Lyricism in Hip Hop: Are We Just Pretentious?

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It’s been some time again, but thanks to everyone who checked out my newest album Intrastellar. I don’t make music for the money or fame, but it’s always cool to see that people will at least give it a shot. So thank you! (If you haven’t heard it, check it out: http://305rafi.bandcamp.com/album/intrastellar)

However, today’s post is only really about me in a marginal sense. In fact, today’s post is inspired by the release of Maryland rapper Logic’s second major label released album The Incredible True Story, which was released about two weeks ago today.

On the album, Logic presents a layered frame story of nomadic earthlings searching for a new planet after they ruined Earth, but it’s quite clear that one of the many metaphorical meanings of this story is looking for a new Hip Hop since “traditional” Hip Hop has been abandoned. Or maybe. Though Logic is called by many a revivalist (interested in a return to the golden age), Logic’s persona reads more like a fan of Hip Hop music in general. He doesn’t wear the nostalgia glasses that many Hip Hop heads and enthusiasts do. Part of finding said Paradise is balancing traditional with the current and forging a new sound that pays homage to both, which is essentially Logic modus operandi despite my (and many other’s) criticism that he really doesn’t do the latter.

I’ll let that go for now though.

This piece started as I listened to the whole album and noted that Logic rests on the laurels of what we consider lyricism. However, Logic alludes to this hypocrisy when he notes how BOTH 2Pac and Drake discuss money and bitches in their music (a reductive assertion that ignores the real contention about Drake that most Hip Hop heads have). Lyricism, in reality, outside of Hip Hop Head Blogs, isn’t about big vocabulary, a plethora of figurative language, or even storytelling. Yet many new school “lyricists” tout this as the definition of lyricism in Hip Hop. Essentially if I’m meticulous with metaphors and wordplay then I’m a lyricist. Regardless of whether your diction resonates, these things make you  a lyricist in Hip Hop.

I say fuck that.

Lyricism:

(American Heritage)

1. a. The character or quality of subjectivity and sensuality of expression, especially in the arts.

b. The quality or state of being melodious; melodiousness.
2. An intense outpouring of exuberant emotion.
(Cambridge)
(Oxford)
The expression of strong emotion in poetry, art, music, etc.

Realistically, the truest lyricists in Hip Hop, popular or not, critically acclaimed or not, have been able to express their thoughts and feelings in a way that is subjectively beautiful, pleasing, or moving. 2Pac rapped about being a “man-whore” in a way that makes it one of my favorite songs to this day (“I Get Around”). Drake raps about his personal thoughts and feelings on subjects that really matter (and some that don’t) in a way that makes even some of the most pretentious people want to listen and connect. I’ll even hand it to Logic for expressing his own feelings about certain topics at times. But are his double time flows, internal rhymes, metaphors, and imagery the marker of his lyricism? Absolutely not. These are the medium that help him convey his ideas and emotions. These things help us make the distinction between the highly skilled, the average, and the mediocre. However, they are not the end all be all of evaluating lyricism.

At the end of the day, the quality of lyricism is subjective. One person’s skilled lyricism is another person’s mediocre and that’s ok. Really that’s ok. Just know that mind-numbing flows with an overabundance of syllables and rhyming words do not make you a skilled lyricist. You need to connect that style and those technical abilities with your mind, heart, and soul. Anything less is hollow.

And we don’t fuck with hollows.

 

Not one bit.

 

Thanks y’all

 

Raƒi

 

 

 

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IntraStellar

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“IntraStellar is a short conceptual journey to 3051. I’ve left home (and school) and deal with the various problems that arise. Consider this album a reverse time capsule.” (305rafi.bandcamp.com)

I’m undeniably a loser. lololol.

I have no real desire to be famous for rapping or making music, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want my music to become a serious part of my professional and professorial life. As I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into this music (5.5 years of writing and performing raps this January), I’ve really started to see the intersections of where music and my other interests come together. And every project has been a challenge at finding the interstices (liminal spaces :D) between all of my interests.

My newest album (really my first album) IntraStellar takes a general interest in outer space and merges it with manga, anime, movies, TV, oppression, isolation, love, and life. From the re-imagined show of braggadocio (“Atmosphere”) to the nuanced pining for a world that isn’t broken (“HOME”) I made attempts to make serious commentary, analysis, and expression from source materials that many people consider silly or simply entertaining.

I can’t say it’s a perfect medley. I’ll admit that I’ve got a long way to go in terms of truly balancing a mix and for my first attempt at a master…this is one hundred percent disgusting, but that’s part of my game. I thought about spending the money for true mastering, but I decided that in the spirit of the liminal space between college and career (brokeness), I’d continue with the D-I-Y approach. And that’s not for everyone.

I’ve done sets where I’ve given no context and jumped right into the raps. Those have been poorly received by non-rapper audiences. I’ve done sets with more context that have been poorly received by non-rap AND rap audiences.

I’ve come to realize from conversations and reflections that my shits not for every toilet. My words aren’t for every person: not because the message itself isn’t universal, but because the medium isn’t for everyone. I try not to be literal (“I’m Rorschach with the writtens”) and if that has me “isolated and alone out here”, then that’s not a problem.

If Stephen King, MF Doom, David Lynch, and other left fielders can make a mark on their respective art forms, I’m not really mincing words or messages. I’ll continue honing my craft until I can hit that long tail, no matter how long it takes.

With that said, please listen to my new album IntraStellar. If you like it, download it! If you don’t, take another listen in a few days, and keep coming back. I’m aiming to make that one project that really connects with you.

Thanks for reading, listening, and caring.

You are appreciated,

Raƒi