The Legacy of African Music Within African American Music

By: Noel Harris, Anna Parra Jordan, Amaya Roberts, Neema G., Niara, Trinity Seegars, and Ysabella Lopez


It is common knowledge that music is a staple within the African American community, a tradition kept from before enslavement. African American music encompasses different elements: various timbres, polyrhythmic foundations, and syncopation, as well as African traditions like storytelling and call and response. In the Hip Hop song, Naughty by Nature, the first part of the song is a call and response between the various emcees. The song has solid polyrhythmic foundations and syncopation that create an upbeat timbre.

Noah-The Jubilaires

a.“ It borrows from the jive-talking style of African American radio personalities of the 1940s and 1950s, and the African-derived oral traditions of storytelling

The Sugarhill Gang-Rapper’s Delight

a.Timbre-percussive sound/effect, distinguishes that sound from other musical genres 

Hip-Hop Horray-Naughty By Nature 

a.(Call-Response), the whole beginning of the verse uses the technique of asking a question and responding. 

No More ?’s- Eazy E

a. syncopation/polyrhythm “Negro’s natural gifts”)

Mask-Off *Kendrick Lamar

a. Text/tone/pitch


Melodic, repetitive singing over a potent blend of instruments has remained a constant characteristic of RnB. In Louis Jordan’s Ration Blues, produced in 1943, his solid yet soulful voice carries over the bright and brassy timbre of the beat. The song follows a repetitive pattern of ABAABAAB. In addition, the song exemplifies the use of storytelling, as Jordan sings about the hardships resulting from US wartime rationing. These qualities are present in Ray Charles’ Georgia on my Mind, produced in 1960. Charles’ soft, soulful voice over the reminiscent timbre of the song is an excellent example of RnB’s melodic blend of singing and instruments. Georgia on my Mind, like Ration Blues, follows a repetitive pattern; AABABAA.

  1. 1943 Ration Blues – Louis Jordan
    1. Timbre – Distinct Trumpet, Saxophone, vocal style
    2. Mechanics of delivery – Rhythmic pattern throughout the song. Repeating words, phrases, and entire sections.
  2. 1960 GEORGIA ON MY MIND – Ray Charles
    1. Mechanics of delivery – Personalization throughout the performance of the song. Changes Pitch at certain moments depending on the moment (The way he sings certain words are different each time he sings them)
  3. 1970 Charles Wright – Express Yourself
    1. Mechanics of Delivery 
    2. Timbre
  4. 1991 Remember The Time – Michael Jackson
    1. Story telling
    2. syncopation 
  5. 2021 Leave the Door Open – Silk Sonic
    1. Call and Response- This technique appears in the beginning of the song.


Funk borrows elements from various musical genres, including rhythm and blues-styled horn arrangements, jazz-oriented solos, rock-oriented solos, guitar timbres, and vocal stylings associated with soul music. For example, in James Brown’s Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag, the bass drum and bass guitar combine to create a polyrhythmic foundation while choosing to beat one on a measure. 

  1. “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”- James Brown (1965)
    1. Gave preference to beat one on a measure
    2. Played on bass drum and bass guitar 
    3. Polyrhythmic foundation


Pop also combines elements of significant counter melody, syncopation, and contrasting timbre, and polyrhythmic foundations. For example, in Mariah Carey’s Fantasy, the blended syncopation, harmonies, and contrasting tone create a solid polyrhythmic foundation familiar within pop.

Fantasy- Mariah Carey

a. Significant counter-melody in hook when vocalizing along with rhythmic singing, 

How Will I Know- Whitney Houston

a. Timbre of both the instruments and her voice (moments when the instrumental is matching the rhythms and pitch of what she sings, and while the pitch and tone is the same, the distinct sound differs between vocal and instruments, rhythm of instruments and vocals are in sync at the choru

Say So- Doja Cat

a. Syncopation with adlibs, electric guitar that creates a disco/funky sound while still remaining pop, 

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