Rap’s “lyrics present themselves as a problem to be solved”

As lyrically dense as rap can be, it’s no wonder that the lyrics present themselves as a problem to be solved, something to be organized either in wiki fashion or to be parsed like raw data. In wiki arrangement, the lyrics are treated as having no intrinsic value beyond the references they make; as raw data, they are done away with almost entirely. Both approaches belie an attitude that ultimately creates distance between the listener and the music: rap lyrics are data; rap lyrics are graphs. Rap lyrics are poetry to be read in your smoking jacket with a glass of Cognac…. Perhaps this is reflective of a certain discomfort that rap music’s ever-broadening fan base has with the genre (or a discomfort with its own outsider’s unfamiliarity with the genre). It at least suggests a nascent anxiety: that to appreciate the music in a direct and visceral or even emotional way would be untoward for the effete, urbane listener. It is hard to imagine this brand of wink-wink analysis happening to any other form of music….

Willy Staley, “What Is the Real Meaning of ‘Fanute’?”, The New York Times Magazine (15 July 2012), 49.

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