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Culture Wars: Rap Vs Motown

I was in a discussion with a young acquaintance recently - the topic, modern “Rap” music versus the old, Motown classics. While he waxed eloquent about the sheer relevance, style, force, of these modern gutter poets, I countered with a selection of the finest of Motown. “How,” I posed to him, “is today’s stuff ‘better’ than this?”

Apparently the jury is out on that; he still hasn’t convincingly answered me.

So we have someone “relevant” such as, say, Nikki Minaj, with her stunning and incisive lyrics (this is the chorus to the song, “Stupid Hoe”) –

“You a stupid hoe, you a, you a stupid hoe [x3]

You a stupid hoe, (yeah) you a, you a stupid hoe

You a stupid hoe, you a, you a stupid hoe (stupid, stupid)

You a stupid hoe, you a, you a stupid hoe (you stupid, stupid)

You a stupid hoe, you a, you a stupid hoe (you stupid, stupid)

You a stupid hoe, (yeah) you a, you a stupid hoe (you stupid, stupid)”

To be compared to, say, “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder –

“Very superstitious, writings on the wall,

Very superstitious, ladders bout' to fall,

Thirteen month old baby, broke the lookin' glass

Seven years of bad luck, the good things in your past”

When you believe in things that you don't understand,

Then you suffer,

Superstition ain't the way”

I rest my case.

There was a running joke back when, that the President was caught singing the (wrong) lyrics to this song, “R-E-S-P-E-C-K, that is what I want to say.” And he wasn’t pleased when he was told that he’d been singing it wrong for all of these years.  Hey, “smartest man in the room,” y’all.

Aretha Franklin – “Respect”

Their 1964 signature song.  The idea for it came to band member William “Mickey” Stevenson from watching people in Detroit frolic in the water from opened fire hydrants.  They seemed to be dancing on water, he said.

Martha and the Vandellas – “Dancin’ in the Streets”

The lead single from Wonder’s Talking Book album, and a number one hit on the charts for 1972.  As previously said, these are actual, honest-to-God, lyrics.

Stevie Wonder – “Superstition”

Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. Originally released by the Temptations in 1971, this version (the act’s only hit song) rose to number three on the charts.

Undisputed Truth – “Smiling Faces Sometimes”

This rose to number one on both the UK and US charts for 1971. Written in homage of the Opera, Pagliacci, about clowns who hide their fear and dismay behind empty smiles. It was also reprised shortly thereafter in a slightly different form by the song, “Backstabbers” by the O’Jays.

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles – “The Tears of a Clown”

With a blatant anti-Vietnam War theme this track rose to number one on the 1970 charts.

Edwin Starr – “War (What is it Good For?)”

Eerie, I know I am actually getting older. I remember seeing this on TV, in a Junior High School art class, in the early '70s.

Jackson 5 – “ABC”

This was the Temptations' first number one hit, and became their signature song.

Temptations – “My Girl”

This was the second of five consecutive songs that the Supremes would have go number one.

The Supremes – “Baby Love”

Instrumentals by The Funk Brothers and the ax solo by Wild Bill Moore. Yes, this is a song about the environment.

Marvin Gaye – “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)”