Tuesday, July 29, 2008

One More Word About Rap

UPDATE: I made a few slight changes and additions to this post and to the earlier post about rap since I first posted them. Also, for another example of very good rap, check out All That I Got Is You by Ghostface Killa (lyrics here- I think they may have gotten one or two words wrong, but I'm not 100% sure), which sort of reminds me of Langston Hughes, and almost anything by Method Man.

If you look at rap, it's cool because it's what the punk-rock subculture calls DIY (do it yourself)-- a thing that's totally created by just some regular people making art out of nothing, who didn't have to go to some university or some patron to get funding or approval.

And if you look at an example like Triumph by Wu-Tang Clan, it's interesting how it can shift between being sort of a narrative, and a verbal collage that is mostly about the way the words sound, or about onomatopoeia, and secondly about the words that are chosen to convey it. If when I was a high school student in an Honors level English class, a teacher had a student read the class the lyrics from Triumph out of a textbook, I would have been really astonished by it, and felt like I just witnessed new boundaries being successfully set down in poetry. That's an achievement in art. But it's not recognized, and this type of thing often isn't until some spoiled-brat rich kid with no morals sees a poor guy doing something neat and copies it-- then the rich parents or teachers think it's an amazing innovation and praise the kid for his "genius." Unfortunately, that's how a lot of things change in art. Some spoiled obnoxious rich kid shouldn't get the credit for a new kind of poetry that does a lot more with the way the words chosen sound together and onomatopoeia when Wu-Tang Clan, rappers in general and freestyle rappers had already been doing it for years.

Then think about Steve Miller. In his song The Joker, Steve Miller sings about "the pompitous of love." And in and earlier song, he sings about "whispering sweet words of epistemology in your ear." Turns out, instead of being examples of brilliant-white-guy-hippie inspiration that have some kind of meaning Miller thought up and artistically keeps off the table, Miller ripped off both of these lines from R & B songs by a black singer. In the original R & B songs, the lines featured coined words. While these words might look like just crazy jive talk to a white person who jumps to unnecessary conclusions, these words actually had specific meanings for the singer who coined them-- not too different from a writer like William Blake's creating his own mythology that he wrote around. Yet William Blake is considered praise-worthy and an artist, while someone like a rapper from the 1990s or an R & B singer from the '60s is considered just some ignorant, babbling kid from the ghetto. Why? Classism and racism. But if you are not so classist and racist, then there is a lot more fun art out there you can enjoy.