I am so glad to see this here. I am forty-something and something like 75% of the music I listen to is rap, and it is not all that common to find people of my age who respect the genre. I’ve kind of held off on posting here actually because I feared that I would desposit a 10000 word piece of rap-evangelism with copious examples of my favourite work.. I was in my teens when Public Enemy first became big and since then things progressed through NWA and the invention of gangsta rap, and the early beginnings of lyrical complexity with Wu Tang Clan and Rakim in the early 1990s, the giants of Tupac and Biggie Smalls, and then genuine consistent hardworkers such as Big L, Eminem and Jay-Z.
Tupac and Biggie had clever flashes but they were also content to put songs on their records that were ordinary, and even their best tracks had stretches of ordinariness.
The best rappers put out tracks that are nothing but polysyllabic rhyme and word play from start to finish. I can’t even imagine how much work albums such as The Eminem Show, Nas’s Illmatic or Jay-Z’s The Blueprint require. I probably could not do it in a lifetime.
On the content: a lot of rap is _about_ rap. Either the experience of being a rapper, outrageous braggadocio on what a good rapper one is, targeted criticism of other rappers, how tough it was when they couldn’t get a gig, how great it is now… this might seem dreary and tiresome but as long as the form is fresh I can put up with the lack of message variety. Sometimes it is like nothing more than a competitive word game. Apart from that, a lot of it is gangsta related or “horrorcore”. Plenty of exceptions of course, there are many rap tracks about relationship issues and politics etc.
Eminem’s own material is divided among diss-tracks, songs about his previous personal problems and his relationship with his family (more recently his recovery from substance abuse and depression), and insane outbursts in character as “Slim Shady”.
Apart from the rich internal rhyme and polysyllabic rhyme, one trick he favours is the so-called “switch pattern” that Rakim was so fond of. “Mom I love you but this trailer’s got to go, I cannot grow old in Salem’s lot.” There are two pairs, an outer pair “Trailer’s got"/"Salem’s lot”, and the inner pair “got to go"/"not grow old”, with one syllable shared between the first elements of the pairs. He’s not averse to ABBA in general, really: “I joke when I say I’m the best/ in the booth/ but a lot of truth/. is said in jest.”
The other typical feature of rap is the use of jocular similes or comparisons based upon homonyms. “I’m harder than me trying to park a Dodge when I’m drunk as fuck, right next to a humungous truck in a two car garage.” Playing on the ambiguity of “hard” (resilient/difficult)
Eminem and Royce da 5’9” reformed Bad Meets Evil in 2011 to put out the Hell: The Sequel EP. It was a great combination, Royce easily matches Em. Welcome 2 Hell is a lovely trace: 1000 words, about two minutes, tricky rhyming and similes from whoa to go, no chorus, utterly unmarketable.
Okay, I’ll stop now…
EDIT:: except to ask how did Royce predict the demise of Kavorkian? (The song Fast Lane released May 3, 2011, Kavorkian dead June 3, 2011)
My whole goal as a poet’s to be relaxed in orbit
At war with a bottle, as Captain Morgan attacks my organs
My slow flow is euphoric, it’s like I rap endorphins
I made a pact with the Devil that says “I’ll let you take me
You let me take this shovel, dig up the corpse of Jack Kevorkian”
Go ‘back and forth in more beef than you can pack a fork in
EDIT2: Maybe the first line by Eminem that made me take notice of him was the first in a verse in Brain Damage. “Way before ma baby daughter Hailie..” wei bi: fɔ: mə bei bi: dɔ: tə hei li:. How can one not smile?