Friday, November 19, 2010

Let the Horns Blow

In years past the use of horns on a hiphop track (either sampled or live) was the recipe for instant success, but over the past decade or so the soundscape to our treasured music form has been noticeably absent of those trusty trumpets and saxophones that were omnipresent in the 80s and much of the 90s.

From Public Enemy's signature wailing, looped high-pitched horns found on classics such as Don't Believe the Hype and Rebel Without a Pause to Big Daddy Kane's more subtle brass sounds on Smooth Operator and Young Gifted and Black, you couldn't find an album without at least a few songs that prominently featured horns.

But now, what was once the calling card of Pete Rock, the Beatnuts and Large Professor (and others) has now become a lost art.

Instead, the horns were seemingly replaced by hard drums (not necessarily a bad thing) as well as synths, which admirably simulate horns but unfortunately lack the desired effect created in the past. The result was, ironically, and still is, the music being popularized beyond belief while at the same time losing much of its authenticity and so-called “realness” on which the music was originally based.

But certain producers have seemingly made a recent effort to bring back the horns in a major way, showcasing how the addition of one or more brass instruments can significantly liven up any song while simultaneously paying homage to their predecessors, thus revitalizing the soundtrack to my formative years. It’s refreshing.

We’re not quite back in mid-90s mode, but with the below showings from the past few years, it seems the hiphop horn is making a serious comeback.

Significant recent contributions have come from unexpected sources, Young Buck and Lil' Wayne, as well as from the usual suspects like Freddie Foxxx and 9th Wonder.

None of these songs are popular by any means, but the vast range of styles each rapper has shows no one is immune to the magic horns create on a good, solid hiphop track. Hell, even Sheek Louch got in on the fun on his recent mixtape with his reworking of the Jungle Brothers 20-year-old classic The Promo.

Hopefully this is a sign of things to come and producers are bringing it back to the essence, as music has always been a cyclical art.

Here are but a few examples of what the game’s been missing, in no particular order:

Digable Planets - Rebirth of Slick
Uploaded by oublierleracismeskyblog. - Music videos, artist interviews, concerts and more.

Honorable mention:

Surprisingly much of the material from many of the game’s more celebrated producers -- Dilla and Dr. Dre immediately come to mind -- is absent of horns.

I know I forgot plenty of examples.

What are your favorite hiphop songs -- new or old -- that feature live or sampled horns?

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