Music series (3) - music as education

I’m continuing the music series until I get sick of it.

I don’t remember how I got introduced to rap music. It’s not something you’d expect a nerdy white boy to be interested in. I had a friend in my late teens who was equally obsessed. We both spent a great time listening to rap music and making lists for each other to critique. I’m grateful for him.

I specifically remember feeling inadequate discussing music.

People seemed so certain about what constituted “good” music. I objected to the sense that there’s a clear distinction between “good” and “bad” music or that the lyrics were at all important to the enjoyment of music. I spent more time arguing that it’s nonsensical to rate music than I did talking about music.

I sat down with pen and paper in hand trying to make sense of the lyrics as an exercise to myself. I first started doing this with Eminem’s records, because they seemed approachable, most notably The Eminem Show and The Marshall Mathers LP while on holiday with my family. That’s atypical behavior for the average fan; I was fast becoming obsessed.

Listening to hip-hop was more than entertainment to me, it was an education.

I was suddenly exposed to a world I myself had never witnessed: gang violence, poverty, oppression, racism, rebellion, even if it was mostly subliminally. Hip-hop, indirectly, gave me a way to situate myself in a world I had no control over or was privy to, but that wasn’t even its most important contribution to my development as a person.

I was introduced to new language at a critical time in my life.

I actually suspect hip-hop to be driving much of our adoption of new words. That’s worth looking into some other time. What I can say with certainty is that I partly owe my understanding of the English language to the countless hours I spent listening to and transcribing rap songs.

There is no shortage of gifted lyricists out there. Have a look at Aesop Rock’s “Daylight”, for instance. Try to get a sense of the lyrics first before you listen to the song on YouTube or Spotify.

Yoput one up shackle me, not clean logic procreation
I did not invent the wheel I was the crooked spoke adjacent
While the triple sixers lassos keep angels roped in the basement
I walk the block with a halo and a stick poking your patience
Ya’ll catch a 30 second flash visual
Dirty cooperative Neptune blue head hurt splits
Ridiculous fathom the splicing of first generation
fuck up or trickle down anti hero smack (Cracking!)
I paste the game to zero all completion green (Splash!)
Took an early retirement pick a dream
American nightmare hogging the screen
I’ll hold the door open so you can stumble in
and you would stop following me around the jungle gym
Now it’s an honor and I spell it with the ‘H’ I stole from heritage
Marry crutch stolen wretched refuge refuse my teaming resonance
I promise temperance storm breed with a leaning conscious
In a credence relax responsive with my sports outsource the wattage
And I’m sleeping now (Wow!) And the settlers laugh
You won’t be laughing when your covered wagons crash
You won’t be laughing when the buses drag your brother’s flags into rags
You won’t be laughing when your front lawn is spangled with epitaphs
You won’t be laughing
And I hang my boots to rest when I’m impressed
So I triple knot them then I forgot them
This origami dream is beautiful
but man those wings will never leave the ground
Without a feather and a lottery ticket, now settle down

Note how difficult it is to decipher what Aesop’s talking about, but add sound to it and suddenly you “get the vibe”. Now let’s have a look at the chorus.

All I ever wanted was to pick apart the day,
put the pieces back together my way
All I ever wanted was to pick apart the day,
put the pieces back together my way
All I ever wanted was to pick apart the day,
put the pieces back together my way
All I ever wanted was to pick apart the day,
put the pieces back together my way

What he wants is freedom. He wants control over what his day looks like. The rest starts to make more sense that way. He’s raging against, and critiquing, the system that robs us of so much, from the constant advertisements, to the war machine, and how lucky you have to be to escape it all. It’s all there.

That settles it, I’m starting a mini-series on just the hip-hop albums that have made significant contributions to my development as a person. I’m looking forward to tomorrow!

Created on August 12, 2021
Published on August 12, 2021