By Sam McNiece
From Three 6 Mafia to The Beatles and Brian Eno.
With the ever-changing world, musicians are constantly creating new and imaginative sounds. With the constant supply of new synths, new DAWs, new ways of creating our music is evolving faster than ever before, but did you know that the legacy of Trap rappers began in the mid-90s in Memphis?
On the other hand, do you know where the term ambient music comes from and which record invented it? Today we take a look at seven songs that were, and some still are, ahead of their time.
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Kanye West – “Heartless” (2008)
Producer turned musician superstar, fashion designer and artist Kanye West was going through tumultuous times at the time 808s and Heartbreak has been freed. Following his breakup with Amber Rose and the passing of his mother, Kanye released this robotic, emotional record where his self-tuning-laden voice was front and center.
Looking at this record it doesn’t seem out of place, but at the time of its release Auto-Tuned vocals for rappers was virtually unheard of (except maybe T-Pain but he’s a singer not a rapper). Pair it with the 808 fat bass which is also very common in modern hip-hop productions and you have a formula for the modern era.
Production side aside, this record was emotionally open and created space for subjects other than the swaggering style that was also dominant at the time. Without this record, we’re unlikely to have the modern Trap Rap records that have dominated the charts for years, and we have to thank Kanye for that.
The Beatles – “Tomorrow Never Knows” (1966)
The Beatles are one of the world’s most beloved bands. Work on the file Revolver with George Martin, they experimented with sounds that ultimately shaped the future of a few genres.
“Tomorrow Never Knows” comes across as a masterpiece of recording engineering, creating techniques that we now take for granted. You can first take a look at the drums, which have been crushed by compression, providing this big, rock sounding kit.
Then McCartney used tape loops as a method to add, in his words, a “solo” to the track. Change gears and run them through the mixer, pulling the different channels in and out, creating texture and interest.
For the second half of the track, they passed John Lennons’ vocals through a Leslie speaker, most often used with Organs, which created a swirling effect on his vocals.
Money Apples – “Lovefingers” (1968)
A relatively unknown band from the ’60s is Silver Apples who embraced electronic music in their early days. After starting to play in a blues-rock band, the duo split up, leaving alone with Simeon Cox on proto synths and Danny Taylor on drums.
Their music is very hypnotic, with Taylor playing very repetitive, almost looped drum patterns while Cox played his synths. Simeon built his own synthesizers using discarded WWII oscillators, filters, and guitar effects pedals, much like today’s basic synths.
The studio engineer on this album couldn’t stand the sound of Simeon’s makeshift synthesizer, so Cox and Taylor designed the record themselves. This resulted in a sort of lofi sound that was not very common at the time, with noticeably outsourced vocals.
The wacky sound of ‘Lovefingers’ from their debut record is one of the best tracks from Silver Apples which has prefaced many artists, influence Stereolab, Portishead and notably inspired Suicide which in turn influenced the New York punk scene.
The band actually performed at the Moon Landing observation party in New York because the mayor of New York really liked the band!
Three 6 Mafia – ‘Break da Law 95’ (1995)
One of the earliest examples of Trap music, Three 6 Mafia’s “Break da Law 95” when they debuted Style mystical record left a huge mark on modern hip hop. There were a few artists who broke into the Memphis rap scene at the same time, but Three 6 Mafia embraced it.
Before trap music was a genre, it was a lifestyle. Three 6 Mafia led the way for modern artists with their hard knocks on drug trafficking and, well, breaking the law. Sixteenth note staccato charleys jostle on this piece, a staple of the modern hip hop genre. Hell, even country pop used that beat.
With their debut album, Three 6 Mafia laid the groundwork for artists of the modern era to use and establish Trap as the dominant hip hop subgenre.
Kraftwerk – ‘Trans-Europe Express’ (1977)
This iconic track paved the way for Afrika Bambaata and the whole electro genre. Absolute visionaries created their own equipment and were among the pioneers of electronic dance music.
After Highway, Kraftwerk went further in its electronic instruments, which encompassed almost all of their sound. This record established what electro would be like as a genre and people still emulate them when you read this.
This song was the basis for ‘Planet Rock’, the song that launched the electro genre into mainstream American culture and, in turn, the world. With their custom synths and drum machines, Kraftwerk created this record. hear the futuristic chord progressions, metallic rhythm and courageous bassline. All the essentials of the genre today.
They had a huge influence on US-based Drexciya, whom almost everyone considers an electro legend and who is the most prolific sound in underground electro. They wouldn’t be near where they are without Kraftwerk.
Donna Summer – “I Feel The Love” (1977)
It wouldn’t be a list of musical innovators without legendary producer Giorgio Moroder, right? ‘I Feel Love’ is one of the most ahead of its time tracks to be released. Featuring a pulsating bassline made with a modular Moog platform and a long length oriented dance floor, this one was another trailblazer for years to come.
You can hear arpeggiated bass in over twenty tracks even today, with the repetitive loop-based arrangement becoming standard for years to come. Out of summer I remember yesterday LP, ‘I Feel Love’ set a precedent for electronic music in the pop sphere as well as boogie, house and techno for years to come.
Brian Eno – ‘1/1’ (1978)
Inventor of the term Ambient Music, Brian Eno is a studio wizard who helped shape the music we listen to today. He’s worked with David Bowie, Talking Heads and U2, but perhaps his most advanced feat has been Ambient 1: Music for airports.
“1/1” is the first track in this version which coined the term ambient music and was created to be played at airports in order to make the environment calm and relaxing. The background music puts the composition in the background, instead of the opposite music that governs popular culture.
Fast forward to today and you will see the effect this record has had on music in general, allowing others to see music from a different perspective. Without Eno, would we have Aphex Twin or the techno ambient genre at large? Maybe not.