Having listened to "commercial" rap songs and the ones on the Billboard charts it's not difficult to see that the themes they discuss are not very thought provoking,these singles and albums usually have a subject that resonates with the image-obsessed public. The images that these songs portray are at times very degrading to all sorts of people, and such songs are highly misogynistic and racist at their worst. Yet, this seems to be the blueprint for billboard success: Get a producer to make you a catchy beat, write a few lines unintelligible lyrics, and throw in a pop culture reference or two and you're good to go.
And like a diamond in the rough, some genuinely great tracks and artists can be found amongst this mishmash of egotistical artists and underpaid producers. Deconstructing the work of these talented individuals, one can find really intricate rhyme schemes, historical references and meaningful ideas. These types of works are notable for not only having complex rhyme schemes but also for maintaining meter, having ingenious wordplay, multisyllable and internal rhymes, and metaphors to name a few. Having a deeper look at these tracks one can find clever use of lyrics in conjunction with with the musical structure of the song. The same holds true for works - by artists like Rakim and Tupac - that date back to as far as the '70's.
Rap battles, rising to fame later in the '80's have a characteristic tone and is usually a means for challenging other artists. This form of rap is usually in freestyle form. This form of rhyme has roots in flyting:an exchange of words, usually in verse form, characterized by wits and eloquence of expression.
Such exchanges were a major social practice in periplasmic Arab(known as naqaid), anglo-saxon England and even Shakespearean plays. Such practices are also found in Japanese (known as haikai from which the modern haiku took birth) and the Norse culture, even Beowulf has this form of verbal duel.
Saying that rap is an entirely different form of art would be incorrect. It's as poetic a form of literature as we make it be. However if we take a look at, or rather listen to, modern rap music we see that it's becoming increasingly reflective of rather superficial and trivial ideas. This might be because of our focus on image and wealth. Might as well look up some older songs, who knows you might find some interesting stuff to listen to.
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