For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been weaving webs of wordplay (e.g., figurative language like metaphor, simile, assonance, and allusion, as well as slang use, etc.), and its delivery on the mic made manifest (e.g., flow, rhythm, rhyme, etc.). The readings (from Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By and Paul Edwards’ How to Rap) and book exposé extend and expand this exploration.
As you learn How to Rap (which I know is what you’ve all been waiting for), think about all of the skills an accomplished emcee has to master. Which do you think are most important to being good at this? Which do you think are most important to making Hip-hop what it is? What about vocabulary?
Oh, here are Juice and Eminem freestyle battling at Scribble Jam in 1997 (Warning: the audio is wonky):
To enhance our study of hip-hop wordplay, we’re going to watch Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme (2000) directed by DJ Organic (Kevin Fitzgerald) in class (the trailer is below), keeping in mind the differences we’ve found among rehearsed speech, written poems, intentions of authors, and expectations of listeners, among many other things. Revisiting your notes from last week’s readings might be helpful. Act like you know.
If you are finding it difficult, here is a Wiki on how to appreciate rap music. Maybe that will also help. And could someone please remind me to bring up the “fifth element” question again?
Post your responses below after we watch the movie on Tuesday and Thursday. Please, drop your science by next Thursday night. Peace.
Listening to rap music in mixed company is often uncomfortable. As I mentioned in class, I find the violence, misogyny, and heteronormativity that it’s often criticized for to be among the least interesting things about it, but they’re still unignorable. And such language! Literary scholar Adam Bradley addresses these concerns in his chapter from this week, “Wordplay,” calling it “defending the indefensible” (p. 86).
In a def(t) display of early lyrical innovation (Rakim is one of the most respected emcees in Hip-hop) without much in the way of offensive material, here’s Eric B. & Rakim’s “Follow the Leader” (1988):
As a prologue to his “ten tenets of Hip-Hop Nation Language (HHNL),” H. Samy Alim writes,
So, “language” in HHNL obviously refers not only to the syntactic constructions of the language but also to the many discursive and communicative practices, the attitudes toward language, understanding the role of language in both binding/bonding community and seizing/smothering linguistic opponents, and language as concept (meaning clothes, facial expressions, body movements, graffiti, and overall communication—“cuz as Beanie Sigel knows, ‘85% of communication is non-verbal’”) (2006, p. 71).
Rub these two readings together in your head and see what flies from the friction. We’re getting to the good stuff.
We’re still figuring our feet in the world of Hip-hop. Ice-T’s The Art of Rap gives us a glimpse of the multifaceted role of the emcee, but this week’s readings help expand the roots and reach of the culture. From our textbook, That’s the Joint!, we have Nelson George’s “Hip-Hop’s Founding Fathers Speak the Truth” (Chapter 4; pp. 43-55), which is a three-way interview with Afrika Bambaataa, Kool DJ Herc, and Grand Master Flash. Then there’s Greg Tate’s “Hip-hop Turns 30: Whatcha Celebratin’ For?” (Chapter 6; pp. 63-74).
In addition, Tricia Rose‘s classic text Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (1994) is a crash course in Hip-hop’s origins and the scope of its influence. Russel A Potter’s Spectacular Vernaculars: Hip-Hop and the Politics of Postmodernism (1995) pushes the vision further. The chapters we’re reading from each provide a wider introduction to the cultural implications of beats, rhythms, and rhymes.
Here’s MC Lyte’s “I Cram to Understand U” from 1988:
As ever, post your thoughts on the readings below.
The readings for next week (September 9th), are up on Blackboard. I was late getting them to you, and I figured we could all use an extra week to get into this stuff, so I switched them for the movie. There are two book chapters: one by Tricia Rose and one by Russell Potter. We will be discussing them in depth next week, so get to it.