Thursday, November 18, 2010

November 18: Boogie Down Productions, "The Bridge Is Over"

Artist: Boogie Down Productions
Song: "The Bridge Is Over"
Album: Criminal Minded
Year: 1987

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While the progression and formation of most musical styles can easily be seen as an evolutionary process, there are a few moments in music history where due to a singular event, a new style was created.  These rare events, scattered across the entire history of music, are almost always seen "in the moment" as breakthrough events, and as the years pass, their importance becomes larger.  Case in point: throughout the early and mid-1980's, there was a battle of sorts being fought with words as to "where" one could call the specific "home" of hip-hop music.  In the end, it came down to two neighborhoods of New York City: Queens and The Bronx.  It was due to this feud that some of the most impressive tracks in hip-hop history were created, and one song and artist in particular almost single-handedly took the style from clever poetic rhyming to the more modern sense of the genre.  Though there were many influential hip-hop groups during this time period, there were few (if any) that carry the same respect and display of sheer talent that one finds within the music of Boogie Down Productions.  Taking the hip-hop formula and making far deeper and more socially aware songs than any of their peers, everyone from Public Enemy to Jurassic 5 owes much of their style to these pioneers.  It is also due to Boogie Down Productions that the idea of the "dis" track rose to prominence, and the genre simply would not exist as it does today without their groundbreaking 1987 song, "The Bridge Is Over."

Quite literally, every aspect of Boogie Down Productions stands as absolutely legendary today, and one would be hard pressed to find a more innovative and complete DJ, producer, and writer than one finds in the late Scott LaRock.  On tracks like "The Bridge Is Over," it becomes clear that he has an uncanny understanding of how to present a powerful, unforgettable musical background without the music becoming overwhelming, as well as leaving more than enough space for the emcees to perform.  On this track, LaRock deploys a classic break-beat, and in many ways, hip-hop does not get any more pure than one finds on this song.  Furthermore, there is really only one sample being used, and it is more of an interpretation than the more "standard" lifting of a previously recorded songs' loop.  The music is actually KRS-One playing the progression from Super Cat's "Boops" on a studio piano, and it is looped throughout the entire song.  Quite literally, this is all there is to the music on "The Bridge Is Over," and while it is certainly a sparse arrangement, Scott LaRock is able to make it more powerful and mesmerizing than many later producers who felt the need to "fill" the entire track with sound.  In many ways, this shows the true power of hip-hop in its most basic form, and it leaves nothing in the way of the vocals, which are clearly the focal point of the track.

Standing as the other half of what is without question the most influential duo in the entire history of hip-hop music, one would be very hard pressed to find a more impressive and complete emcee than one finds in the iconic KRS-One.  Whether it is his voice or the intense lyrics he brings, his clear and concise voice quickly became the blueprint for nearly every other rapper.  On "The Bridge Is Over," KRS-One brings a steady rhyming pace, and this is likely due to the fact that with the content he was bringing, he wanted to be sure that every word could be clearly heard.  Though the sound of his voice is fantastic, "The Bridge Is Over" is all about the lyrics he brings, and there are few more potent and destructive "dis" tracks that have ever been recorded.  The aim of his attack is clear from the onset, as in the first few lines, KRS-One states, "...ya can't sound like Shan or the one Marley, because Shan and Marley Marl dem a'rhymin like they gay..."  The entire song is an all-out verbal assault on the emcees from the Queensbridge projects, and at every turn, KRS-One is either destroying them as rappers, or making it clear that it was The Bronx from whence "real" hip-hop emerged.  Serving as one of the most harsh, yet brilliant lines in history, KRS-One absolutely destroys the pair during the final verse when he states, "'d better change what comes out your speaker, you're better off talkin' 'bout your whack Puma sneaker, 'cause Bronx created hip-hop, Queens will only get dropped..."  In both how he delivers each word of this verbal shellacking, as well as the content therein, KRS-One makes no apologies, and in the process, he forever changed the entire face of hip-hop music.

Though it is nothing short of a classic, "The Bridge Is Over" was one of a handful of songs off of Criminal Minded that ushered in the more aggressive, almost hardcore style of rapping, and it is this change that would create the environment for the next two decades of hip-hop music.  With "The Bridge Is Over," KRS-One made the style of bragging about ones' neighborhood "acceptable" in "commercial" hip-hop, and one can find countless followers of this style throughout the decades that came after.  Yet one must also note that even when he is at his most fierce, KRS-One never resorts to cursing on the track, and this aspect proves that as was the case with a majority of early emcees, the "true" talent was in finding more creative ways to express a feeling, without resorting to the "easy" way out.  Due to this, every line on "The Bridge Is Over" is extremely potent, and KRS-One never lets up the attack in even the slightest way.  Combined with the equally powerful, yet almost inexplicably sparse musical arrangement from Scott LaRock, and the song was an instant classic, retaining its power more than two decades later.  In reality, the song served its purpose, as those whom it attacked were rarely heard from after its release, and to this day, most critics point to The Bronx as the "true" birthplace of hip-hop music.  Quite literally perfect in every aspect, there are simply no other songs in the entire history of hip-hop that are as flawless, nor as pivotal to the development of the genre as one finds in Boogie Down Productions' iconic 1987 single, "The Bridge Is Over."

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