Hiphop Postmodernism: Getting Meta With It

I’ve written before about hiphop lyrics as postmodern poetry. A few new tracks have grabbed my attention, like the sensitive Feel It In The Air by Beanie Sigel, a haunting tune studded with phrases of compressed ambiguity, as if the singer is buried under his own difficult choices: “My words still skippin through air/I know you can’t don’t won’t get it” … “This ain’t an us or a we or an I thing/It’s a good bad karma thing” … I’m not sure why, but this track just grabs me.

Kanye West disappoints me sometimes. Sure, he’s a godsend for any literate hiphop fan, with his appearances on Def Poetry Jam and his confrontational lyrical style. Musically, though, the guy can’t sing (a little pitchy, as they say on American Idol) and he relies way too much on that catchy high-pitched backing track gimmick. Enough with the squeaky dolphin voices. However, his new song is about Diamonds in the Sky, and it’s at least better than some of those Kanye tracks that got played way too much on the radio last year.

Finally, Compton’s The Game is taking hiphop’s metafictional streak to new heights with Dreams, which quotes from at least twenty other hiphop classics from the near or distant past. Has there ever been any art form as insular and self-referential as gangsta rap? The Game takes the metaphysical metafictional to new heights with this song. It’s like watching comic strip artist Art Spiegelman quote from Krazy Kat, Peanuts and the Katzenjammer Kids in his jumbled comic frames, or like Neal Pollack rampaging through the history of literature naming every name in the book. This song is itself based on a Jay-Z song, “A Dream”, which was originally based on Biggie Smalls’ song “A Dream”. Does all this self-referentiality amount to postmodernism in practice? I can feel it in the air.

3 Responses

  1. Words and MusicI’ve been
    Words and Music

    I’ve been involved in some great poetry slams at a place here in Jacksonville, FL called the Boomtown Theatre. Hey, I even won 3rd place one night! Talking to different poets who read there, I’ve gathered that more spoken word CDs are featuring background music. According to poet Tonya Smart, who won 1st Place the same night I came in 3rd, music makes spoken word more accessable to more people. So obviously, there is a fine line between poetry and rap. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

    While I’m on this subject, here is an interview I did recently at Boomtown with Tonya Smart.

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