And Finally Artist News Awards Beef Of The Week

CMU Beef Of The Week #301: Gene Simmons v NWA

By | Published on Friday 15 April 2016

Gene Simmons

This week’s beef is essentially a prolonged game of ‘yes it is/no it isn’t’, perpetuated by two men not keen on letting anyone else have the last word. It’s basically that old tedious argument, which we’re amazingly still having, over what constitutes ‘proper’ music.

In an interview with Rolling Stone last month, Gene Simmons said: “I am looking forward to the death of rap. I’m looking forward to music coming back to lyrics and melody, instead of just talking. A song, as far as I’m concerned, is by definition lyric and melody… or just melody. Rap will die. Next year, ten years from now, at some point, and then something else will come along. And all that is good and healthy”.

After this sparked something of a controversy, Simmons tweeted that he’d only been pointing out that music is cyclical and everyone needed to calm down. This totally ignores the fact that rock music has floated to the top of the popularity pond several times during hip hop’s 35 year history, and yet rap never died as a result. But, still, he’s right that what’s most popular changes over time. Fine.

Of course, if it stopped there, this would be the end of this week’s column and I could go out in the sunshine. But no. On and on it dragged, spurred on by NWA’s induction into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame last week. And quickly it changed from an argument about the cyclical nature of music into one about what constitutes ‘rock n roll’.

It’s worth pointing out here that, if you want a solid definition of what ‘rock n roll’ is, then the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame is not the place to look. NWA are far from the first hip hop act to take up residency. Public Enemy, Run DMC, and Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five all hold positions. And before you point to them as anomalies, we should probably ask if acts like Donna Summer, Donovan, James Taylor, Parliament-Funkadelic, Gladys Knight And The Pips, Bob Marley, Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, Aretha Franklin, Robert Johnson and Madonna fit any rigid definition either, because they’re all in there too.

Of course, if you take ‘rock n roll’ as a spirit of rebellion and change in music, the cyclical ushering in of the new, then they all deserve their place. And that is indeed Ice Cube’s view.

“Rock n roll is not an instrument, rock n roll is not even a style of music”, said the rapper in his acceptance speech at the Hall Of Fame bash. “Rock n roll is a spirit. It’s a spirit. It’s been going since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, R&B, rock n roll, heavy metal, punk rock and yes, hip hop. And what connects us all is that spirit. That’s what connects us all, that spirit. Rock n roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and in life. That is rock n roll, and that is us. Rock n roll is not conforming. Rock n roll is outside the box. And rock n roll is NWA”.

“Let me know when Jimi Hendrix gets into the Hip Hop Hall Of Fame”, tweeted an unconvinced Simmons in response. “Then you’ll have a point”.

That seems like a pretty unfair set of rules – that only by recognising Jimi Hendrix’s place within a genre with a specific definition can we agree that ‘rock n roll’ is a concept that cannot be specifically defined. But, OK, if Simmons wants to play that game, we’ll play it.

In 1969, Jimi Hendrix collaborated with poet Lightnin Rod, aka Jalal Nuriddin, to record ‘Doriella Du Fontaine’. A member of the group The Last Poets, Nuriddin is considered by many to be one of the originators of what would become rap, and therefore Hendrix’s early work with him would surely make any move to recognise his place in the history of rap and hip hop seem valid.

So, cool, we’re done here. Except we’re not, because Ice Cube couldn’t let it lie either. He tweeted back to Simmons: “Who stole the soul? Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Chubby Checker helped invent rock n roll. We invent it. Y’all reprint it”.

It’s a pretty blunt way of putting it, but it is reasonable to raise the fluid nature of music and influence. Everything feeds into everything else, and the music that Kiss play, while it might be classed as ‘rock n roll’, it is at a remove from Chuck Berry et al. It’s natural to try to categorise things, but if you get too purist about it all you tend to end up crowbarring acts in where they don’t really fit.

“Cube – I stand by my words”, Simmons declared, after the rapper also pointed him at a pertinent section of his Hall Of Fame speech. “Respect NWA, but when Led Zep gets into [the] Rap Hall Of Fame, I will agree with your point”.

Oh for fuck’s sake. The Hip Hop Hall Of Fame is a thing that only very loosely exists, now we’ve got to set up and get stuff into the Rap Hall Of Fame too? Well, fine. Led Zeppelin did not work with any proto-rappers, but if you look at how many times their songs have been sampled on hip hop records, it would seem only fair to give them some sort of recognition for their influence on its sound and the development of the artform of rapping. Can we stop now?

No, we can’t. Speaking to Howard Stern later this week, Ice Cube said: “I think [Simmons] believes [the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame is] straight for rock n rollers. I got a lot of respect for Gene Simmons – I’ve met him a couple of times, he’s actually pretty cool – but I just think he’s wrong on this. It’s very weird [to have this argument on Twitter], but Gene hit me up on Twitter so I had to respond. You know, everybody’s got their own opinions, and Gene, he’s OG in the game, but he’s just wrong on this. It’s a spirit, and it’s been going on since before they called it ‘rock n roll'”

We could go back and forth on this forever. Hopefully we won’t. Hopefully Gene Simmons isn’t writing a tweet about Bill Haley getting into the Instrumental Hip Hop Hall Of Fame as we speak. But I don’t want to give Ice Cube the final word either, so let’s just enjoy Tone Loc’s ‘Funky Cold Medina’, complete with its sample of ‘Christine Sixteen’ by Kiss: