Controversial Musician Says “Calling Rap Artists Musicians and Rap, Music, is Confusing
WASHINGTON March 1, 2006 In response to the perception that rapping is musical and that rap
artists are musicians, jazz musician Gregory Charles Royal, formerly with the Grammy Award winning
Duke Ellington Orchestra, and the artistic director of the American Youth Symphony (AYS), says the
perception is a falsehood and is thwarting educational efforts.
Royal, an outspoken critic, says there is a “stealth crisis” in this country whereby young kids cannot
discern between the melodic tones in music and the spoken artform of rapping. He says the issue is
further complicated by the pervasiveness of electronic sampling in the MTV/Hip Hop culture where
“the definition of music and musical performance are now totally distorted because of this new
Royal’s comments took place during the AYS Plight of American Music Initiative Conference Panel in
Washington, DC , which included Royal; Travis Bowerman, Washington Performing Arts Society;
Ashley Gauthier an attorney with US News World Report; Ava Spece, DC Youth Orchestra Program;
and Malcolm Inniss, Radio One, and was a feature story on WTTG FOX 5. The panel was convened
to address the future of instrumental talent development and patronage by the MTV / Hip Hop
Says Royal, “I personally love a lot of rap and respect the skill involved in programming, but its not
about judging an artform. This is a game versus sport argument where a distinction must be made
because lil’ Johnny thinks his teacher is on crack for asking him to study the trumpet all day when he
could just drop his flow in the studio and get paid.”
Royal says proving that rapping is not musical (not the music which plays behind rap)
is simple because its process is speech-like and rhythmic as opposed to melodic .
“Tapping, other dancing, sports and limericks use rhythm. Rhythm is but one component of music.
However, melody, which is defined as tones and rhythm, is inherent only to music. Rappers are poets
and rhythmic wordsmiths. Likewise, it would sound odd if a singer said she was rapping simply
because her words rhymed.” Royal further says that pushing the button to start a music sample is
“not musical performance for the most obvious of reasons”.
AYS is currently negotiating to produce an American Idol-like show that will feature young
instrumentalists in late 2006.
(A classical music report which addresses this subject can be viewed/reprinted at the AYS website