Sunday, May 22, 2005

Lyrical Complexity in Hip-Hop: Part One

It had been my intention to conclude my discussion of and the artist in this post. However, it came to my attention that I had yet to full address the issue of complexity in the genre so I am going to write two more posts that expound on this topic.

The true complexity of Hip-Hop resides in the lyrics. This fact has been the cause of some debilitating confusion among some because of the connection that is often drawn between and . In some cases, this is a helpful connection, but most often it is not. There is an important difference in reading a poem and listening to a Hip-Hop song. When one reads poetry rarely is it possible to fully grasp the poet's intentions the first time through. I find myself, for instance, rereading words, lines, stanzas, and even whole poems several times before I feel that the meaning becomes tangible for me. This process of rereading allows people to grapple with extremely difficult poems and still understand them. With Hip-Hop, people do listen to the same song over and over, however the speed of the rhyming, and the format of the media makes it challenging to decipher. Most people do not rewind a song simply because they misheard or didn't understand the meaning of one word. Thus they have to wait until they hear the song again to try and pick up on a concept. In true poetry misunderstanding the meaning of one word can result in a misreading of the entire poem. Therefore, for the rapper who wishes to be complex, he cannot simply put poetry to a beat; some allowances must be made for the difficultly inherent in hearing and understanding a rap song. The Hip-Hop genre demands a different approach to lyrics than in poetry.

Assuming that the artist truly desires for his audience to understand his work, it is imperative that there be some level of simplicity in Hip-Hop so that communication can actually take place. The challenge then becomes how to create a work that people can grasp

Monday, May 16, 2005

Hip-Hop: The Components: Part Two

The concept of a vocalist who rhymes a poem in rhythm with accompanying music is rather old. In the tradition, such a person was called a Scop (pronounced “shoop”). In those times, a Scop would recite long poems with complex poetic constraints (Each line of Old English poetry was made up of two half-lines and three alliterations per line rather than end rhymes.) Often they would challenge other Scops to see who could recite better poems. Due to the length of these poems, much of it would be improvised, thus each Scop would have a particular style and approach to different poems. In these poetic battles, the winning Scop was sometimes established as the poet of the court. Here then we can see a clear precursor of the modern Rapper. Since this approach to music has been reappeard in Modern Times, it begs the question of why? What is uniquely productive in this style that justifies its existence? I believe that the answer lies in the great emphasis upon words. There are topics, ideas, questions, images, and stories that one can only adequately deal with through Rapping. We can see this in the difference between a novel and a poem. While a poem is a powerful (and perhaps greater) literary genre, there are some stories that never could have been told through a poem. It is hard to imagine Bartleby Scrivener, Moby Dick, Metamorphosis, or The Great Gatsby as poems. Similarly, the rapper is able to speak on issues that a normal Rock or Pop artist simply cannot, or at least with a greater depth. It is a simple fact that some things cannot be boiled down to 10-20 lines. This is the great freedom of .

The styles and approaches that rapping lends itself to tend towards detail and narrative. In a typical song, the images and their details are limited by the length of the song. In , however, one can focus on an image and vividly paint it with practically no restriction. This is truly a powerful tool for the Artist. In addition, if the rapper wishes to be concise with his imagery, he can always shorten the song. Thus, a rapper has a freedom that is alien to the Rock and Pop genres. (That is not to say that some experimental and fringe artists in these genres have not taken a more lengthy approach to imagery and lyrics, they have, however this cannot be done as affectively as can be in Hip-Hop).

The narrative style of song writing can be extremely powerful. Because we as humans learn most of what we know through communication with others and much of that is done story telling of some kind, the narrative style can be very evocative if done properly. The telling of a story allows for insight into character and narrator (and thus what it means to be a human, to think, feel, and act), insight into the world and nature, insight into society, culture, and government, insight into the depravity and triumphs of humanity, etc… Everything from the power of governments to the uniqueness of a flower pedal can be evoked through a narrative (Again, I must point out that other genres can also touch on these same topics, but what I am suggesting here is the particular power that the narrative has to affect the reader/listener in regard to these topics.). The narrative is an amazing genre and the best hope for it in is the Artist who has the lyrical freedom to create a lengthy narrative.

As I have discussed here, the advantage of Hip-Hop is its emphasis on lyrics and this has a dramatic affect on the instrumentation of the music. Since it is the goal of the Rap Artist to call the listener’s attention to the lyrics, it is important that the accompanying music does not distract from the words. Because of this, much of Hip-Hop is repetitive and simplistic instrumentally. But we must not treat this simplicity has a sign that the genre is any less complex or artistic as other genres. The complexity here is found in the lyrics rather than the music. To say that a Hip-Hop song is less artistic than a Rock song based on the former’s simplicity would be the same as saying that a novel is not as good as a poem because there is no metrical complexity in the novel. That said, we must note that when the lyrics of a Hip-Hop song are weak, repetitive, shallow, or simply bad they will ruin the entire song. Therefore, this lyrical emphasis can be a blessing, or a curse. If it is used properly, the Hip-Hop genre can speak on profound issues with great eloquence and significance. If used poorly, this genre can be horribly commercial and pointless. The simplicity of music in Hip-Hop is not, however, a license to ignore the importance of instrumentation. (See my post entitled “The Struggles of Christian Art: Part One” for more on the necessity of unity between the elements of a work of art and the themes.)

