Speaking earlier today to a colleague who aspires to be a hip-hop MC (one
notable virtue of hip-hop culture is the value it places in working hard at
something, aspiring to virtuousity. You don't get to be an MC just by saying
you are). We were talking about "flow", about the techniques involved in
making a string of (mostly assonantal) rhymes come tumbling after one
another, whilst keeping the whole thing on point and orderly. You have to
work over your material again and again to get it right (freestyling is
something else, more like blues improvisation in that the licks and chops
are to a certain extent already there in one's personal bag-o'-tricks just
waiting to be picked up and used). One reason for doing this is that it's
difficult and impressive, and doing it well demonstrates one's skill and
dedication; another is that it produces an exhilarating verbal effect which
makes the listener trip whilst offering a challenge to his or her powers of
concentration - try writing down the lyrics to a Wu-Tang Clan song and
you'll see what I mean.
My friend asked me whether I thought poetry would survive (I'd showed him,
apropos of a general discussion in the office about race riots, the poem I
wrote the other night); I said that I thought that poetry tended to go
wherever it was needed.
A lot of rap is bullshit; and this is the considered opinion of a lot of
rappers, especially with regard to their competitors. Still, I'd like to see
yer new formalists come up with anything as damned clever and funky as the
GZA's "Duel of the Iron Mic".