Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jam Behind The Jam #3: Strange Fruit

JamBehindtheJam is a little feature we do highlighting the background of a sample that appears in a modern jam. Especially in rap, sampling old classics has become an art, and not only sounds amazing when done right, but also exposes listeners to music and artists that they may have never heard of otherwise. Enjoy.

Nina Simone hasn't been on these pages in far too long, Common just was. Put Common on a dope Kanye beat with a Nina sample? Certified jamandahalf.

Hip-Hop has always had a strong conscious streak, one that is in an everlasting fight against the typical stereotypes of rap. Common has been one of the foremost figures in this fight, and has been dropping quality music since 1992 and his debut album Can I Borrow A Dollar? Off of an unreleased track meant for his underrated 2007 album Finding Forever, "Strange Fruit" is a perfect fusion of the best that both conscious rap (Common's smooth but hungry flow, thought-provoking lyrics) and mainstream rap (a helluva beat, a John Legend chorus) have to offer and tops it off with a haunting Nina Simone sample. Common flows about coming up from hardships and dark times, using the past to guide and strengthen you, while making positive moves today. Common sounds at his most natural over a great Kanye beat, and this song proves that point.

The sample, the reason for this posting, is of the Nina Simone cover of Billie Holliday's "Strange Fruit." Written by a Jewish high-school teacher in response to Southern lynchings of young blacks, "Strange Fruit" became an underground protest song in NY until Billie Holiday recorded it. Nina Simone's version of this classic track maintains the simplicity of the original, only broken by Simone's complex and powerful voice. The calmness of the music is in stark contrast to its dark and violent lyrics which compare lynched blacks to "strange fruit" which hangs in trees in the South. The metaphor of fruit is used throughout the song, emphasizing that years of racism and extreme inequality in the South was bearing fruit, in this case a bitter and painful fruit. It works on many levels, but works even better as a testimony to those who suffered from abuse in the South. Common treats the sample with the proper care it deserves and drops two great verses, while Kanye once again uses the past to infuse the present with life, creating a beat which Common makes his own.

 Common-Strange Fruit f. John Legend (Jamandahalf.com) by jamand1/2

 Nina Simone-Strange Fruit (Jamandahalf.com) by jamand1/2

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