Saturday, April 4, 2009

Hip Hop as Literature Introduction

"She was teaching me by not preaching to me, but speaking to me in a method that was leisurely, so easily I approached."
Common - I Used To Love H.E.R.

I love GOOD Hip Hop and the best of it employs as many literary devices as any poem I've read - extended metaphors, similes, allusions, alliteration, slant rhyme, precise story structure, clever manipulation of POVs, personification, hyperbole... the list goes on and on.

Analyzing Hip Hop through a literary lens should be an interesting undertaking, but I've had the idea for a long while, and now's as good a time as any to put this idea into action.

The first song will be Common's I Used To Love H.E.R. - one of my favorite songs of all time!

Listen to it below. The lyrics are included - and rather than having them in bar form, the way rap lyrics are usually read, I've punctuated them and have them listed sentence by sentence and grouped by verse. I didn't correct grammatical errors and the chorus is left out.

I met this girl, when I was ten years old and what I loved most she had so much soul.

She was old school when I was just a shorty; never knew throughout my life she would be there for me on the regular.

Not a church girl, she was secular - not about the money, no studs was mic checking her but I respected her.

She hit me in the heart.

A few New York niggas had did her in the park but she was there for me and I was there for her, pull out a chair for her, turn on the air for her, and just cool out, cool out and listen to her, sitting on bone, wishing that I could do her.

Eventually, if it was meant to be, then it would be because we related physically and mentally and she was fun then.

I'd be geeked when she'd come around.

Slim was fresh, yo, when she was underground, original, pure untampered and down sister.

Boy I tell ya, I miss her.


Now periodically I would see old girl at the clubs and at the house parties.

She didn't have a body but she started getting thick quick, did a couple of videos and became afrocentric: out goes the weave, in goes the braids, beads, medallions.

She was on that tip about stopping the violence.

About my people she was teaching me by not preaching to me, but speaking to me in a method that was leisurely, so easily I approached.

She dug my rap, that's how we got close, but then she broke to the West coast, and that was cool cause around the same time I went away to school and I'm a man of expanding, so why should I stand in her way.

She’d probably get her money in L.A. - and she did stud.

She got big pub, but what was foul - she said that the pro-black was going out of style.

She said afrocentricity was of the past.

So she got into R&B, hip-house, bass, and jazz.

Now black music is black music and it's all good.

I wasn't salty she was with the boys in the hood cause that was good for her.

She was becoming well rounded.

I thought it was dope how she was on that freestyle shit just having fun, not worried about anyone and you could tell by how her titties hung.


I might've failed to mention that the chick was creative but once the man got you well he altered her native - told her if she got an image and a gimmick that she could make money, and she did it like a dummy.

Now I see her in commercials; she's universal.

She used to only swing it with the inner-city circle - now she be in the burbs licking rock and dressing hip and on some dumb shit when she comes to the city - talking about popping glocks, serving rocks, and hitting switches.

Now she's a gangsta rolling with gangsta bitches - always smoking blunts and getting drunk, telling me sad stories.

Now she only fucks with the funk - stressing how hardcore and real she is.

She was really the realest, before she got into showbiz.

I did her, not just to say that I did it, but I'm committed, but so many niggas hit it that she's just not the same letting all these goofies do her.

I see niggas slamming her, and taking her to the sewer but I'ma take her back hoping that the shit stop cause who I'm talking `bout y'all is hip-hop.


Sneak Peak: Common, in his song ‘I Used To Love H.E.R.’, establishes the extended metaphor of the song’s speaker’s first romantic interest and its evolution as a parallel to Common’s often tumultuous relationship with the ever-changing Hip Hop genre. By assigning Hip Hop a gender, actions, feelings, and intention, Common is able to detail to his listeners why and how Hip Hop first appealed to him, why for a time his interest waned, and how the two found each other again. 'I Used To Love H.E.R.'s story structure mimics the archetypal 'hero saves harlot' template that can be seen in contemporary movies, Biblical parables, and many other pop culture mediums - a structure used to illuminate what Common perceives as Hip Hop's fall from grace and his attempt to salvage what is left of the genre he continues to love. Common's purposeful and precise syntax further highlights his complex relationship with Hip Hop; he most often uses the subjects "I" and "She" to illustrate the trajectories both he and Hip Hop follow during the period in the speaker's life the song covers, only using other agents to qualify the effect outside influences impose on the course of that relationship. Through his speaker's dissatisfaction with the recounted relationship, Common is able to voice his criticisms about the increasingly aggressive and commercial direction Hip Hop was taking in the early 1990s under the guise of love lost and found. This clever, yet thinly veiled commentary on the state of Hip Hop is mirrored in the trials the genre faces to this day and is why 'I Used To Love H.E.R.' has been hailed as one of the greatest and most perceptive records in the annals of Hip Hop.

Full analysis of 'I Used To Love H.E.R.' coming after my review of 'The Mystery Guest'.

Hip Hop Shakespeare

* I know I have ISSUES with tense, so try to disregard those errors lol.


Anonymous said...

kudos on addressing a much under thought topic, approaching hip-hop as literature. i definitely have to say that your analysis is on point and thats one reason why i've always liked artists like common, mos def and talib kweli, etc. they make music that explores many facets of life and they do this in a linguistically accessible manner. i look forward to more lyrics analysis in the future.

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