Ordinary language is all right.
One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.
Of course, the album track / single distinction might be key for the stuff below about whether one should write off commercial rap.
Recent revelations about Dirty:
"This part is kind of annoying but I still like it."
"This part is kind of scary but I still like it."
"This part is kind of dumb but I still like it."
Recent revelations about Dots and Loops:
"Oh, there are strings on this album!"
"No, wait, maybe those are synths, but who cares?
"These are definitely strings, I forgot about them too."
"So the earlier ones were strings, I bet."
"Oh wow, this whole part is in 5/4."
"Oh wow, when I count this in four, this part of the beat stays on but this other one shifts."
"Oh wow, this is in 6/8 or some other meter like that that I never really learned how to count in school."
"The drum machine bit here is actually fascinating instead of boring, I wonder what happened?"
I found myself surprised tonight at just how violent some parts of the third section ("Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart: Molto adagio - Andante") of Beethoven's op. 132 string quartet sound. (In my head, and I think on paper, this is overwhelmingly the "slow" and "pretty" section. Also "deep" and "beautiful" and "sublime" et cetera. But before that "sublime" gives you any ideas, get your mind out of the Enlightenment-era shit-thunder-is-scary-man gutter.)
Something I have yet to understand is how people who have listened to enough (this is some small amount, I'm not sure how much - even just a single album should be enough) contemporary, mainstream rap could seriously contend that the music is not worth listening to or thinking about in virtue of its, well, vice.
One thing to ask is, what is the vice? Problems I often hear cited are commercial rap's obsessions with: material wealth, sex, women, misogyny, drugs, and image. Sometimes it's just one problem that's supposed to be the one that ruins things - note how "bling" rap is just that, bling rap, and not "bling and bitches", say. (Of course, they're more or less in there, too, but to simply say so without asking what particular role women play in bling rap, as opposed to gangsta rap, or whatever other sort of distinctions you'd like to draw, would be too quick. Compare the ways women show up in the lyrics of: Nelly, Jay-Z, Clipse, Dre, Eve, DMX, Missy Elliott, Outkast.) Some people are nominally more canny and group all of these things together as the culprit, the reason we shouldn't bother listening and thinking.
If the complaint is by now tired, the response is, too, maybe just because it seems to go unheeded (then again, the complaint probably does too). What about everything else that shows up, constantly, in rhymes? Poverty - that of the MC, or of those he knows, or grew up around, or with, or maybe of those who are essentially strangers to him. Racism. Crime and drugs, in their negative aspects, rather than only the ways they serve the MC positively. Community, friendship, obligations, respect, family. Power. Self-determination and self-definition.
Do I mean to suggest here the picture that, aside from all the talk about drugs, cash, and bitches, rappers are actually spending their verses pulling a Harlem Renaissance on us? Certainly not. (Of course, I'm not excluding that possibility either.) I also don't mean to suggest that somehow the mere presence of more positive (if whatever it's opposed to is supposed to be wholly negative - which by itself is stupid, either kind of content could be positive or negative, depending on the case) content outweighs negative content, or cancels it out, or neutralizes it, or something like that. (Again, I of course don't mean to exclude this possibility either, though I reckon we might expect there to be some sophisticated relationship between the positive and the negative - maybe recognized or established explicitly by the artist, maybe just by us - for us to think that the negative is ultimately not a problem.)
So what the fuck am I suggesting? Simply that people look and see. I don't know about you, but facts like these make me stop and think before I decide that the music is not worth listening to because of this or that feature of it.
Last night I noticed (though I guess I have been aware of it for a long time) that for quite a while I've been listening to music differently. The best way I've come up with to describe it succinctly is that my mind has been more outside my headphones rather than inside them. This is not to say anything about the focus of my writing for the past few months - and I only this to be avoid being misinterpreted as having a problem with being too cerebral, or not actually listening to the music or something. In some sense I have been hearing it and enjoying it (sometimes). But the focus of my attention has shifted. Tonight while listening to Life After Death I noticed myself staring off into space at a paper bag or something; imagine that feeling and you've got my overriding mode of attention to music for the past who knows how many months.
To see about changing it, last night, I put on "As" and "Another Star" from Songs in the Key of Life. My CD changer is still broken, so this meant playing them just on headphones (which I would've done anyway at that hour) with my portable player (which always makes me feel as if I am camping or something, when I do it inside on my bed). I played "As" a few times and then let it move into "Another Star", then listened to them both again and cut off "Another Star" before it finished and went to bed. I tried to focus intently on at least one thing throughout, though that thing did change as the song went by, of course. Often I tried for the lyrics, because these two songs are especially repetitive for Stevie Wonder songs, and I thought I caught myself drifting away more easily when I focused on a more repetitive part of the music.
The whole thing felt something like what I reckon (through ignorance) meditation to be.
I like to think that, on the cover of Innervisions, Stevie is shooting laser beams out of his eyes. At aliens. Or Jesus (post-ascension).
On the "U Don't Know" remix featuring M.O.P., Jay gives himself away - gives away that he's trying to keep up with them, but can't. "razor blades under the tongue / I will eat your face" - but do I believe him? Of course not. Given his persona (personas?) it's hard to even believe him rhyming about, say, paying someone else to eat your face. In that sick way inevitable when one is talking about eating people's faces, he's kind of a big teddy bear here, playing tough. A big cuddly sick face-eating teddy bear.
On disc I've always thought "Excuse Me Miss" sounded a little cheap, but the video made me temporarily forget about that. I am disappointed that there was nothing good in the video to go with the "Scooby Doos" line, though.
(Those are shoes, by the way.)