Read In Your Language

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Turning Point: "Planet Rock" by The Soul Sonic Force

"Planet Rock" is more than just a song. it is a synthesizing point in the world of music. it's importance in the arena of music in general, and in hip hop in particular, cannot be understated. it's importance and details that contribute to that importance can only be overlooked.

when i 1st heard this blaring out of a neighbor's house, i remember it as the most amazing thing i had ever heard. i often explain to a lot of the new musicians that i can appreciate how the music that they hear now a days affects them.  by that i mean, it'll go on to be a part of the soundtrack of their lives forever. but i always tell them.... imagine hearing something for the 1st time, and before you heard it, IT DID NOT EXIST. that best describes what it felt like to hear this song for the 1st time.

this song is important because it is the first hip hop song to really incorporate the entire ideal of reinterpretation, which is what i assert hip hop to be; a culture based around the notion of reinterpreting ANY aesthetic into the hip hop form without changing the fundamental structure of the form it incorporates. Planet Rock is the first premiere example of this ideology.

produced by Arthur Baker (who went on to remix "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cindi Lauper and "Dancing In The Dark" by Bruce Springsteen) under the direction of Afika Bambaataa, took elements of Kraftwerk's "Numbers" and ''Trans Europe Express" in the same way that other rappers of the day were taking live bands and replaying disco classics and popular hits. this move, also aided by the influence of Yellow Magic Orchestra, added the first international perspectives to be redefined into the hip hop style in a music production. this same approach was already being practiced by Bambaata in his DJ sets, primarily in the South Bronx, NY, as Bam was widely accepted as "The King Of Records" he is responsible for introducing the more esoteric break beats into hip hop's permanent discography. he's the original 'crate digger'. the song was named "Planet Rock" to reflect that global perspective, and was largely responsible for the culture's first introduction to many countries around the world.
this song is also equally influenced by the spaced-out musical stylings of George Clinton, as can be seen by the video below. the whole look and feel of the Soul Sonic Force carries on the Clinton tradition, as Bam himself always announces his musicality as an extension of the funk. because of this association, this becomes a direct influence from James Brown, the originator of the funk, and the influence on artists such as Jimi Hendrix (who played with Brown for a while) and Bootsy Collins, the actual bassist for Brown and then Clinton. all of these different musical directions sought to converge themselves in this one master work of modern American music redefinition.

even album covers had a distinct Clinton influence

it's also important to note that this song was edited by Jellybean Benitez, the dance music legend behind Madonna's "Borderline" and remixer from everything from "Love is A Battlefield" by Pat Benatar  to "We Are The World" by Quincy Jones, Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson. his association would go on to be a further influence in the life of the song.

it is also important to mention that this song was mastered by the legendary Herb Powers at the equally legendary Frankford Wayne mastering studios. both deserve a post of their own.

"Planet Rock" became the launching point for an number of sub-genres of music, including the Miami Bass sound, made famous by Luke Skyywalker, (one of the earliest independent rap music executives, who, in my opinion, doesn't get his just due in that regard), with its similar quad music, made famous by DJ Magic Mike. it is also important to note that the origins of New Orleans 'bounce' music is traced to the song "Drag Rap" also known as "Trigger Man" by The Showboys. this group is actually a crew from Queens, NY. their use of the Roland TR-808 in that song had a major influence on the sound and production style of Southern rap music, and is directly influenced by the use of that same drum machine in "Planet Rock".

the song took on a new role as the launching point of the dance music style known as freestyle, with the 1st track of the genre actually being made from leftover tracks from the actual "Planet Rock" session! the resulting song, "Play At Your Own Risk", by the Planet Patrol, became a launching pad for the genre that was highlighted right alongside djing, breakin', rapping and graffiti in the movie "Beat Street." it was a vital part of the New York music scene when the movie was being made and released in 1985, and included another early star of the genre, Brenda K. Starr, who gave Mariah Carey her start in the music industry.

the genre went on to become predominantly Latin influenced under the guidance of Benitez as well as a few others. the song "Let The Music Play" by Shannon, which was profiled here previously, was also considered a part of this genre. the song featured here by Lil Suzy is considered a freestyle classic. it borrows directly from "Planet Rock". modern forms of freestyle music are echoed in songs like NSync's "Tearing Up My Heart", which clearly has freestyle elements, as well as much of the music that's considered 'the Miami sound', such as Flo-Rida's "Low", which has the same exact drum pattern as "Planet Rock".

today' music production reflect the influence of this electro-funk pioneered by Bambaata, including the use of dance music elements and instruments. today, it's nord leads and soft synths, whereas they used a Prophet Keyboard and a MicroMoog; both were and are elements of dance music, and both are influenced by European dance music styles. the Roland TR-808 clap, made famous by "Planet Rock", is ubiquitous in today's music (as heard in "Low"), and the TR-808 kick is inseparable from the sound of modern dance and club music. even though Yellow Magic Orchestra was the 1st to use a TR-808 in a commercial release, "Planet Rock" made it famous and forever a part of our musical palette.

it is important that we always have an understanding of what comes before us. it's the only way to really imagine what can possibly be done next. uninformed people, who think they are creating something new, inadvertently end up repeating what's already been done before them. this is the antithesis of progress, and conspires to create a bland, stale state of creative output. people who are steady in study, careful to care, wind up making the classics that endure the test of time and influences generations of musicians, dancers and artists, just like Bambaata did.

this is his legacy.

 it is also yours.

 if you want it...
The Soul Sonic Force


I really enjoyed the history of this material and would love to have more of it. Truly the writer did his or her research and put together a great piece of reading material, Thanks!

thank you Fatima for your feedback. it's always appreciated around here. please feel free to stop thru anytime. there's a few other posts that might interest you as well and could probably use a female's perspective. in the rotating window on the main page, click the Mickey Mouse (who's The Mack?) and check that one out. it's a bit racy, but it's totally honest.

thanks again!


Wish this could be posted on every hiphop site so these youngns who have no respect or regard for the legends can finally see that they are just doing what has already been done. They swear they on some next shit, talkin bout "why wont yall let thes old ass niggas go away? Its time for a new generation to take over" and "Why do todays rappers keep bringing up these pre/early 90's rappers when they are way better then them?"

No idea is original. Just some have had better success with said ideas then others.

thanks DV...

and ur absolutely right... there is no such thing as an original idea, but there a such thing an original perspective.

it's the reason why Biggie, Nas, Raekwon & Ghost, and Mobb Deep can all drop in the same year, pretty much discussing the same thing, and it all be so different. there i go referencing 90s shit again. but it's the truth anyhow...

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