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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

 

The Smiths, The Cure, Talking Heads… 80’s poets


In the 80s, my head was jammed into the alternative music scene, a place where many of the musicians inhaled and exhaled poetic melancholy. Some of the songs and lyrics that I remember:

The poetic metaphor of “I can feel the soil falling over my head…” from the song “I know it’s over” by The Smiths etched into my memory after the first time I heard it.

The haunting lyrics and melody of “Three Imaginary Boys” by The Cure can still give me shivers.

Talking Heads “Once in a lifetime” is a timeless pondering on the nature of time and it’s passage…

It was the poetic edge of the lyrics, the deep explorations of the human condition, in 80s alternative music which saved me from getting lost in the banality of top-40 music-as-commodity. The 80s alternative music scene resonated with my love for words and provided a music foundation that I will always cherish and I dedicate this song to that gift:

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2011 in 80s Alternative, art, poetry, punk, sound

 

If the doors of perception were cleansed…


“Listen, real poetry doesn’t say anything; it just ticks off the possibilities. Opens all doors. You can walk through anyone that suits you,” said Jim Morrison. The layers of meaning in Morrison’s poetic song lyrics have been examined for almost four decades. Many of the analysis attempt a literal interpretation and some open “all doors” and “walk through anyone that suits” them.

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite,” said poet  William Blake. This inspired the writer Aldous Huxley’s book title The Doors of Perception which in turn led Jim Morrison to name his band The Doors.

Morrison died under mysterious circumstances at the age of twenty-seven and the doors to his personality and his lyrics (and even to the cause of his death) continue to be opened four decades later. I’m mostly interested in Jim Morrison, the poet. So, I’ve initiated this journey of discovery by looking at what he had to say about himself as an artist and about poetry.

“I see myself as an intelligent, sensitive human, with the soul of a clown which forces me to blow it at the most important moments,” are lines that resonate with me and provide a glimpse into who he was. As an artist myself, I also understand his philosophy “If my poetry aims to achieve anything, it’s to deliver people from the limited ways in which they see and feel. I like people who shake other people up and make them feel uncomfortable.”

I don’t know what I’ll find as I open more doors to Morrison and to his poetry but it promises to be an adventure.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2011 in 60s music, art, lyrics, poetry, song, sound

 

It’s just the wasted years so close behind…


The melancholy in Lou Reed’s Sunday Morning is accentuated by the melody and the mellow sounds of the instruments, which include ringing of bells.

Reed’s lyrical style was informed by the French poet Charles Baudelaire, the Beat Generation writers, and many other poets. As I see it, this poem is transformed into a song simply by the repetition of a few lines, the tone of voice, and the inclusion of a few musical sounds. The lyrics retain the emotional textures that the poem lays out for examination.

Sunday morning, praise the dawning
It’s just a restless feeling by my side
Early dawning, Sunday morning
It’s just the wasted years so close behind
Watch out, the world’s behind you
There’s always someone around you who will call
It’s nothing at all
Sunday morning and I’m falling
I’ve got a feeling I don’t want to know
Early dawning, Sunday morning
It’s all the streets you crossed, not so long ago
Watch out, the world’s behind you
There’s always someone around you who will call
It’s nothing at all
Watch out, the world’s behind you
There’s always someone around you who will call
It’s nothing at all
Sunday morning
Sunday morning
Sunday morning

When I first came across Reed’s band Velvet Underground, in the 80s, I thought of them as an art-punk sound. I’ve heard various classifications since then, ranging from rock to punk to avant-garde (the band’s manager was Andy Warhol). Regardless of how he might be categorized, one thing is certain. Lou Reed’s songs are an artful combination of poetry and experimental sound that influenced many future generation of poets. “The nature of [Reed’s] lyric writing had been hitherto unknown in rock…he supplied us with the street and the landscape, and we peopled it,” David Bowie.

 

Tom’s Diner


In the 80s Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner was a popular song. Except that it was more of a poem than a song. The only instrument she uses is her voice and she doesn’t exactly “sing” but narrates a story via the poem. She doesn’t “read” the poem either. Her voice blurs the line between singing and reciting.

So, unknowingly, millions of people heard and appreciated a poem while they thought they were listening to a song.

The world is overflowing with song and music. Yet, poetry remains a mystery to many and has not entered the popular conscience in the United States.

Since April is national poetry month, I am exploring the boundaries between poetry and music.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2011 in 80s Alternative, poetry, song