HIP HOP LYRICISM by Professor Lyrical
The world at first glance can appear unconnected, but mathematical and even algebraic thinking and analysis can train the mind to see subtle cause and effect relationships that at first were unapparent. Different manifestations of positive/negative, yin and yang, x and y, left and right, up and down, and ultimately add and subtract can be compared for the similar properties they reveal. In a simplistic approach the “absolute value” of these so called opposite concepts reveals their sameness, as their distance back to a true zero is the same! Through simplifying difficult concepts I seek to reassure the would-be teacher that math is a very learnable language with far fewer rules and symbols to understand than its traditional linguistic counterparts.
My appreciation in the beauty of all disciplines which seek to convey truth at their origin, allow me to cross reference and sight a multitude of examples that go beyond the traditional text book. Philosophy, various religions, and the arts all seek to express an implicit truth through each respective school of thought in the same manner that mathematics and the sciences go about the identical quest. What is true at the core of each method of study is an attempt to convey what is consistently true to the individual using each means to achieve the desired end. The connectedness of these disciplines imply a connectedness between all things, and the relationship is perhaps best defined through mathematical devices which encourages the student who is intrigued to master this mathematical language we explore as learners.
HIP HOP LYRICISM -Course Summary:
This is a Hip Hop lyric writing course, and students will study lyrics and work on making Hip Hop or rap lyrics of their own, thus moving towards the final goal of the completion of an actual recorded song. The beginning of the course will speak on the background of many of the classic lyricists throughout Hip Hop history, and even a brief history of Hip Hop. The bulk of this course will develop several techniques of writing Hip Hop lyrics, which if well done must have a flow that works with the vibe and feel of the chosen instrumentals (and chorus) that accompanies them.
Lyric writing can be a powerful tool of self expression or, to a greater extent, self therapy. The creative genius found in rap lyrics over the last three plus decades can be difficult for some to understand unless there is some background information given about the culture and what the particular artist may have been going through at that time. Historically whenever a group of the “haves” attempt to hold down the “have nots” by using force to shackle free-will it is usually only a matter of time before we can see the “have nots” draw on the human ability to overcome by using any means necessary. In time we soon see survival instincts start to emerge and bring about creative ingenuity to overcome and adapt to the situation.
Hip Hop is the case study of the fascinating phenomena of making something from nothing and thus - overcoming. In addition, many of the ancestors of those who were the culture’s first participants broke free from the shackles and chains of slavery, and ironically throughout Hip Hop’s history, descendants of those who have broken free have often went on to adorn chains of their own worth a small fortune for the world to see, perhaps as a symbol of overcoming great odds and adversity of their own. This concept could be made into a Hip Hop lyric or metaphor like this: those who were once “have nots”, now literally have knots1.
We will briefly examine this history to understand how to use our own experiences to tap into our well of emotions that have helped define who we are as we move towards becoming better lyric writers and more expressive in general. Many of those entering into Hip Hop, if such a thing in fact can actually be done, have a warped understanding of its’ history and believe without their own personal hardships and struggle they too can not be effective lyric writers or Hip Hop artists. This course will study the devices that today’s poets use to be effective Hip Hop artists lyric writers, and why those with a misguided perception believe they have to “perpetrate the myth” and artificially create tales of great hardship or in some cases actually bring it about in their own lives for inspiration and street credibility. Creativity is something that can be trained and developed without having to experience great adversity or joy first-hand to write effectively- though it may be a stimulant for great writing it should not be taken as a growth hormone to bring about the creative muscle. We will train and nurture this skill and work towards the ability to summon creativity from the wells within us to write better lyrics and perhaps, in some cases, be able to freestyle them as well.
Week 1: Introduction - Pass out syllabus. Create a “Lyric Book” and “Slang Dictionary.” Student’s will choose their own emcee name to be called all semester and those student’s who rap already will be encouraged to do so during our daily 5 minute freestyle ciphers (“4 bars and pass”) where the instructor will also participate as needed. We will discuss the 4 main elements of Hip Hop and a brief history of how they emerged.
Week 2: Lyric discussion – What makes a great lyricist? Are any great lyricists in Hip Hop still highly relevant? Develop and defend a class generated top ten lyricist/emcee list. Discuss the difference of the term emcee (MC) and rapper and eliminate those who are not emcees off the lists. What were their styles? What made these styles so ill at the time, and who may have done these styles first?
Week 3: Lyrical analysis and slang – “Break it down” in groups students will translate rap slang (or Ebonics) into regular English by first looking at an award winning high school students’ break down of Notorious B.I.G. lyrics. Students will also work in groups choosing their own lyrics from text to translate.
