Check out our RAP playlist on Apple Music!
The recent passing of Jazz musician Bob Dorough struck a chord with me and I didn’t even know who he was until he died. He was the musical composer of Schoolhouse Rock! and thus, when he passed away he took a part of all of our childhoods with him.
You see, growing up I spent a lot of time on the school bus. Sam will tell you, we spent anywhere from 4–5 hours on busses to and from school every single day for almost a decade. In fact, we took school busses to shuttles just to swap school busses and keep riding. It was life for us, but it wasn’t all bad.
We slept, did homework, talked shit, played spades, and learned to get at chicks all the same. However, by and large, the thing we enjoyed the most was the music.
A song could go from virtually unknown to everyone’s favorite in literally one bus ride. The same way we break records in the strip club or at exclusive listening parties today is how the bus would break them back then. We shared headphones and speakers and honed our palettes for our art in our way. It was great.
Of course, once we finally got to school all that went out the window, especially in Language Arts class. There was reading, and poetry, and comprehension of said reading and poetry, and the adolescent Troy didn’t like it one bit. I’d get to school and immediately become uninterested in the discussion, debating, and dissecting of art. It wasn’t that I couldn’t or that I didn’t want to get good grades, it was because our classroom content wasn’t quite like the music on the bus was. Their poetry was missing rhythm.
It’s no secret why we can still remember Schoolhouse Rock jams to this day and not the plot of The Crucible. Music is sticky and Bob Dorough realized that.
What I hadn’t realized, though, was that there is a lot to learn about Language Arts from Hip-Hop and Rap. The same thing that kept me up listening late at night when I should’ve been doing homework could’ve been helping me in class the whole time. They call that irony.
So, in honor of that, and Mr. Dorough, below is a fun little list of literary themes found in music (most of which are from different eras of my bus rides) with hopes that we can all relish in appreciation of the rhythm and poetry we know as Rap. Rest in peace, my friend.
Identical Rhyme — rhyme created by the repetition of a word
Ha — Juvenile
This shit belongs in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, but that’s an entirely different article. This dude must’ve really wanted to get his point across, because he said “ha” like 69 times (seriously).
Monorhyme — a poem or stanza in which all the lines rhyme with each other
1997 — Dom Kennedy
He’s low key the king of this. A lot of rappers make their money by weaving in and out of the breaks and beats, switching up flows and rhyme schemes. But Dom shows us that sometimes you can go an entire verse without the frills.
Honorable Mention: Who Not Me — Ludacris’ verse
Internal Rhyme — a rhyme involving a word in the middle of a line and another at the end of the line, or in the next line
Aquemeini — Andre 3000 (Last verse)
Pay close attention and you’ll notice that after he says “bends” in the first line, every word that he rhymes it with is placed specifically on the 2 or the 4. Some of the best poets know how to use their voice as percussion instruments and not just vocal tools.
Honorable Mention: Renegade — Jay-Z (2nd verse)
Simile — a comparison between two things using “like” or “as”
Whoa! — Black Rob
This is one of those that’s hard to miss. I mean, they say it like 85 thousand times in the song. Literally anything ill you see is “like whoa”. Simple, but poignant.
Honorable Mention: Drop it Like It’s Hot — Snoop Dogg ft. Pharrell
Allegory — a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden moral or political meaning
The Cool (album) — Lupe Fiasco
This is cool because the song of the same name from his first album became the entire premise of his 2nd album. He expands on the concept of “The Cool” (song), a tale of a dude that lived fast, died young, and got the chance at life again, only to die an identical death. The story of the album is the expansion of this dramatic narrative as he formally introduced characters The Streets and The Game to highlight their roles in the struggle involved in chasing The Cool.
Honorable Mention: ATM — J. Cole
Alliteration — the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of closely connected words
P’s and Q’s — Mick Jenkins
As the title suggests, he was on his game here. No “i” left undotted and no “t” uncrossed.
Personification — the attribution of a personal nature to something nonhuman
This is fairly popular in Hip-Hop, but not many folks can go and entire song giving inanimate objects human characteristics. We learn the most about personification when we’re kept in the dark a bit and allowed to come to the ultimate conclusion on our own. My favorites would probably be:
I Used To Love H.E.R. — Common
I Gave You Power — Nas
Extended Metaphor — meaning ascribed to one subject by way of another
Bag Lady — Erykah Badu
This song is not about a lady with bags, it’s about a woman with baggage. We’ve all been in a situation that we’ve brought emotional baggage to and it’s not the best way to start a relationship. You can’t hurry up, you got too much stuff. So, pack light.
Honorable Mention: Drive Slow — Kanye West ft. Paul Wall & GLC
Hyperbole — to exaggerate and overemphasize the crux of a statement for effect
Backseat Freestyle — Kendrick Lamar
“I pray my dick get big as the Eiffel Tower” is such an exaggeration that it can’t even be seen as crude or crass. Similar to a children’s novelist, or a Sunday cartoonist, sometimes you have to embellish your stance to better get a point across. This doesn’t mean you lie about something that isn’t there, but moreso highlight something you want people to pay attention to.
They call that putting 100 on 10.
Foreshadowing — an advanced warning or sign of what is to come
Nas — Rewind
For a quick minute, I thought this one was a stretch, but it isn’t. In this track, Nas tells an entire story backwards. Like Scarface or New Jack City, it’s a typical street tale; and we all know how those end, so he figured he’d go ahead and give away the ending at the beginning. This is why telling it backwards, though not typical, is foreshadowing.
Honorable Mention: Trapped In the Closet — R. Kelly
Slant Rhyme — rhymes in which the vowels or consonants are stretched or stressed
Lil’ Wayne — La La
Look, “ballin” and “toilet” don’t rhyme, but that’s what slant rhyme is all about. It’s about the twang, the delivery (and the context) of who says it. If I had a $1 for every time Weezy did something like this I could quit my day job. That’s part of what makes him so great.
Onomatopoeia — the formation of a word from a sound associated with what it is named
What’s Happnin’ ! — Ying Yang Twins ft. Trick Daddy
BOOM! Bitch, wus happnin’? It didn’t get much more lit in the early 2000s than putting the Ying Yang Twins and Trick Daddy on one track.
Honorable Mention: Essaywhuman?!!!??! — The Roots
Welp, that’s a rap……… Check our our RAP playlist for your next bus ride!