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Category Archives: rap

Writing to rap, out loud


When I write poetry, I don’t need to consider the power of my vocal chords. For rap, however, this is a key element. I need to be able to use my voice as an instrument. I don’t have to be an accomplished singer but I do need to breathe properly and enunciate my words concisely. I need to consider these factors even as I write the song.

For the rap that’s due on July 10th for my poetry group, I have an idea for a song. I have written the chorus and about four lines. I read the words out loud. Then, I write one of sentences in the chorus twice because it sounds better that way. In a poem, however, I rarely repeat a sentence. I haven’t moved beyond the chorus and the four lines yet because I’m still getting accustomed to rhyming and rapping.

Another option that I’m considering is to convert an existing poem into a rap song. This is even more challenging. My poem is in free verse and the first two words of my poem are translating to two sentences of hip-hop and the sentences don’t even rhyme!

This is turning out to be more difficult than I had anticipated. It’s my first time. So, I’m not sweating it too much… instead I’m listening to some experts for inspiration.

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Next assignment: WRITE rap lyrics


My poetry group is taking on the challenge of writing rap lyrics for our next meeting. How do I start?

I have written about rap subject and flow in this blogspace so I know that these are the foundation and building blocks of the lyrics, respectively. As I write the words to express my subject matter, the flow (rhythm and rhyme) that I develop will be my signature style for the piece (not much different than if I am writing a traditional poem or fiction or essay, etc).

As a modern poet, I write free verse so one of my challenges is to rhyme. The other challenge is to find the right beat. I’ll use the traditional 4 beats scheme as a starting point and vary the beat as needed.

In addition to a compelling beat, I’ll need a hook for my song. This is usually the chorus which further expands on the subject matter and gets the listener’s attention, i.e., hooks them into the song. The verse forms the rest of the structure of the song.

As a newbie to the form, I’ll use How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC book by Paul Edwards as a reference for tips and tricks from him and from many of the rap artists that he interviewed for his book.

Last but not least, I need to listen to hip-hop if I’m going to imitate the style. If you have a favorite hip-hop song, I’m open to recommendations.

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2011 in hip hop, lyrics, poetry, rap, sound, write rap lyrics

 

Rap Content: subject matters


“Often, hip-hop lyrics focus on topics that can be controversial, such as violence, sex, drugs, alcohol, power, and money. These forces are sometimes said to have a negative impact on society, but artistically speaking they are inherently attention-grabbing subjects—which is why numerous classic hip-hop albums have revolved around them and will continue to do so,” from How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC book by Paul Edwards.

Rap might have a reputation of controversial content but so does a lot of good poetry. For example,  American poet Charles Bukowski did not let controversy interfere with the unedited expression of his thoughts.

Controversial or otherwise, all art forms have a subject and rap is no exception. Depending on the artist, the subject matters range from real-life and fictional stories to conscious and controversial topics. Of course, some lyrics are written solely for the purpose of entertainment at clubs and parties.

The subject of hip-hop lyrics is expressed via various styles (or “form” as it’s know in hip-hop). A popular form is where MCs have a word battle by bragging about a specific topic.Other example of rap forms are conceptual, musical, abstract, and humorous.

In addition to the consideration of subject matter and form, rappers use poetry tools like imagery, similes, metaphors, analogies, slang vocabulary, wordplay, and punch lines.

Spawning from a tradition of poetry, rap uses many poetic methodologies to bring the spoken-word to the masses, something that Western poets have previously only been able to do by translating the spoken-word charm of poetry to songs.

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2011 in art, hip hop, lyrics, poetry, rap, sound

 

Flow: rap rhythm and rhyme


“It’s down to attaching flow to the beat… like Bruce Lee said, if the water is in the jug, it becomes that jug. If water is in that bowl, it becomes that bowl. That’s how I approach it,” says Sean Price of the hip-hop group Heltah Skeltah in the How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC book by Paul Edwards. Like all musical genres, the rhythm and rhymes of rap are one of its identifying markers and are referred to as the “flow”.”

Without the right flow, the delivery of the song would lack charisma and the message of the poem would be lost because the audience won’t show up. “I’m a flow person, and without the right flow, subject matter probably won’t even matter. It’s all about style…If people can’t feel how you’re saying it, it doesn’t matter what you’re saying.,” says Havoc of Mobb Deep in Edwards’ book.

Edwards shows how rap music is coded into beats, bars, and rests. He explains how lyrics and beat coalesce, talks about types of rhyme schemes, and how rhythm is developed. These are all elements of flow.

Flow needs to exist in a hip-hop song but it’s not where the song starts. “Sometimes I might write a poem, a spoken-word poem, but then morph that into a rap rhythmically,” says Myke 9 of Freestyle Fellowship. It’s the flow of the song that leads to its evolution from a poem to a hip-hop song.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2011 in hip hop, rap, sound

 

Instead of war on poverty, they got a war on drugs…


Many of Tupac Amaru Shakur‘s lyrics were inspired by the life of poverty, drugs, and crime into which he was born. In his song Changes he poignantly echoes “I ain’t never did a crime I ain’t have to do.”

