As you may be aware, the text for the Penn Reading Project this year was the seminal work Book of Rhymes by Adam Bradley, a work extols the artistic merit of hip-hop music and encourages listeners to turn a critical ear to the genre. In an effort to sustain the theme of this work throughout the school year, the University of Pennsylvania has sponsored the column series Rap Analytics: A Penn Student’s Guide to Hip-Hop.
This installment of Rap Analytics, sponsored by Penn Reading Project’s Year of Sound, will focus on the lyrics of the great Earl Simmons, known to the rap community as DMX. Mr. X is a tenured poet in the hip-hop community, who has been noted to participate in many highbrow activities such as acting (impersonating a federal agent to steal someone’s car), spectating and participating in sports (illegal dog fighting), and cruising along the countryside (under the influence of pounds upon pounds of marijuana and crack cocaine). Despite having a façade of a cold-hearted Mafioso, his lyrics express a duality between his purported self and true identity that is truly tragic and beautiful. Let us explore.
“Imma have to show n****s how easily we blow n****s”, Ruff Ryders Anthem
English: “You leave me and my friends no choice but to fellate these men over here.”
Hip-hop in general has caught a lot of criticism over the years for conveying ideas of homophobia. Even DMX himself has been somewhat guilty, claiming earlier in his career that he “shows no love for homo thugs” and that “even if [homosexuals] wash their hands…[he] ain’t touchin’ they hands”. However, DMX breaks rap barriers in this artfully crafted couplet by combining homosexuality and the braggadocio of rap music. Perhaps sexual fluidity is the new “rims” of the “rap game”? Marvelous.
“Yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo”, Where The Hood At
English: “Hey…guys? Hey…guys? Um…guys? Listen…guys?”
In Sir X’s introduction to his first verse, he uses an echoic effect to layer the repetition of this phrase to convey the dying artist inside. He acknowledges that his existence as an artist is only validated by the public’s experience of his art. He laments this fact by employing a scant economy of words. As you can see, behind the rapes and murders, DMX is truly just a delicate little flower craving the world’s attention.
“Whoo! The snakes, the grass, too long, to see! UH! The lawnmower. UH! Sittin right next, to the tree! C’mon!”, Who We Be
English: Honey, where’s the lawnmower? We need to…OH! Nevermind found it!
In this last couplet, X “keeps it real” by “spitting the real talk” back at “his crib.” Not only do we learn from this couplet that DMX has an active green thumb and loves maintaining his garden (while he isn’t snorting PCP off a dead hooker’s “booty”), but we find a little green thumb in all of us as we nod our heads to this horticultural experience X is so vividly describing.
“Aight homies”, I “gotta dip”, but in the next installment of this series I will “drop mad science on yo ass” on how the distribution of black tar heroin can be used as a symbol for love and commitment.