The Tempo of DOOM

One of the most interesting insights (in fact the only one I remember) from the History of African American Music course that I took in college had to do with the evolution of reggae and it had to do with the tempo.

For some reason, probably because I’d seen a similar evolution in punk and heavy metal, I always assumed that reggae, being slower, was first and that ska was a later, faster invention.  That was backwards.  Ska music was based on early rock and roll and R & B.

You can hear it in the rhythm they’re playing- standard R & B rhythm and progression.

Part of why ska sounds so upbeat was that it was an upbeat time- Jamaica achieved independence from the UK in 1962.  Anything was possible.

But reality didn’t meet expectations.  And as life in Jamaica didn’t improve, people became disillusioned.  The music got darker, heavier, slower.  Musicians grew dreadlocks and started to smoke lots of weed.

Again, this was sort of the opposite of punk, which became faster and harder.  And heavy metal, which went from


Heavy metal got angrier.  Faster.

But this also illustrates that there is, what I am going to call a Tempo of Doom.  Black Sabbath is trying to convey dread, misery.  Fear.  Their early music was scary.  Gloomy.

I just bring this up because I’m seeing a similar thing going on in Hip-Hop right now.  I’ve seen people argue that Trap and Drill aren’t rap.  I’ll leave that to someone else to argue.  At any rate, they’re part of Hip-Hop.

One thing I like about Hip-Hop is that it has never really Balkanized to the same degree Rock and Roll did.  It’s the internet so I’m sure somebody disagrees with me, but artists are able to produce songs in a variety of styles and audiences don’t generally get all that upset.  Anyhoo, here’s some Drill:

Here’s some Trap

Kind of looks like they’re taking a page out of reggae’s book, right?  They’re even sporting dreadlocks.

I didn’t have anything particularly profound to say with this post, just that I noticed something I thought was interesting.



  1. Music as a reflection and encapsulation of the state of culture. Fascinating. Tony Judt did a similar cross-cultural analysis of post-world war II Europe. It is probably the best history I’ve ever read. This is really good stuff. Excellent analysis and writing.

    1. Thanks! I’ve just been noticing this trend in hip-hop lately and it’s odd because by most measures, life is not as desperate for urban youths as it was in the early 90s, when “gangsta rap” was really making waves, but compared to that era of rap, some of this stuff is really bleak. I mean, the message coming from a lot of these guys has always been fairly hopeless, but now even the music sounds that way too. I don’t know what could have caused this, maybe disillusionment after Obama being elected? Were peoples’ hopes too high? It is the recession and lack of jobs? I don’t know.

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