Sophia Grace, Nicki Minaj, and the Comprehensibility of Hip-hop Lyrics | The Creativity Post

Lack of comprehension, it must be said, can always be due to the audience or to the speaker. At least one hip-hop group, Wu-Tang Clan, has expressed their opinion that the former is at play. Their Triumph lyric suggests that most people listen to hip-hop for the beats and not the lyrical content: “The dumb are mostly intrigued by the drum”. I surely have fallen into this category before, as come on, I listen to Super Bass when, for example, I run; understanding the lyrics is a less pressing issue than making it up that killer flight of stairs.

But on the flip side, if hip-hop artists are taking such liberties as purposeful mispronunciation; use of auto-tune, slang, and features of African-American English; rhyming quickly; having the beats drown out the lyrics; and not publishing their lyrics, one could make the case that hip-hop artists don’t really want the mainstream public (think Sophia Grace) to understand what they’re saying.

It seems a less-than-intuitive marketing strategy, to say the least: why would artists interested in mass appeal want to make their songs difficult to understand? The answer largely has to do with creativity and innovation: hip-hop places a premium on these ephemera that is absent in other popular genres. For example, last fall there was a controversy about Justin Bieber being part of a cipher on BET because it was speculated that Ludacris would have written Bieb’s rhymes. Outside of hip-hop, who writes the songs artists perform doesn’t matter nearly as much. As I discuss in my most recent article on hip-hop, part of this creativity is using cutting-edge, in-group language and vocabulary. If you’re part of an in-group seen as “cool”, as soon as mainstream culture adopts the innovative language you’re using, that language somehow loses its luster. This process is perfectly illustrated in a 30-second MTV cartoon about the life and death of the word bling. This clip shows the diffusion of the word bling, as it starts with Black hip-hop artists and is subsequently adopted by less and less “cool” people, until it finally “dies” upon being uttered to an elderly White woman.

via Sophia Grace, Nicki Minaj, and the Comprehensibility of Hip-hop Lyrics | The Creativity Post.

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About Ravenmount

Independent science nerd/writer/music blogger/arts enthusiast/theorist currently in Colorado.
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