A Lyrical Analysis of Chart Topping Rap Songs 1987-Present Part 3

To conclude this three part series, I will attempt to use the collected data to tease out some themes from each decade of rap music, and then compare the beginnings of modern rap to its incarnation in today’s popular culture. Let’s start with the 1980s, rap’s first exposure to popular culture and media attention. The two most popular words of the 1980s were “You” and “Me”. This is interesting because all other decades of rap that I analyzed had the most popular words “I” and then “You”. So what this tells me, using a social lens, is that popular rap from the 80s focused on the rapper either telling us as listeners, or people rapped about in song, what we have to do or what we should do. Keeping the social focus, I can discern that 80s rap had a certain societal focus, as in the rapper wanted to tell “you” about what was going on and what “you” can do to help. A look at the popular verbs of the 80s helps us further this conclusion. The top three verbs were “Know”, “Love”, and “Fuck”. The high usage of the verb “know” leads me to believe that there was a focus on knowledge, either of socioeconomic problems or knowledge of a rapper’s lyrical prowess or style. “Love” as in “I love…” sounds pretty interesting but in reality it might just be a more descriptive version of “I like…” because it doesn’t sound quite as good in flow. “Fuck” is an interesting verb in context of the 80s and socially aware rap, hits such as NWAs “Fuck da Police” speak to a frustration with social disparities and social problems, usually with “fuck” an exclamation of frustration and disgust with current authorities or attitudes. As far as 1980s adult or profane language goes, it is pretty tame compared to later decades of rap. The top words in this category are as follows: “Fuck”, “Horny”, “Fight”, “Shit”,  and “Nigga”. “Fuck” has already been spoken to but let’s look at the other 4. “Horny” really can’t be taken any other way than talking about sexual exploits. “Fight” is an interesting one, and again using 1980s context can speak to larger issues, such as the desire to “Fight the Power” and Public Enemy eloquently said in their hit entitled so. “Shit” is often used to describe a bad situation, for example: “I hate this shit”. Again, this can be taken as a verbalized frustration that rap in the 1980s was characterized by. “Nigga” is popular in all decades of rap, but the 1980s see this as the only variation of the word in the top 10. As in all decades of rap, “nigga” is used to refer to the rapper’s compatriots, usually in a jovial or casual manner.

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Episode V: The Poetry Strikes Back

I’d like to lead with part of a meta, humorous verse I came across earlier today, in the 147th Juan Gelman poem I have done my best to analyze:

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Why am I analyzing poetry? in process part II

After a belated meeting with my advisor, I feel a greater sense of purpose than before. After a belated meeting with my advisor, I feel more intimidated than before. Most of what I have been doing has been gathering background information about the geopolitical and cultural history of Argentina, and doing close-readings of poems by my poet Juan Gelman. What I haven’t been doing is figuring out who I am trying to analyze and dissect poetry for (besides myself, my advisor, family and friends, and faceless visitors to the poster presentations we will eventually give), and exactly how to frame Gelman’s fascinating discussion of life and death, identity, personal and national memory and more, all in the context of the troubled and sometimes horrific history he lived through.

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