The Art of Mastering the Pen

I’m afraid I may be breaking entirely new ground in my repurposing project. Assuredly, there have been many academic articles written about rap songs or hip hop as a genre, and there have been many rap lyrics containing academic implications. In fact, there have likely been a few rap songs repurposed into academic essays. But I feel as though it’s safe to say that virtually no author of an academic article has gone back to one of his or her works and rewritten it into rap lyrics, and yet that’s exactly what I intend to do with this project.

In the winter semester of my freshman year I half-jokingly, half-desperately wrote an academic analysis on Juicy J’s “Bandz a Make Her Dance” music video, which was actually received quite well, given the circumstances. Partially because this essay pertained to hip hop culture, partially because the themes of its argument – personal identity and the pitfalls of fame and popularity – would potentially translate well into songwriting form, and largely because writing lyrics is something I’ve always wanted to explore in an academic setting, this approach was by and large the only one I considered when going into this repurposing project. It seemed both the obvious and the best route, and even if it was neither, I’m quite certainly too far down that road to consider going back now. At this point, my only choice is to move forward, and in doing that, I’ve decided to explore a few genre samples to map the rhetorical devices they use.

From the get-go, I assumed the bulk of rhetorical repurposing I would undertake for this project would be a transition from logos (of my empirical and allusive academic essay) to pathos (song lyrics in general often rely more so on ambiguous bars that elicit broad emotions than on strenuously-constructed arguments). I was unsurprised to find that my research corroborated said hypothesis.

Take for example this thesis by Conrad, Dixon & Zhang:

http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/comm/dixon/research_files/Conrad,%20Dixon,%20&%20Zhang%20(2009).pdf

The paper presents a music video analysis (in the vein of my Juicy J piece but far more extensive and all-encompassing), arguing, amongst other things, that the prominence of Afrocentric features in hip hop music videos, while validated by the African American artists often making such videos, may cause Caucasian audiences to associate African Americans more with criminals (Conrad, Dixon & Zhang 20). The argument presented is far too vast, dense, and frankly boring to include here, but SPOILER ALERT it is heavily empirical, relying on both data and analysis, and unquestionably deploys logos to enforce its point.

Now, examine these lyrics from Pusha T’s 2013 track “Hold On”. The song handles similar themes as the above essay, addressing the Caucasian tendency to equate African Americans with criminals.

 

“Pain in my heart, it’s as black as my skin

They tipping the scale for these crackers to win

No reading, no writing, made us savage of men

They praying for jail, but I mastered the pen”

 

In addition to addressing both white privilege and the inflated percentage of African Americans behind bars, these bars conveys Pusha T’s passion, both through the first line, where it is more or less explicitly stated, and also through allusions to slavery and lyrics infused with intense word choice and wordplay. The genre of rap lyricism is certainly more constrained than that of the academic essay, and yet in a way it’s far more empowering. Sure, the facts behind the author’s point cannot simply be laid out before the reader, with an in-text citation parenthesized next to them. And yet, how much clearer can you be than when a single line hits each and every listener deep in their cores? That question, for the record, was rhetorical.

Author’s Note: Pardon the late submission, the U of M bug has had me confined to my bed the better part of this weekend and the beginning of this week. But in the words of Kanye West (and in keeping with the theme of this blogpost), “You should be honored by my lateness/That I would even show up to this fake shit.”

 

3 thoughts to “The Art of Mastering the Pen”

  1. Hey Chad! Good to hear from you and I am so glad you are feeling better!
    I think it is so cool, and sort of witty, that you are taking an essay that you have written about Juicy J’s rap lyrics and turning it back into your own rap lyrics. I am so excited to see if your lyrics will share common threads with Juicy J’s song or if they will rather take on a new body of content.
    I am all for this idea of transformative repurposing. In fact, I am also working with song lyrics in my repurposing project. I think for the both of us, the power of listening to the actual music we are working with will help us to focus in and produce some creative stuff in terms of an end product.
    I challenge you to really work with, or maybe in a lot of cases, against, your new song lyrics. What if your new song was focused on the rhetorical context of the essay that you wrote about Juicy J rather than the content of the essay, or even better, rather than the content of Juicy J’s actual song?
    I am so excited to get to work with you on this piece. I know you are more than capable of producing some awesome work for this project.
    Best regards!
    -Caroline

  2. Hey Chad,

    Haven’t seen you in a few days and now you’re a rapper? This is really exciting and unique stuff you have planned and I am excited to help you throughout the process. In fact, rap was the only genre my friends listened to growing up. Obviously it exists in many forms, and there is a lot to say about the writing and poetry of a Pusha T song as opposed to Juicy J. That being said, I think this is a truly complex and interesting idea, and while most will get caught up on the mere fact that you are choosing rap as your writing genre, as a writing group, we should be careful to consider what goes into rap and how one can personally insert themselves into a genre that in many ways is a culture, with interesting historical, social implications. My question for you is what exactly will make your work a rap song, and how you plan on changing your rhetoric, precisely, so that it becomes “rap.” What makes rap special and unique in its use of language and its use of bars, as these things exist in other genres of music and writing as well. Food for thought! See you in class.

  3. Hey Chad, I am absolutely fascinated by your repurposing project. I have recently gained an interest in spoken word poetry and considered doing that for my project. In many ways, spoken word poetry and rap are incredibly similar. Both are extremely powerful, but rap, perhaps, is more cognizant of tempo and musicality. Just an idea:
    Will you be rapping the song itself for your remediation project?….The possibilities.
    I’m excited to see where your repurposing project takes you. Cheers to creative modes of writing!

Leave a Reply