With the tremendous lyrical freedom found in Hip-Hop there is the potential for significant works of Art to be created. In my next post I will discuss why the various elements of Hip-Hop make it a good genre for the Christian Artist.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Opening of My

"I must have justice, or I will destroy myself. And not justice in some remote infinite time and space, but here on earth, and that I could see myself. I have believed in it. I want to see it, and if I am dead by then, let me rise againm, for if it all happens without me, it will be too unfair." Ivan Karamazov from The Brothers Karamazov by .

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Chapter Three: The Syndication

The time was 02.15. That gave U 02.00 hours until he would have to take the shuttle back to the station to meet with Mr. Hughes. U looked up from the bed he was sitting on to the MediaStation and then down to his PDA. When U pointed the PDA towards the screen new options lit up: Record, View, Archive, Alarm, Project, Search, …U pressed the button marked “alarm” and then typed in “Doctor Y. Ortho”. The rectangular computer beeped and then went dark again. U rose from the bed, closed his eyes and rolled his head around slowly to stretch his neck.

The message meant something. Maybe there would be a punishment after all. Walking towards the cleansing room, U thought about washing himself. He hadn’t showered since the night before. It would be good to clean, then eat something. U didn’t eat breakfast that morning, or dinner the night before. He couldn’t stomach it then, but now…he felt he could. The shower provided a numbing hum, filling his ears and freeing U’s mind from anxiety.

“I should get there early,” U thought, “just in case this Mr. Hughes decides to show up before 04.30. Then we can get this all taken care of before dinner.” A faint smile crossed U’s face as he stepped into the blue-water shower. He wasn’t sure if it was the heat from the blue liquid or the thought of the meeting with Hughes, but a warm feeling had taken root in his chest. This feeling continued as U ate his dinner in the kitchen. Each bite seemed to fill his body with contentment. It wasn’t until he was finished eating that the PDA rung with the alarm he had previously set: “03.13…channel 2A67…”.

“Ten mintues,” U mused to himself, “I wonder how they’ll report it”. U walked from the kitchen into the living space. He used the PDA to set the MediaStation to 2A67.
“…iriam Cooper was a first shift line supervisor at the West Lake Recreation Center,” the announcer’s words were supported by pictures of the center, a large blue building with an inviting look about it, “She was known by her co-workers as someone who was passionate about her work. ‘Miriam always would make you feel good about your job…’ said one close friend,” U stared at her photograph on the screen, he tried to visualize the way she must have walked, and the type of clothes she would wear. “Mrs. Cooper was married to a chemical analyst and they had no children. She was 34 years old at the time of her passing….”

“A minute and fifteen seconds for a life”, U thought, “But then again, now this Mrs. Cooper is immortal”. He sighed and set down his PDA. The Memorial Station was always on. Whenever someone died, the station would air a short tribute to that person’s life: one minute and fifteen seconds long. According to the officials, each citizen of the universe was valuable, and worthy of our memory. This was a beautiful idea to U, and as he thought of Mrs. Cooper being shown throughout the Earth and the outlying colonies he felt good, perhaps even wonderful. He lay back on his bed and watched several more memorials….

“Early today, Dr. Ortho, one of the most well known of the System engineers died. Dr. Ortho was a founding scientist in the famous London circle which envisioned and later created and implemented the System. At the time of his death Dr. Ortho was working on making the System more efficient through a series of updates. Although he is survived by no family, Dr. Ortho will be missed by everyone he touched with his kindness, genius, and skill. He was 52 at the time of his passing….”

“Why didn’t they mention his murder? Maybe that’s what this Mr. Hughes is going to do, find out about why I killed him and then submit the information so they can do another memorial,” said U as he rose from his bed and began to pace around the room.

“They could have said something about the murder…something about an investigation…uggh” U groaned with disgust. “It doesn’t matter, Mr. Hughes will sort all this out, he’ll ask me why I did it and I’ll tell him and then I’ll be taken to be punished and it will all be worked out, finished.” A deep sigh creeped out of U, draining not only the air from his lungs, but the strength of his bones. “I can’t think about this stuff, I need to go find something to do until I have to leave for the office.” His voice rang out loud in the small apartment. His hands moved sharp and franticly as he spoke. “Something to do, I need something to do, why didn’t they say something about his cause of death?” By this time, U had lapped his apartment several times, he stopped in the kitchen and found some calming fluid. Pouring himself a generous serving, U downed the drink in one swig and stood staring at the yellow wallpaper. An edge of one of the sheets of paper had begun to peel from age and heat. “I hate this color; I should have never let them give me this dump without new paper.” U took hold of the withered segment of the yellow wallpaper and tore at it. A long strip came off in his hand. Without thinking U continued to pull at the paper, going from edge to edge, yanking and grunting, tossing the strips onto the floor. When he stopped, the kitchen walls were bare and the air hung with the smell of old dried adhesive. U looked down at his PDA: “…..TIME……03.41……..TEMPATURE…..79 DEGREES…….”

“I should get going,” U thought to himself.