Week 4: Drop a topic and go fish – This is the exact opposite of week 3 where we broke rap lyrics down, we will now work on building them up! We will work on object writing2 about a given topic in paragraph form without the need for rhymes, also making sure we are utilizing our own full range of senses and experiences. We then will fish for our favorite words, images and phrases and incorporate them as our own one-liners or couplets about the particular topic at hand, thus building these into rap-ready form.
Week 5: Developing new topics – We will discuss the traditional topics found in rap songs, and how to come up with our own fresh perspectives on those topics or how to develop entirely new ones. We will again fish through our own object writing to develop intro lines, or powerful imagery we can build on and work towards leading into a hook.
Week 6: Slang, and slang as a one word metaphor? – In depth analysis of the role of metaphor, similes and slang in Hip Hop, and how to create better metaphor and simile. We will discuss alternatives and the overuse of “like” in Hip Hop. We will constantly add onto our own vocabulary by inserting accepted Hip Hop slang into our own Lyric Books.
Weeks 7: Word Play – Students will examine many instances of wordplay and meaning of words being manipulated in throughout the main four elements of Hip Hop culture for many reasons. Double entendre, innuendo, and the close relationship to slang will be looked at in popular lyrics while we work on our own wordplay.
Week 8&9: What it means to “Flow” – We will examine different emcees (such as AZ, Pharoahe Monch, Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes and Twista) and their flows and how they use rhyme (internal, slant, end), alliteration, consonance and assonance while playing close attention to meter and rhyme schemes, and techniques such as tounge twisting to establish their flow. Students will also develop a few bars that create tounge twisting. We will speak on the art of Ghostwriting as well as it pertains to Hip Hop.
Week 10: Finding the right word - The role of the dictionary, thesaurus, internet sites, and the all controversial rhyming dictionary will be examined. How to find the right word with the right tone for the song and hook at hand will also be practiced. Techniques such as “My flow is like” will be performed in class where one group will use books and magazines, and other group will not in there quest for new words and simile.
Week 11&12: Spit a hot 16 with a tight hook- or better yet writing a hot 16 (16 bar verse) and the importance of writing in typical and atypical bar form will be examined, as we work on writing our own 16 bars in 4 person groups and as individuals over beats. Students will continue to work on developing several different 16’s while attempting to chisel each one to better perfection. Week two we will work on memorization techniques and performing our 16 bars in class and how to create hooks (typically 4 bars repeated to be 8) that work for our lyrics and beats, or lyrics that work around hooks already in place.
Weeks 13 & 14: The And’s & The’s- We will make our verses more concise by eliminating unnecessary parts of speech such as indefinite pronouns and conjunctions or add them when needed for proper foot (iambic, trochaic, etc) and meter purposes. This nuance when combined with slang can create powerful new ways to express something rather typical and give it more excitement. In this section we will also work on delivery as how we say what we write will determine if it has enough “hops” to jump through the speakers.
Weeks 15: GET IN THE BOOTH /OFFICE VISIT – We will take our lyrics (and hooks) to the booth and work on a few techniques to record professionally and efficiently. In this week students will have a time provided to come see Lyrical one on one and receive feedback and tips on how to possibly tighten the track.
Week 16: Final Projects - Class presentation, and MP3/CD of track due. Those looking for possible extra credit may be inserted into an actual live show in the area to perform their final song as well as a possible freestyle.
Required Materials: Hip-Hop and Rap: Complete Lyrics for 175 Songs (Paperback) by D. Spence, Writing Better Lyrics (Paperback) by Pat Pattison. Students will also need a Lyric Book, preferably in, or part of, a binder that represents them well. Though the Lyric Book can be as simple as a notebook included into a binder, it is preferable that the Lyric Book stands out and makes one want to only insert finely crafted gems into its jewel case. Pencils and plenty of perforated paper will be needed to be inserted in the Lyric Book as final verses written. A thin one subject notebook that can be inserted into a binder (with punch-holes).
Suggested Material: A pen that stands out from all others in similar fashion to the Lyric Book. The album iNFiNiTi by Lyrical available on most digital download sites or at the bookstore. Suggested reading: Hip Hop America by Nelson George
1 Knot is Hip Hop slang for money, “having knots” means to have large sums of cash tied in a rubber band or money clip in one’s pocket. The term Knot is now one of many generally accepted to mean cash.
2 “Object writing” is a method developed by Berklee Professor Pat Pattison in length in his book Writing Better Lyrics