Monday, May 3, 2010

A Post about Hip-Hop -- Act Accordingly

If you can’t tell from my unnecessary Wu-Tang Clan references, my goal is to turn The News-Herald Book Club into the definitive literature blog for hip-hop heads.

I’ve quoted The Rza’s Tao of Wu and reviewed Adam Bradley’s Book of Rhymes, which explains how MCs use poetic techniques when writing their lyrics.

Now, I add Paul Edwards’s How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC to the reading list for the studious hip-hopper.

How to Rap is (as the title implies) a book that suggests ways aspiring MCs can hone their craft. What makes it interesting is Edwards doesn’t give his own advice. Instead, he’s interviewed more than 100 artists and compiled their suggestions.

I’ve read a lot of books about writing—Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style, Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction, Stephen King’s On Writing and Barbara Drake’s Writing Poetry, among others—and none of them allow the masters of the field to speak for themselves. The closest literary equivalent I could think of is Frank Conroy’s The Eleventh Draft, which invited authors like Doris Grumbach and Barry Hannah to discuss their creative process. (This Guardian article also does something similar.)

Edwards has a master’s degree in postmodernism, literature and contemporary culture from the University of London. His interviews cover all facets of U.S. hip-hop. He talks to lyrical godfathers Kool G Rap (who writes the foreword) and Big Daddy Kane, multiplatinum artists and Nelly, and underground wunderkinds Royce Da 5’9’’, Crooked I and Pharoahe Monch.

If you don’t know who any of those people are, you probably won’t care about How to Rap.

That’s one of the few knocks I have on Edwards’s book. If you don’t care about hip-hop as a fan, it has nothing for you. But if you have even a passing interest in the genre’s creative process, it would be worth cracking the cover.

However, many rappers—like athletes—have learned to speak almost exclusively in clichés. For example, several of the interviewees stress how you need to write music the listener can “feel.”

Well, duh. But how?

Fortunately, some give very specific advice that all writers, not just MCs or songwriters, would be wise to follow.

“Try to elevate your mind, no matter how that may be. For some people it could be reading books, for other people it could be meditating, for other people it could be being hands-on with whatever they want to learn about,” Crooked I recommends.

My favorite suggestion comes from RBX: “Practice, practice, [expletive deleted] practice, practice, practice, and practice, then you go practice some more.”

-Jason Lea,

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