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:
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.”