And still I see no changes. Can’t a brother get a little peace?
There’s war on the streets & the war in the Middle East.
Instead of war on poverty,
they got a war on drugs so the police can bother me.
And I ain’t never did a crime I ain’t have to do.

In this song, he says “we ain’t ready to see a black President”, but was shot dead many years before Barack Obama took office. Although, Obama is probably not the “black” president 2Pac referenced as his was likely talking about socio-economic roots rather than race.

The lyrics drip with the frustrations and marginalization suffered by many poor black people in America. In the song, he calls for change but ends the song with “Some things will never change.”

Whether the changes he envisioned occur or not, his words resonated with many because when this song was released after his death, it won  a “Best Rap Solo Performance” Grammy nomination, held the #1 Billboard Hot Ringtones Chart for 34 weeks, and was listed as one of the top-12 myspace favorites of the Vatican.

[youtube-“http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8Y9-JlSRXw”%5D

2Pac RIP.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2011 in crime, hip hop, lyrics, poetry, poverty, rap

 

I like to rhyme, I like my beats funky…


:
I like to rhyme,I like my beats funky,
I’m spunky. I like my oatmeal lumpy.
I’m sick wit dis, straight gangsta mack
But sometimes I get ridiculous
I’ll eat up all your crackers and your licorice
Hey yo fat girl, c’mere – are ya ticklish?
:

Digital Underground’s “Humpty Dance” was my introduction to rap but, somehow, I lost my connection to the hip-hip scene after that… maybe it was the massive infusion of violence and misogyny into the lyrics, maybe it was just bad publicity about rap…a recent NPR pledge drive featuring a rap song drew my attention back to the hip-hop beats and to the rhymes. Then the April National Poetry Month brought rap to my full consideration when I wrote abut the last of the rhyming poets.

In the next few articles in my blog, I will explore rap in terms of content, flow, writing, and delivery.

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2011 in dance, lyrics, poetry, rap, song

 

the last of the rhyming poets: rap music


Is it possible that a rapper might someday be a poet laureate?

Billy Collins, 2001-2003 Poet Laureate, writers free verse. Charles Simic, 2007-2008 Poet Laureate, writes poetry in prose. The modern form of poetry is no longer limited to the confines of rhyming. Rap music, however, is rooted in rhymes. It straddles the border between poetry and song because the words are often spoken rather than sung and flow with the metaphors and similes that are foundations of good poems.

Whether rap touches the heart of the high-art poetry scene or not, it has revived the rhyming scheme. For example, literary scholar Adam Bradley examines the art of rap in the Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop, a teacher uses rap to teach poetry in schools, a website devoted to hip-hop in the classroom looks at examples of metaphors and similes in rap.

“Rap is a river. Poetry is the ocean,” says a poet in this video as he sums up the relationship between poetry and rap.


 
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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in art, lyrics, poetry, rap, song

 

do musicians have better memory?


Music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness,” says Nina Kraus, a prominent brain researcher at Northwestern University. She says that musical training expands a person’s “working memory.” Read more at thankyoubrain.blogspot.com. In an experiment “students with musical training recalled significantly more words than the untrained students” as explained at music improves language and memory.

Watch how a math teacher uses rap music to help students remember mathematical rules and equations.

Did you know that listening to Mozart can improve test scores and that music has been shown to help Alzheimer’s patients?

Scientists are exploring the possibilities and the mechanics of music and memory. Here are some layman thoughts, a tongue-in-cheek brain activity explanation, and a neuroscience discussion which includes fMRI photos of music’s affect on the brain’s memory centers.

Got music?

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2011 in memory, rap, your brain on music

 

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Good Radiation


Surprised at the sound coming from the radio, I do a double take. Yes, my radio is tuned to 88.5, to KQED, which is the NPR station in San Francisco. I hear the name Terry Gross and know for sure that I am at the right station.

I smile and listen to the song and am very pleased by what I hear.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2011 in lyrics, poetry, rap, song

 

LL Cool James


Last week, when I was in Washington D.C., I hadn’t expected to find LL Cool at the National Portrait Gallery. His portrait commanded the center wall in the room just like Obama’s famous campaign poster adorned the center of the previous room. The size of both portraits were about the same.

My knowledge of rap music is limited to Digital Underground from the 80s and a book that I bought recently on how to write a rap song after someone in my poetry workshop  brought a delightful rap about his cat.

I was clueless to the prominent position that rap has taken in the American cultural landscape and was taken by surprise to see LL Cool James, aka, Ladies Love Cool James in a room next to Obama.

The bio next to the painting said that his real name is James Todd Smith. No, it doesn’t quite have the resonance as LL Cool. This guy understands the power of words.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2011 in rap, song