It’s Still Rock N’ Roll To Me
During the 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony Ice Cube, founding member of N.W.A., addressed accusations that hip-hop music doesn’t have a place in Rock and Roll’s Hall of Fame during that group’s induction. He was eloquently quoted as saying, “Rock and roll is not an instrument. Rock and roll isn't even a style of music. Rock and roll is a spirit that's been going since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, R&B, heavy metal, punk rock and, yes, hip-hop. What connects us all is that spirit”.
Ice Cube’s sentiment is truly profound and really gets us to the heart of the matter. Rock and roll is an attitude, it’s a position you take on issues and the world at large. Rock and roll is a passion. Two guitars, a drummer, a bass player and stacks of Marshalls makes not “rock and roll”.
Rock and roll is how you carry yourself, how you present yourself to the world. That’s not to say it’s about fashion or posing. Frankly, that’s quite un-rock and roll! It’s a about attitude and outlook, it’s about soul…with perhaps a pinch of subversive-ness for added flavor. Rock and roll is a voice. It’s 3 ½ minutes where you have the room and you get to put forth your thoughts, your emotions. It could be Brian Wilson challenging us to wonder “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” or Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five giving us a “Message”. Whether you choose to do this with three chords and feedback or a turntable or a saxophone or a notebook and a stopwatch…it’s all rock and roll!
N.W.A. has every right to accept and bask in the accolade that is induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They took the circumstances surrounding them, the injustice, the violence, the inequality and likelihood of never rising beyond their neighborhood, and reported on it and pushed back against it in the process, not unlike the Sex Pistols did a decade before an entire continent away. John Lydon & co. were “punk rock” but it’s all just rock and roll. Punk rock too is an attitude, a credo of “we’re not going to take it anymore and we’re saying so NOW!”. The original punkers forced their instruments to speak in their language, albeit sometimes crudely, and express their anger and ferocity. N.W.A did precisely the same thing. They used the streets as their inspiration, microphones to amplify their rhymed truths and the backbeat of looped and scratched disco and R&B records as their canvas. N.W.A. used a turntable in much the same way Greg Ginn used guitar feedback to announce that Black Flag was in the building. John Coltrane’s compositions may have been predominantly wordless but the emotion solicited when he blew his sax conjures the same passion and power N.W.A. did when they spit their rhymes. Truth…power…feeling! They weren’t Elvis or Led Zeppelin or even the Sex Pistols, but isn’t that what makes it so great? Isn’t THAT what makes it rock and roll!?!
Rock and roll is in your heart and often, for many of us, it’s what keeps it beating. So, when you visit your favorite record shop you can make a pass through the jazz section, pick up some blues, spruce up your punk rock collection…but it’s all ROCK N’ ROLL to me!