Hip hop 101: fire breathing pillow talk

10 04 2008

In her delightful book Black noise, Tricia Rose (1994: 38-39) discerns three critical concepts in hip hop music: flow, layering and rupture. Flow pertains to rhythmic and lyrical quality: rap music is characterized by the smooth motion of drum beats and basslines, which is then ruptured by scratching, or changes in the beat. Rappers can also verbally rupture the flow, by alternating their speech tempo in response to the dj’s beat. The interplay between flow and rupture supports rhythm and lyrical content, and, in turn, creates layering. This refers to the dialogue between words and sounds, which ultimately creates meaning and significance.

Case in point is Jean Grae‘s lyrical prowess in Love Thirst. I came across this track on a Laid Back mix and it caught my ear like an infection. Love how Jean’s flow layers mercilessly over the unbearable lightness of the R&B beat, ruptured by sexual braggadocio à la start minimal, raise it to animal. Very dope, indeed.

Rose, T. (1994) Black Noise. Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Hanover: University Press of New England (Wesleyan University).

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