Everything’s Derivative

“Everything’s Derivative,” said I to the Hyde-Bath seniors in Government class.  I was trying to teach the idea that just about all the norms, themes, and trends in our culture can be traced to roots dating way, way back thru several centuries and across continents.  I figured I’d play some music to make the point.

I kicked off with a contemporary song: “Champion” by Kanye West.  (“… AKA Mr. Kardashian,” I said with a wink.)  With Kanye reverberating through the room, I observed, “When I hear this song, I also hear…


… This.”

At that point, the music transitioned to “Kid Charlemagne,” a 1976 Steely Dan song off their Royal Scam album.  Forty+- seconds into that song, the facial expressions of my students transitioned from befuddlement to mild astonishment when the vocals and instruments echo what they had just heard from what they believed had been Kanye’s original work: “Did you realize that you were a champion in their eyes?”  (i.e., They were surprised to learn that Kanye did not originate that part of his song.)

From there we ran through snippets from a range of songs that, I argued, Kanye’s “Champion” had built upon, even if he doesn’t realize it:

– “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugar Hill Gang (1979);
– “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash (1982);
– “On the Subway” by The Last Poets (1970);
– “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud, Pt. 1” by James Brown (1968)
– “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday” (1939).

Then we listened to a few songs done by different artists of different eras:

– “Rock Me Baby” by Jimi Hendrix at The 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and by a 1930s southern chain gang as recorded by Alan Lomax;
– “Stop Breakin’ Down Blues” by The Rolling Stones (1972) and Robert Johnson (1936);
– “Crossroads” by Cream (1968) and Robert Johnson (1936);
– “Big Boss Man” by Jimmy Reed (1961) and The Grateful Dead (1971).

Then, I lost my point…

More to come.

Onward,  Malcolm Gauld