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Music Industry Salivates Fusion of Classical and Rap

NEW YORK ( — It's impossible to pinpoint the birth date or true parents of most musical movements. Who, exactly, began rock 'n roll? What single moment in time gave us jazz?

But with the latest, and some say greatest, musical movement of them all, there is a date, a place, and an undisputed and unlikely pair of creators.

Late on Aug. 31, 2000, renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma finished a concert at Carnegie Hall, took a wrong turn down an alley, and bumped into Sean Combs, a.k.a. rap superstar Puff Daddy, who had just finished a concert of his own. Unaware of who Ma was, Combs noted Ma's cello case and decided to have some fun. "I told him, 'You know, gangsters use to carry their guns in a case like that. That's a big case, so you must be a big gansta,'" Combs recalled.

CLAP album

Ma nervously explained that he was a cellist, pulled out his instrument, and began to play. Combs still isn't sure what came over him, but he began to sing. Thus, Clap was born.

Half a year later, the improbable fusion of classical music and rap has swept aside pop divas to reign atop the charts. Clap dominates MTV. Clappers populate the newsstands. Even the Grammys, long considered less hip than other award shows, will have a Clap category this year.

Where rappers sang of an often violent street-life existence, and classical music's sophisticated instrumentalism appealed to the upper classes, Clappers sing about the street lives of 18th Century aristocrats to the accompaniment of piano, strings, woodwinds and brass. And always, as in Clapper Def Ludwig's single Baroque 2 Da Bone, there is that incessant clapping:

We eat a lotta cake, (clap)
Sometimes it gets old, (clap)
The servants fetch our robe de chambre,
So we don't get cold. (clap, clap ... clapclap)

"We don't just sing about ourselves anymore," said Queen Leitmotifah (formerly Queen Latifah), who recently released her first Clap album. "We have to read a lot of history, try to get into the heads of the masters, like Mozart, Tchaikovsky. Then we look at what life was like in, say, the palaces of St. Petersberg in 1743, and we tell it like it was."

To the record industry, Clap does more than combine two musical movements. It brings together two historically disparate economic groups—wealthy classical music aficionados and street-level rap fans — who have contrary, but appealing, buying habits. "Young music fans have less sense than money," explained Sony executive Max Schmeel, "and old, classical music lovers have more money than sense. This puts us in a very good position."

Schmeel estimates the annual Clap market at $40 billion, and judging by the rush to cross into Clap, that number may be revised upward. Already, Blow Da Chateau, the Clap single by Sonata by Nature, (formerly Naughty by Nature), sits atop the R & B, classical, and pop charts. Meanwhile, Ma and Combs last week signed a $100 million deal with Sony Music to produce two albums as Yo-Yo Ma Big Thang and Puff Daddy Dvorak. Combs already has a hit on his hands with the disc Aristobitch, a duet with noted cellist Kim Jong.

What makes Clap's future particularly bright is that it has transcended music and become a social force at the street level. Wealthy suburbanites who once sent their children to private schools are enrolling them in inner city schools, believing the atmosphere will widen their appreciation of Clap. Once-violent street gangs, meanwhile, have taken on the personae and lifestyle exhibited by Clap and its performers. According to the FBI, the infamous Crips have at least two cells that have renamed themselves the Clefs, and the Latin Kings will soon rename themselves The Libretto Kings. These changes are more than just skin deep.

Said 17-year-old Chicago resident Ralph "Bolero" Winston, a member of the Bach Boys gang: "We useta control everything west of Dearborn between 30th and 32nd, and life was fast, you know. But that's not the thing anymore. We want to control our tempo allegre. We seek out the pastorale, embrace divertissement. That's our refrain."

Ironically, Chicago law enforcement has a slightly different refrain: "The truth is, we have no friggin' idea what these kids are talking about nowadays," said Chicago Gang Task Force detective Lance Boylgrim. "We had the street language and street names down, but now all they talk about is andante and arpeggio and harmonic structure. I had a kid yesterday actually call me contrapuntal. To my face."

But Clap is forcing everybody to retool. Even classical artists who once regarded other forms of music as beneath them are rethinking. "I have never felt this strong about a music since I first heard the Verdi," said Luciano "Bad Luc" Pavarotti, who plans next year to rap tenor in the Metropolitan Opera's "Rigoghetto," the Clap version of Verdi's classic. "As some of my new friends are saying, 'I got da Clap, and I not goin' back."


Copyright © 2000, SatireWire.

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