Something Real: Rap, Resistance, and the Music of the Soulquarians
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From 1997-2002, a loose collective of hip hop and R&B musicians known as The Soulquarians collaborated to produce numerous award-winning and critically-acclaimed albums. Drawn together by the heady atmosphere of collaboration with creative, like-minded peers, they were driven by a goal to create alternative sounds and representations in black music. This project has two primary goals: to historicize the collaboration of the Soulquarians and to identify and analyze aspects of their music that situated it in opposition to commercially dominant hip hop of its day. To do so, I perform close listening and analysis of recordings, interviews, liner notes, album and concert reviews, and articles on the Soulquarians and their work from contemporary print media, and draw from biographies and autobiographies of Soulquarians artists. This project contributes to music scholarship in three primary ways. First, I utilize an innovative technique to visually analyze microtiming in the groundbreaking grooves of J Dilla and D'Angelo. Using this technique, I precisely identify distinguishing timing features in drums and bass, and make them visible to the reader. By contextualizing these findings within previous scholarship on rhythm in African American music performance, I fill a gap in scholarship on groove, which has not yet described the variety of these influential rhythms. Second, I compile information from a variety of sources (web, print, liner notes, interviews) on the Soulquarians into one location. This produces a fuller picture of the collaboration than has previously been available, and facilitates access to a breadth of information on individual Soulquarians artists, and the collective. Third, I identify several musical traits that resulted from the collaborative nature of the Soulquarians’ work habits, including specific commonalities between the grooves of J Dilla and D'Angelo, and the use in Badu’s music of imitative strategies pioneered by The Roots. This presents a richer picture of artists’ working practices than is typically advanced by journalism and scholarship on hip hop. Because cooperative aspects of the Soulquarians’ working methods also characterize music communities more broadly, this description of their collaboration may serve as a corrective to popular but misguided notions of sole authorship in popular music.