. By showing how displacement dissonance between hip-hop music’s textural layers engages with these concepts, this paper demonstrates the value of studying musical meter by situating the listening experience as the object of analysis.

(Why) Does Talib Kweli Rhyme Off-Beat?

Mitchell Ohriner (University of Denver)

Phonology and music theory address rhythm in starkly different terms. While both accounts treat rhythm hierarchically, authors generally agree that music’s durations are periodic and speech’s durations are not. Because they address distinct domains, these accounts can remain both incompatible and useful within their scope. Yet this separation is untenable for the rapping voice, which must be comprehensible as speech and musically compelling. A rapper whose durations stray too far from periodic organization hazards accusations of rapping “off-beat.” The emcee Talib Kweli’s work has long attracted such accusations; this presentation contextualizes those critiques by examining his rhythm with greater precision, documenting specific practices (e.g., phase shift and swing) emblematic of musical rhythm and the exploring the limits of those practices in his output.

Addressing the title’s question, I compute the non-alignment between a phrase of rapping and its metric structure. Further, I characterize the extent to which Afro-diasporic practices of phase shifting and swing explain that non-alignment. I then define “off-beat” rapping as delivery with non-alignment not attributable to these practices. Documenting both on- and off-beat rapping in Kweli, I propose that he rhymes off-beat to diversify the rhythmic surface and affiliate with hip-hop’s aesthetic priority of rupture. Beyond rap delivery, these syllabic displacements—erased in conventional music notation—pervade sung performances in other genres as well. Therefore, gradating “off-beat” and “on-beat” delivery could enhance analyses of rhythm in other spoken or sung musical performances, for speech and song are not so easily distinguished rhythmically.

Analyzing Collaborative Flow in Rap Music

Robert Komaniecki (Indiana University)

The “guest artist” is a ubiquitous feature of contemporary rap music. In fact, each of the top ten best-selling rap albums of 2015 featured multiple appearances from guest rappers, despite each being released under the name of a solo artist. In recent years, rap music has been subjected to a steadily-increasing number of analytical inquiries, spearheaded by scholars such as Krims, Adams, Williams, and Ohriner. In this presentation, I expand upon Adams’s “metrical techniques of flow” (essentially, all aspects of a rapper’s delivery that can be readily notated or measured) in order to demonstrate the quantifiable impact that a lead rapper can have on his or her guest artists.

Transcriptions and analyses of rap tracks featuring guest artists elucidate the ways in which a lead rapper’s delivery shapes that of their guest. Various aspects of flow—such as rhythmic cells, rhyme scheme, and end-rhyme technique—are imposed upon guest rappers. In rare cases, a guest artist will not only appropriate aspects of the lead rapper’s flow, but contribute their own developments as well.

In this presentation, I demonstrate ways in which the influence of a track’s main rapper can be heard on his or her featured artists—including intra-track cohesion between rhyme schemes, rhythmic cells, and use of multi-syllabic rhymes. Through this analysis, we can not only uncover quantifiable aspects of individual rappers’ characteristic styles, but also develop a deeper understanding of musical depictions of collaboration and identity in rap music.

Meter Without a Fixed Cycle: Headbanging 3+3+2 as a Metering Construction

Stephen Hudson (Northwestern University)

Meter is traditionally described as a cyclical system of isochronous pulse layers, but I advocate for also theorizing meter as a patchwork of recognized rhythms. This recognition can come from having heard a passage before, or from a familiar “metering construction,” a generalized pattern of rhythmic motion that can be recognized in unfamiliar music. This paper demonstrates this perspective by analyzing headbanging as an embodied practice of metrical interpretations, and describing a construction of phrase-ending 332-family rhythms in metal music. 

Headbanging is active metering (Butler 2006), a process of creating beats rather than a sympathetic response to beats that are “already there.” Feeling rhythm as a headbanger involves identifying a way of nodding the head that is a workable interpretation of heard sounds. 332 rhythms are traditionally described (and notated) as syncopations against 4/4. One particular drumkit setting of phrase-ending 332 rhythms is associated with headbanging to the 332 instead of a regular quarter- or half-note pulse. I argue that this metering construction briefly suspends or replaces 4/4 time, offering another familiar way of interpreting rhythm to headbangers. Unlike some other uses of 332 rhythms in metal music, the association between this drumkit setting and this way of moving is stable enough that if used “out of phase” it can displace or reset a 4/4 “background” meter. The 332 construction is not a rhythmic dissonance, but a border in a patchwork of recognized rhythms, a moment of transition between two metering constructions.