Cappo on the Importance of Lyricism in Hip Hop

Words: Cappo
Illustrations: Emily Catherine
Saturday 20 January 2018
reading time: min, words

The Notts veteran explains what wordsmithery means to the art form

The lyricism is a gift, you can loathe that or love it – it’s the thought that           Counts…

Lyricism is a force field. It’s a skill that runs deep, like precious metal within sedimentary rocks. It’s an integral part of literature and a vital component in the highly competitive genre of hip hop.

It’s a gift that comes naturally to some: the ability to pluck ideas out of thin air, attach emotional weight to them, and solidify them on paper, screen or sonic recording. But to even the most naturally gifted of craftsmen, it’s an ability honed by repetition, practice and dedication. Like magic, it’s a learned craft; words and rhymes are painstakingly constructed around ideas carefully selected from the artist’s memory and set to strict rhythm, to let them fly like ammo.

Lyrics? Somebody want lyrics? I’ve got the bagful, the commentator’s back for              the trophy – get your mind right, What d’you know about the director? I take                   two and direct a long shot like Hitchcock.

Rap is often seen as a base form of poetry, something for those uninformed of the arts. But at its most lyrical, it forms a fortress of knowledge, with its walls layering up literary devices and information: imagery, emotion, context, technique, cadence, delivery.

I hear words that possess truth and honesty in the work of many Notts emcees: Mr 45, Scorzayzee, Stan Crooked, Juga-Naut, and Vandal Savage, for example. That sincerity can be felt in the simplest of rhyme schemes, the most basic pattern of words, and its impact is undeniable. It’s particularly significant during live performance, when the artist exposes themselves completely to the judgment and appreciation of a crowd.

As a practising hip hop lyricist and student of the culture, my own work often touches on the art of writing; the highs and lows of the creative process. I try to find my truths by looking into myself and my circumstances, to hopefully resonate on an emotional level with the listener.

Through my mouth I make sounds that spread in patterns and waves that         travel like water ripples when pebbles splash in the way.

A prime exemplar of visceral imagery is Vandal Savage. Just listen to the portraits he paints in tracks like Summer’s Over and Fry Up: “Mastered the art of peace – still find it hard to sleep, every shootin’ star you see, harbours a part of me.” Then there’s the late K.I.D who was, in my opinion, one of Notts’ best. Listen to get Get Busted (Remix) for proof of his commanding performance technique and stamp of knowledge as power: “I open up raps and drop shit like a skydive, I crack rappers who try to get live, when I house raid your dwelling, what I’m saying is this: if you’re livin’ on the edge of your wits you get taken to bits.”

Then there’s the ability to connect with the current social climate, which can be found in Scorzayzee’s Great Britain: “If I had an army I would fight you, if I had the police I’d arrest you, if I had my own court – my own judge and jury – I’d sit back and let history tell the story.” Same goes with Mr 45’s Radford (Ya Get Me), which demonstrates local, street-based lyricism; it’s highly skilful, socially and culturally insightful, complex, raw and honest.

Why is hip hop lyricism so important? On a personal level, it’s what I’ve studied and obsessed over, for almost two decades. It’s important because watching an emcee in full flow is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever experienced. It’s witnessing Big Daddy Kane’s innate performative stance while rapping live, seeing him relay bar after bar effortlessly to a packed house. It’s watching Lee Ramsay, frontman of St Ann’s rap group Out Da Ville on BBC2 in the early millennium, hearing the potency in his words and acknowledging the blood, sweat and tears involved in getting him to that influential position. It’s dropping the needle on Pure Genius’ Law of the Land EP from 1996, and hearing authentic, hard-hitting, Notts city, hip hop lyricism.

I write lyrics for the respect, understanding, and acknowledgment of my peers, those who I believe can truly relate to my words. It’s a way to communicate with listeners, to evoke emotions with lasting effect. I do it to leave a legacy; to leave something behind for my son and daughter when they may develop an interest in sharing in their father’s personal thoughts. I do it so I can leave behind something more than money, bricks and mortar; something to be remembered.

For the rhymes I’ve lost in the ether, and the ones I’ve left alone – dedicated to           the ones I’ve lost when I rack my brain…

Cappo will be running an eight-week course – The Emcee: Lyricism, Hip Hop and the Art of Rap – at Nottingham Trent University from Monday 29 January - Monday 19 March, 6pm, £270.

The Emcee: Lyricism, Hip Hop and the Art of Rap event

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