Break It Down – Rihanna
To the guy who lambasted me with n-bombs and b-words for giving props to Rihanna on Twitter the other day. Other than the fact you’re a fuckwit in the most general sense, you’re also wholly and specifically ignorant about all that is good in this world, IMO (In Meg’s Opinion).
In musicology there is this notion of bioacoustics. These are musical memes that in some way correlate with our biology. A biopulse would emulate a heartbeat, for example. Bioacoustic relationships with music are seen to create universal responses in the listener. These can be emotional responses/interpretations of the music, or they can be space-time relations. Some memes do not emulate our biology, but they take on the same universality and work in reverse: They start to prompt our biology.
Am I losing you? Do you care? I’m talking about dancing, motherfuckers.
What I’m saying is head banging is not just a sub-cultural phenomenon. It is a musical semiosis — a human response to the musical meme of a straight quarter drum line with a backbeat accent on the second and fourth of a bar.
Some of these things are hard-wired in us now. Years of cultural conditioning make up those formulaic hits we can’t help but shuffle along to. Years of cultural conditioning create a barrier of resistance against the mainstream embracing experimental music. You get the picture.
There are no three words in my language sweeter than “break it down”. There is no sentiment more appealing to me than a total roll back of all extraneous elements to make way for a prominent drum line or total stillness. That shit is the Old Testament of my most cherished memories.
Break. It. Down: A flashing gateway en route to the drop, the double drop, the triple off-beat delay, the TOTAL EFFING BREAKDOWN. This is a summoner of pure anticipation. This is musical semiosis. It is the charlatan before the shitstorm.
The drop is not exclusive to one genre of music. The drop does not suggest one sub-culture over another. The drop is a universal meme, and it has attained universal status. On a dance floor, the drop is for hands in the air. At the filthiest backwater pub, the drop is for beers in the air.
I live for that drop. All through my semiotics studies, I was preoccupied with the effect of percussive space. Cadence. The difference between a snare on the pulse, and a snare slightly after the pulse. Do you know how significant that difference can be? It can be massive, it can change the entire tone of a song, from sugary, memorable, pleasant (resolving) to tense, uncomfortable, anxious (unresolved). It can form a ripple effect that unmistakably renovates every aspect of the music. There is a whole world of difference hidden at the center of a sixteenth beat, is what I’m saying. It’s important. It matters.
Much of the time, that’s what music boils down to for me: cadence, rhythmic texture, the temporal and kinaesthetic. It’s not just percussion, it’s all percussive elements. Elocution, effects, the entire bottom end— doesn’t matter if it is a riff or a tom tom, doesn’t matter if it’s Jay Z or Lou Reed, doesn’t matter if we’re thinking synchronics or diachronics. That is what I listen for and what catches my breath.
So rap and its kin are my promised land. They are all about complex rhythmic structure, syncopated after-beats and big, stalling one drops.
They break it down. And if you’d ever been in the fray, if you’d ever stood on the frontlines as Nas or Saul Williams or whoever you want spat a frenetic cadence at you, as the entire crowd pulsed with their reverse biorhythm—all limbs and thrusting hips, all popping shoulders, sweat stains and hands in the air—if you’d ever felt the room stop, just stop mid-ripple and curl up together, suspended in tormented hunger for what comes next, just waiting as the whole thing gets very quiet and that eighth beat drop drags out for a whole bar, for ten bars, for seventy billion years, and then explodes in a supernova of thick, dirty synths and drums that kick and howl their way out of the silence, then you’d like rap too.
So here’s a tip, to everyone who has rolled their eyes at me, scoffed, nodded smugly to themselves and so on. To all the indie obscurists and the little hipsters so vulnerable to social promises of music esoterica: Take it to the bridge and break it down (READ: eat a dick).