The Literary Roots of Hip-Hop Lyricism

Topics: Hip hop music, Hip hop, Rapping Pages: 8 (2419 words) Published: November 30, 2011
The Literary Roots of Hip-hop Lyricism

Rap is easily heard as a play of words, a sampling of music rhythms and melodies, and for the passers-by, a taunt against another taunt. But for those who will listen closely, rap lyrics may be full of history, a love story, political critique, innuendo, sarcasm as well as wit (Rose, 1994, p 14).

The past decades had hip-hop fill up a cultural lexicon of vocabulary, characters and culture. Accordingly, the lexicon has been fed by hip-hop artists that return to certain archetypal images as well as conceits. While many forms of popular music that reinvent or subvert tradition for the sake of novelty, hip-hop culture values and cultivates memory using decades old lyrics and images for current crops of new hits, singles or albums.

The past decades saw hip-hop music display various forms of musical borrowing they call sampling and mixes. During the early days of hip-hop, DJs from the Bronx and Harlem manually scratched vinyl records into a seamless mix of dance music (Rose, 1994, p 18). It was noted by Demers (2002, p 107) that DJs preferred a classic collection of soul, funk and R&B Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes and George Clinton for their pieces. The digital age also provided growth for their sampling as hip-hop added an assortment of music ranging from heavy metal to country. However, many DJs and producers still unearth and return to soul and funk as they pay tribute to respected past musicians.

It is to be noted however that the melody of scratching and sampling from classics added with the invention of new sound is just but one activity amid the hip-hop music production.

A rich variety of multimedia collections, references and parodies is inherent to hip-hop music as a whole. This paper will try to establish the literary roots of hip-hop lyrics as an off shoot of words and culture from the period between 1965 and 1980 in American Society. Discussion

The mid-1960s to 1980s is known as a time in when African-American identity coalesced as a new form of political consciousness was born. In fact, it had been observed that the word “rap” originally meant among the African American community as referring to romance or sexual interaction initiated by a man to win affection and sexual favors of a female. However, by the late 1960s, the term crossed over into mainstream public language and has discarded the sexual reference. It soon came to mean strong, aggressive and energized talk. Today, both uses are used in the Black speech community as rappers embody these meanings in their artistic images (Rose, 1994, p 19).

According to Rose (1994), rap is a social movement popular primarily among  Black and Latino races and during the 1980s, and by the 1990s, catapulted musicians such as Run DMC, LL Cool J, Salt n’ Pepa, Beastie Boys, among others not only among Latinos and African Americans but among White adolescents and even global music listeners (Rose, 1994, p 21).             However, Lipsitz (1998) presents a popularly accepted narrative that rap and hip hop originated from the ghetto neighbourhood of the Bronx in New York city in 1970s. The ghetto is a marginalised group of Black and Latinos and the youths in this section created an informal way of expressing themselves as inspired from the Caribbean-style toasting. It is their way of having fun, share experiences, as well as criticize social inequality and poverty. It provided a creative outlet for DJs, MCs, graffiti artists and Bboys and Bgirls to a frustrating and difficult life while encouraging competition and achieves something positive replacing street corner conflicts into competition dancing, and shooting to paint spraying. It soon became widespread and every locality in the globe has adopted each own, including European immigrants from Turkey, Morocco and North Africa (Bennett, 1999, p 75).  The reasons for the rise of hip hop according to some sociologists and historians, are found is the...
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