Couple of years back I reviewed Yale’s commendable The Anthology of Rap. I was mostly nice about it (it was a decent selection), but the truth was that it wasn’t much fun to sit and read rap lyrics. Which is not to say that rap lyrics ain’t good (sometimes they’re phenomenal), or that they don’t deserve greater scrutiny and appreciation than they typically receive. It was just that isolating them on paper was not a very suitable approach—delivery being just too large a part of the art form to do away with.
Anyhow, I’ve been rummaging through rap acapellas online for the last couple of days, and have found it a far more rewarding pursuit—this may well be the best way of honing in on hip hop as a genre of live literature. If you haven’t listened to many acapellas yourself, and are a hip hop fan, you might well enjoy the following vintage selection.
We’ll start with Biggie’s “Hypnotize” This really lays bare Biggie’s unusually sensuous ear: as an acapella, his very delicate sound patterns are much more overt (a definite synaesthete, Biggie, I’d say):
Next, a batch of the available acapellas from Nas’s immortal Illmatic: “One Love,” “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” and “Life’s a Bitch” (with AZ). Great in a thousand-odd ways, obviously:
It’s impossible to resist including a Tupac acapella (“Tupacapella”?) in such canonical nineties company—“Thug Style.” Thus exposed, the rhyme scheme, although less artful and sensuous than Biggie or Nas’s, in fact proves surprisingly dense (I’m not usually a big Tupac listener):
Finally, a couple of the more celebrated scientists of rhyme, Big Punisher and Kool G Rap: the former’s “Dream Shatterer” and the latter’s “Fast Life” (which also enable us to hear more from the young Nas).