Romancing the Text: Musings on Restraint & Anticipation

If I am unfortunate enough to walk by a venue playing rap/house music, I often buy an ice-cream to congratulate myself on getting through the two minute ordeal. Now, there’s no arguing the appeal of a good tune, and frankly, I am the first to admit, when my teen ears heard Technotronic’s ‘Pump up the Jam’ I was amazed by the beats bouncing out of that boombox.

Today’s Ditty however, is not a critique on the sound of rap, nor a challenge to apologists to expound on the cultural significance of rap – but rather, it’s a general lamentation on the lack of lyricism in popular music text.

Firstly, let’s discuss ‘tough guy lyrics’ which consists of continual repetition of violent threats i.e. how they’re going to lay into someone, carve them up, pull a trigger, break a finger, sit on a head…It just loses its punch and becomes innocuous when threats are sung plenty times over.

My advice to budding Tupacs is to think about how you can creatively allude to the threat of violence without being explicit. By demonstrating creative restraint, you can go a long way to build more dramatic tension in your lyrics.

To help work on creative restraint, here’s a little writing exercise tough guys can pop in their holster for later. Try to write a rap song without the following words: gun, blood, pigs, hammer, slammer, cops, knife, cut, trigger, pistol, dope, gold, slap, stitch, bitch, punch.

Secondly, let’s discuss ‘bedroom talk’ in lyrics. When the song has its pants around its ankles by the third crotchet, the show is over.

The defence of lyricism in music as an artform is valid if the intention is to raise the heart-rate by elevating the senses.  If the intention is purely to titillate our basest instincts, then I would argue that ‘art’ is absent.

When writers or lyricists leave no space for its audience to creatively imagine or negotiate with a phrase on its own terms, it shows a lack of respect for the audience. Great writers give the audience time to read or listen or watch texts not to be real – but to allow the texts to be revealed within the self.

I shall leave you alone to reflect on a good example of restraint and anticipation – whereby the audience is invited to exist in a space of tension, imagination and romantic possibilities – a line from Jeff Buckley’s lyrics ‘So Real’ –

‘Girl, let me sleep tonight on your couch / And remember the smell of the fabric / Of your simple city dress…’

Till next time, crack a whid!


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