By Daniel Paiz
Welcome to the fifth volume of Cypher Sessions, where we will be looking into a topic quite close to my Hip Hop heart, and that is lyrical content; specifically, the content and the intent of the rhyme, from artists ranging from Slaughterhouse to Honors English. This may all sound like it’s pretty technical at first, but it’s really not, it’s simply something that hasn’t been explored in print form all that much.
Think of it this way: you sit around with a group of friends talking about the newest tracks you’ve been bumping so far this summer. You discuss the beats, the lyrics, the patterns that really get you caught up, and the parts of the song that you would have done something differently. Now, take that approach, and narrow it down to the lyrics, specifically, the rhymes themselves. Here are a few examples in which we can take a look at what I’m talking about.
First, we are going to examine just a couple of lines from one of the hotter tracks of the year so far, a new joint you may have jammed yourself called Hammer Dance:
The first line that we’ll check out is from one of Brooklyn’s rapid-fire emcees, that dude Joell Ortiz. He says at at 1:10-1:15:
“I’m no shooter but my shooter will have yo brain exposed, but I’ll shoot five in a second homie and break ya nose”
This line is a pretty stellar line in that there aren’t any really violent words used in the line (unless you count shooter as violent, which I don’t).
He’s not only stating that he can have you injured fairly quickly, but because he is not a patient person and he gets things done, he’ll quickly injure you with one shot to the face. Granted, if you know Slaughterhouse then you know their lyrics are definitely harsher than most emcees, but the content for a lot of their listeners are even better due the intent of the lyrics and more importantly the delivery of those lyrics. Let’s look at another example from Slaughterhouse.
Long Beach-bred Crooked I has some gems as well in his verse, with this one being the most appealing to me at 2:28-2:33:
“Ditching Feds on the regular, they tryin’ to catch a predator, not the Chris Hanson type, but the Danny Glover con”
This section of his verse just bodies the listener’s ears even more so then the rest of it because he is utilizing his braggadocio in a way that allows him to not only show his cleverness at evading the Feds, but it also brings in a hint of the type of police profiling that continues to go on to this day. He also shows agreement by saying that those caught by Chris Hanson on NBC shouldn’t be excused, but those profiled should be (at least in my reading of it). One more line will do it to really convince you of the power of Slaughterhouse’s content and intent.
The Garden State’s own Joe Budden drops a thunderous line at the 3:12-3:18 mark:
“The knife work with me but the chrome is extra, case I’m in the same taxi as the bone collector, ughhh”
This is by far the most graphic of the three lines reviewed, but it’s also graphic because of the content having a simple intent that says more than it may come off at first. Budden, like his Slaughterhouse counterparts, says info-packed verses on the regular, and so it’s easy to miss how Budden continues to say a lot with saying not that much. It’s a great example of how when content and intent are quite similar, the reaction and response of the audience reflects that. Had Budden said he was simply stabbing someone while being strapped, it might have been a glossed-over line, but, with what the phrasing and wording used, to this listener it conveys how Budden maintains his safety and status (which is huge in Hip Hop, maintaining the rep).
Shifting gears, we’re going to look at an artist being slept on, despite the backing of Lupe Fiasco. Honors English has a very similar intention with his content, in that he wants his content to represent his intent with regard to his image, beliefs, and lines. The line from 0:16-0:20 already does this:
“Soul music when I come thru, with that solar-powered sunroof”
It’s just such a clever line when he says this, because he’s saying that he’s not only conscious of new ways of bringing energy, but that his “soul” music (sol in Spanish is sun) is the energy that is being looked for and used. In a larger context of the song and Honors’ intent, he is definitely putting in subtle analogies and meanings that are often not picked up on (another example is at 1:32 with the airbag line). Thus, the content is as deep as his content pushes it to be, because his entire goal in this song (and on his debut album) is to push people to think, as well as to understand the authenticity and originality that English sees as lacking in a lot of Hip Hop right now.
It’s difficult at times to really separate content and intent, because sometimes lines are spit without a real intention of degrading a group or person, or, a verse is said with the intent of pushing someone even though the content may not be there.
The goal of trying to analyze both within the framework of Slaughterhouse and Honors English is to show how the two interact, and that while it may seem silly to some to combine the content and intent of the lyrics and beats, it is really at the end of the day what Hip Hop is really about. Yes, it is important to get one’s story out and it can be at times not conveyed in the best way; however, it is also important to understand that what one says impacts more people than one thinks. Hopefully that’s seen after the above sections.
I hope you enjoyed the fifth volume of Cypher Sessions, and that you’ll share with everyone you know, comment, and engage others in similar discussions. Check the blog at this time next week for a look at how Hip Hop and EDM are merging more and more.