Remembering George Michael, The Hip Hop Way

By Anton Constantinou

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Legendary pop singer, George Michael, has died aged 53. The star who gave us Last Christmas has, in a cruel irony of fate, passed on during the festive season, in what has proved to be a scary year for high profile deaths.

Michael was artist whose talent knew no bounds – over the course of his career he sold more than 100 million records worldwide and achieved eight number one hits on the Billboard Hot 100.  As one of the best-selling British Acts of all time, Michael made a living out of music which transcended race, colour, gender and sexual orientation. Other singers could only dream of sounding like he did.

A lot has been said about his contributions to the world of pop music, but this is a man who crossed many genres in his lifetime and connected with people on various levels. Wham! era Michael, was young, fun and full of bounce, while in his Older years he took on more of a broody, sophisticated persona, dabbling in jazz and live instrumentation. Fast forward to the present day and it transpires he was working on a new album with producer and songwriter, Naughty Boy, who’s previously done songs for Emeli Sandé and Beyonce.

So, where does the hip hop link come into it, you ask? To suggest that George Michael was a rapper would be to grossly misrepresent who he was and what he stood for. Indeed, the very causes he fought for run contrary to a lot of the sexism and homophobia that’s plagued hip hop and continues to do so. However, when you consider the fact that Michael was the first white artist to put out a number one on the US R&B chart (Faith), it soon becomes clear what a positive influence he had on black music. The singles Father Figure, One More Try and I Want Your Sex are distinctly funk/R&B sounding, so too for that matter is As.

Take a brief look at some of the of greatest singers of all time, and Michael is right up there with Marvin Gaye, Nat King Cole and Al Green – only difference is his skin colour. It’s also worth noting the artists he’s collaborated with. Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Mary J Blige and Seal all had the pleasure of working directly with Michael, and you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s black when listening to him sing alongside them.

But if that’s not hip hop enough for you, take a look at this rap song he put out during his years with Wham!. Wham Rap! is as lyrical as they come, with a catchy hook and a AABB rhyme scheme. Sure, it’s cheesy as hell, but so was a lot of rap from that era.

To take another perspective, you could also consider the number of rappers who’ve sampled George Michael. Careless Whisper alone has been used by AZ, Elzhi and Noreaga, while Father Figure was a source of inspiration for LL Cool J, P.M. Dawn and the Jungle Brothers. Freddy Gibbs used a section of Amazing for his track Careless, and on Slim Thug’s Miss Mary, you’ll find a snippet from the opening of A Moment With You.

Remembering Michael the hip hop way, we give you Time by Nas, AZ and Nature – a song which samples Careless Whisper on the 38 second mark. Had the singer and songwriter had more time on his hands it’s anyone guess what he might have achieved. Rest in peace.

 



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