"The word does not exist in a neutral language...rather it exists in other people's mouths, in other people's contexts, serving other people's intentions: it is from there that one must take the word, and make it one's own."
pulling a tail of rings—beads
of an abacus, the mathematics
of light—a lengthening spine,
snakeskin no longer inhabited.
All day I’m giving a name
for what isn’t there. Yet somewhere
we’ve left our likeness, the hollow
shapes of us. Even though the snake
has slipped into the shade,
the shed skin, deceptively whole,
hidden in the sun-flecked grass,
remembers what it once held.
yes that's right i guest-live-blogged for the world's pre-eminent videogames and booze pairing website, Videogames and Booze Dot Blogspot Dot Com.
Check out the coverage ex post facto here. Then peep the rest of the website as Ben's got a pretty good thing going over there. And then come back here because we miss you ever so much when you're gone.
i started thinking about dictionary rap the other day after reading a memorial post on Smiley Culture (Rasta In Peace). Culture was an English reggae star who got away with repping 'ganja' and 'sensemillia' live on the BBC because apparently broadcasters had no idea what he was talking about.
and that's the thing about hip hop (or at least one of them): new slang comes up fast and furious, living out its popularity in a couple of songs, a particular region, or even for decades at a time (pretty sure i learned the word 'wack' from kriss kross back in '92), and challenges fans to prove themselves by how deep they 'get' it. wu tang clan thrives on this stuff. you can barely call yourself a listener before you know what the fuck 'shaolin land' means. even the stupidest slang can generate insider cred - remember when you learned what 'skeet' was all about? and how smug you felt at the next dance party watching innocents shout it?
at this point, deciphering hip hop slang is a cottage industry unto itself. peep rap exegesis - now rap genius - a website whose entire existence depends on music nerds scrambling to get up to speed on the latest rap neologisms - and on the cockiness of those fans who think they already know (a brief side note about this industry - do you think it's making any money? do you think it ever will?).
but sometimes rappers get so esoteric that even avid listeners can't figure out what the hell they're talking about. that's where dictionary rap comes in.
In 'Cockney Translation,' one of Smiley Culture's biggest hits, he explains a host of cockney slang terms in thick Jamaican patois (full lyrics here):
this is kind of tongue-in-cheek, cuz Culture doesn't actually use the terms he's defining. He's pointing at the divide between Jamaican immigrants and their poor white counterparts. In displaying his knowledge of Cockney, he's actually demonstrating his distance from it.
Kardinall Offishall's 'BaKardi Slang,' on the other hand, reps terms a little closer to home, here Toronto's west indian community:
and then there's Big L's 'Ebonics', the closest thing to a new york-style dictionary i know of:
you know, it occurs to me that the dictionary function of these songs, while being the unifying characteristic that made me group them together in the first place, is actually secondary in each case. mostly, dictionary songs work the way 'cockney translation' does - holding out vocab as a rough-and-ready way of defining a community. or, if you wanna get all linganth onnit, outlining speech registers and their tokens in order to mark off linguistic and social space (<- this is how i sound in my day job).
in that sense, i'm not even sure dictionary music is written to/for in-group members, who probably already know who they are. instead, they're all about displaying and maintaining distance from the rest of us. 'look at how different we are,' they seem to say. 'impenetrably so. we could say these things like you. but we're not like you, so this is how we say them.'
with this theory in mind (dictionary rap as community-marker), i did a quick search to find out which cities/parts of the country/whatever have their own. unfortunately, i could only find one, from the bay area (complete with helpful written definitions for the uninitiated and a kinda creepysweet beat):
there have gotta be more of these. i'm just not sure how to find them.
a better title for the interactive map 'where americans are moving' might be 'our national illusions, visualized.' after all, isn't illusion the better part of why we leave? compelled by the belief - tightly held but imperfectly grounded - that things will be better there. we claim new jobs, family obligations and other sensible things, but deep down every decision to pack up and go is fueled by the desire to find a place that finally gets us.
consider those cities that figure largest in our national mythology - the miamis, the vegases, the big apples. who holds tightest to their projected fantasies? and once seen in the unflinching light of the quotidian, where do you go next?
halfway between mardi gras and home, my flight got canceled. i write this from the giantest, fluffiest bed in memphis, tennessee, where i've already gorged on unlimited wi-fi and peed in their pool. twice. breakfast this morning is cold pizza because apparently nobody does continental breakfast anymore? also availed myself of a few piping hot showers, wherein i managed to scrub most of the grime of last week off my skin. t-shirt still smells like wet cigarette, though, and sweat and leftover glitter. you're welcome, future seat partner.
most of mardi gras was spent dancing to/marching with/screaming at the what cheer? brigade from providence, ri. similar to this, actually, but with 100% less sage francis.
what I missed on the internet while i was gone: the making of Pharcyde's 'Drop' (you know: that Spike Jonze joint with all the backwards?). Here we learn a) there are cool jobs for linguists (DUH.NO.DUH), b) there are cool jobs for linguists in hip hop, and c) goddammit Pharcyde what happened to our love? Seriously, was it something I said? I want you back! I'll do whatever it takes.
You know how most articles about 'what teh innarnets is doing to our brainz' either focus on how it's ruining us or how it's turning us into uber-menschen? And how both takes are overly-facile, limited readings of a pretty complex, incompletely-understood process? This guy gets it closer to right. I especially enjoyed thinking about how our transition to online memory storage is similar to what happened when we first started inscribing things in books.
Currently digging Aleon Craft, dude doing future-hop out of Georgia. Sounds like he's circling the planet in a spaceship from Saturn, transmitting bizarre beats and made-you-blink lyrics directly to your brain.
"We think of artistic processes as male sexual processes. You ejaculate on the canvas (Jackson Pollack to Dash Snow). You write a book and then you bind and print it, the end. And then if you want to write another book the whole process starts over again from the beginning. But what if art is a female sexual process? If there is no refractory period? What if orgasm just leads to more orgasm? More spending? More paintings, more poems, more posts on a website? Every day there is five dollars and a sunset." ---Please start reading This Recording. You won't regret it.
.....aaaaannnd if you're in Chicago this Sunday, check out my friend Becket's show. i'll be there. so will becket. 'nuff said.