Musicianship is defined as; the artistry in performing music. The technical and interpretive skills involved in singing or playing music. Hip-hop may be one of the only genres of music where musicianship is not a prerequisite for entrance or success. The average rapper comes from humble beginnings or poverty in some cases. Even DJ’s learn their craft doing house parties unless they’re taught by someone else. The idea of actually playing an instrument or going to school for music production or engineering rarely comes up. Two and turntables and a microphone? But if nearly all other genres maintain musicianship, why can’t hip-hop incorporate that more into the overall product? I’m not implying that we abandon the turntables, but haven’t we done everything else? Even if musicianship isn’t a priority from the inception of an artists introduction to hip-hop it can still be a part of the process. But for some reason its not the focal point unless you happen to be Nicolay or The Roots.
Technology has definitely played a significant part in this missing element. While its clearly advanced the business of making music, its obviously also created its fair share of Myspace artists. Certain artists who feel they can do this without regard for musicianship or this craft. If hip hop for dummies existed, they’d have the book. Whether its fruity loops, pro-tools or serato the technology has definitely made the music process/creation more seamless. But is the music really better or just being consumed at a higher rate? Live instrumentation has become more prevalent in hip-hop recordings. Even from a touring standpoint, the live band is becoming more commonplace also. I feel like it is getting better.
The divide in my opinion is that some people don’t see the importance of musicianship since hip-hop has thrived without it really incorporating live instruments for so long. When you factor the the profitability angle and plus cost of acquiring instruments and learning the technical skill, i think its a hard sell. There are definitely exceptions to the rule. If you’ve been classically trained like Questlove or the members of The Roots; it’s second nature. But when you’re a starving artist, hustling and trying to get your foot in the door the idea of going to school to learn music probably feels foreign.
It all comes to back to your motives for getting into music in the first place. Do you view music as a hustle or a craft? If you view it as a hustle your primary concern is profit rather than artistry. If you view it as a craft, musicianship is a necessary component to your art. In reality there are far more people that get into hip-hop because to them its a hustle, rather than a craft. But in the same breath, just because an artist has great musicianship doesn’t necessarily equate good art either. It’s still up to to the public to decide that. Arguments can definitely be made on both sides, but ultimately I view it like a career; your capacity to want to improve should be on-going. Even if someone didn’t get into hip-hop for all the right reasons doesn’t mean they can’t embrace this craft later on and seek to become better at it.