To give some background, I grew up loving the band KISS. I bought my first KISS album in the mid 1970’s (Destroyer) and was part of the KISS Army well into my adult years. Even though my musical tastes grew, I still had a certain fondness for KISS and would turn the tunes up when they came on the radio. That all changed when in 2007. I saw Gene Simmons on his reality show treating a ‘superfan’ who had won a contest to hang out with Gene like absolute garbage, at one point even trying to ditch the fan and escape.
Since then, I really haven’t paid much attention to Simmons. I never watched his show again and I honestly can’t remember the last time I listened to a KISS song on purpose, let alone cranked it up. Unlike some, when I don’t like someone, I don’t troll them or become obsessed with their every move so I can tear it up. That isn’t my style. those who know me know that if I don’t like you, I will generally ignore you.
Mr. Simmons made it a little impossible to ignore him recently, however, when he threw himself face first into another band’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. The legendary and groundbreaking rap / hip-hop group NWA was given the honor of joining their peers in Cleveland. In my opinion, and obviously the opinion of many others, a well-deserved honor. Even though I can go down a list of bands and artists that have not yet been enshrined in the hall, NWA was a deserving band. They broke ground, they rebelled and made a difference for people both in life and in music. They were the very definition of Rock and Roll.
Simmons had a different attitude, however. Simmons showed that despite being in the industry for decades, he really has no understanding of what Rock and Roll actually is. It wasn’t hard to see his racism come out either.
Simmons singled out NWA and claimed that they did not belong in the hall. Simmons fell back on an old, debunked and racist argument against rap / hip-hop music. He claimed that since they ‘talked’ vs singing and didn’t play an instrument, that couldn’t be part of ‘rock and roll’ and had to be put in its own classification. He did this by tweeting some messages like ‘when Jimi Hendrix gets into the hip-hop hall of fame, you will have a point.’ Doubling down, he tweeted ‘when Led Zep gets in the hip-hop HOF you will have a point.’
Simmons was responding to NWA co-founder Ice Cube’s statements in an interview in the New York Times where he said;
“I respect Gene Simmons, but I think he’s wrong on this, because rock & roll is not an instrument and it’s not singing,” he said. “Rock & roll is a spirit. N.W.A is probably more rock & roll than a lot of the people that he thinks belong there over hip-hop. We had the same spirit as punk rock, the same as the blues.”
Ice Cube made those statements in response to Simmons’s original statement on the subject in 2014 when he said;
“A few people decide what’s in and what’s not,” he told Radio.com in 2014. “And the masses just scratch their heads. You’ve got Grandmaster Flash in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Run-D.M.C. in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? You’re killing me. That doesn’t mean those aren’t good artists. But they don’t play guitar. They sample and they talk. Not even sing.”
First off, let us establish that Ice Cube is 100 percent correct. Rock and roll isn’t a particular instrument or anything of the kind. Whereas there are instruments more common to the genre, rock and roll allows any instrument or things that aren’t even instruments to be used. Singing? I will submit that what has passed for ‘singing’ in many cases in rock and roll leaves much to be desired. Vocalizing is probably a more accurate assessment. That doesn’t mean it is bad, but on a ‘singing’ level, as much as I love Bob Dylan, I am not going to even begin to compare him to a talented singer like Linda Ronstadt on one end of the ‘rock and roll’ spectrum or Freddy Mercury on another end. Also, keep in mind, many ‘rock and rollers’ did plenty of talking — even rapping vs singing in their songs.
Tell me, Gene — did Frank Zappa often ‘just talk’ in his songs? Is he ineligible? Lou Reed wrote what some consider to be one of the ‘forerunners’ to rap style vocals in his “Walk on the Wildside.’ Is Lou ineligible? Lou talked through a lot, and when he did ‘sing’ there wasn’t much of a difference, outside of a few off-key tones vs more monotones. Blondie’s biggest hit was a song called ‘Rapture’ that featured a long rap done by Debbie Harry.
By the way, all the artists I mentioned — Dylan, Zappa, Mercury, Reed, Blondie, and Ronstadt are all in the Hall of Fame.
Now let us talk about sampling. Sampling actually predates rock music, Gene. Recording things and manipulating tape is something that goes back as far as recording tape does itself. As far as sampling sounds in Rock and Roll goes, it started at the beginning when The Big Bopper sampled a telephone in ‘Chantilly Lace.’ Lou Reed, who I mentioned before, whether with the Velvet Underground or in other projects used samples. Bowie used samples, Zappa used samples. Plenty of songs used prerecorded beats and click tracks well before rap.
