I was raised in an environment that nurtured wordplay by default. When most of us speak in an African tongue, there is always use of colourful language; at times with descriptive words for emphasis, vivid metaphors and striking similes, often with sound effects and exclamations. One of the things that drew me to Rap music was the ability of the MC to harness this power over a beat, reach into your mind and start to conjure up images and ideas.
The more I immersed myself in the music, the more I began to see the technical wizardry involved in writing rap verses. I discovered rhyme and complex rhyme structure, cadence and flow, tonal inflexion and word-melody. Most importantly, I discovered what we in the Hip Hop community call lyricism. As I began to master the art-form I became instantly drawn to artists that like me, valued lyricism as a craft. I marvelled at what emcees like Black Thought of The Roots and Eminem would do in their verses, where they’d bend rhythms and words to fit rhyme, cadence, flow and context, while simultaneously catering to part of an audience that was only listening for the chorus chants.
When you are this lyrically inclined, a misguided snobbery of sorts can exist for both the MC and their audience. As an MC you can wrongfully feel more skilled because your are more lyrical and as such rate yourself higher than the message or even the audience. As a listener, you place artists in a pecking order of importance based on who you believe is the more lyrical. All of which foster a false appreciation for the art of MCing.
When you are this lyrically inclined, a misguided snobbery of sorts can exist for both the MC and their audience.
But I do love me some dope lyricism in a verse though. Couple this with a sick beat and a powerful hook…game over!
For some, lyricism is not so important. Use of language is immaterial and all they want is for that bass to hit them in the chest area, as the MC aesthetically lulls them into a gleeful trance with a voice so easy to listen to, it could be used to instruct meditation classes. Thankfully Hip Hop accommodates all view points.
In episode 6 of the Hip Hop television show AboveGround, lyricism is explored further. I sit with South African Hip Hop icon Amu and US lyrical giant SkyZoo and unpack these issues further. AboveGround is on ETV every Saturday at 18:30
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