Now, you say ‘But Sean, those people might have used such things, but they didn’t rely on them exclusively like rap groups do. What say you now?
Well, what I say is that Heavy Metal didn’t become a genre when the Kinks cracked a speaker and made some of the first ‘distorted’ guitar sounds in the mid-1960s. Years later, metal bands like KISS did rely on the distorted guitar exclusively for their sound. They and other bands took what was done previously and refined it — improved it and built upon it. That is part of what rock and roll is — and Gene ironically doesn’t even see that.
Don’t tell me bout how well some of the ‘inductees’ sang or played their instruments either. Is anyone seriously going to call Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols a ‘singer?’ Who is going to contend that Sid Vicious actually had any real understanding of the instrument he primarily used as a prop? Were the Stooges good on their instruments? Really? Yet, both bands are enshrined in the hall. Never heard Gene Simmons complain about them.
Really what Simmons’s argument is — is an extension of the racist argument that white people have made against black artists since the 1960s. In the 1950s, when people like Little Richard and Chuck Berry were inventing the genre, was the only time in rock and roll history when people didn’t try to separate black people from rock and roll. Of course, at that time, the term ‘rock and roll’ was a derogatory one to many — especially racists who referred to it as ‘jungle music’ and ‘n*gg*r music.’ But after the British Invasion and the rise of the ‘California sound’ in the early 1960s ‘rock and roll’ worked its way into the American mainstream as white artists were now at the top of the mountain. Now black artists were segregated into another genre — Rhythm and Blues. That kept the white ‘rock and roll’ and the black ‘rhythm and blues’ separate. In the 1970s, it was called ‘urban music’ and ‘funk music’ to keep it segregated from the general rock and roll population.
White people borrowed from funk and urban sounds when the Bee Gees made ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and now it was ‘Disco’ music. Music to be played in discos like Studio 54 where white people hung out and did cocaine.
Around that time, some artists went a different direction than the now commercialized disco movement, which really was white people emulating black sounds. It was in the basements and underground clubs that rap was born — And Mr. Simmons, it was every bit as rock and roll as anything KISS or any other band I mentioned above is.
The reaction from many white people when early rap came out was ‘that isn’t REAL music.’ That’s not ‘rock and roll.’ They just talk, they sample — they don’t play an instrument’ were the complaints and justifications to keep it separate from their holy rock and roll mantle. MTV in their early years pretty much kept rap off their airwaves for their first several years of existence until complaints grew so loud they were forced to.
Over the years, though, as people overcame those prejudices pushed by racists to keep rap separate from rock and roll, just as they had done in previous decades with other black genres, people of all colors began to embrace rap and hip-hop. Artists like Aerosmith and Anthrax did collaborations with groups like Run DMC and Pubic Enemy. Through those collaborations and other things, most of us realized the statements that people like you, Mr. Simmons make like ‘rap isn’t rock and roll’ and ‘rap isn’t real music’ were simply false. Rap was real music and rap was and is rock and roll. Those collaborations along with people of all colors buying records (CDs, tapes, etc …) and concert tickets revealed a basic truth that people like you, Mr. Simmons, in your racist mind, still can’t comprehend — that we are really all much more alike than we are different. While you want to divide, the rest of us want to come together. We live in a world where Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Fats Domino, The Eagles, Prince, Metallica, NWA, Grandmaster Flash, Michael Jackson, REM, Madonna, Frank Zappa, The Bee Gees and even KISS are ALL rock and roll. We don’t all have to love their music to see that or appreciate it.
You, on the other hand, need to still attempt to peddle these discredited arguments that were born of hate and prejudice as if they could ever hold a drop of water. You tried to act like you weren’t full of hate when you made your ‘follow up tweet’ saying you ‘respected NWA’ — that was, as Maury Povich would say — a lie. It’s hard to believe you respect them when previously you were wishing for their music’s ‘death.’
It is a shame that NWA’s induction had to be tarnished by a 35-year-old racist argument perpetuated by a man who has shown he possesses no ‘rock and roll’ spirit, just greed and selfishness. Fact is, Gene, Ice Cube ‘gets it’ as do us all. The only one who doesn’t get it is you.
Featured image via youtube.com