Trill Shit: Cacophonies Part 4
This is what distinguishes The Rap from mere poetry. Poetry is rhythm and music conveyed through the semantic, it is music semanticized, set to symbols and ignited within post semantic cerebral comprehension of the appreciative reader. Music is often corporeal, emotive and instinctive, it can be meaningful, it can be coded and logosified- but this is not a prerequisite. Music is not subject to meaning, an aria keeps its soul despite language, a poem requires some form of semantic conveyance. To appreciate this further we can contemplate Quentin Meillassoux’s exploration of Mallarmé’s (arguably aphonic) poetics, in particular the “essential aspect of Mallarméan poetics, namely the rivalry between poetry and music.” (Meillasoux, 2012, pp. 63). Mallarmé’s staunchly logocentric position on music and poetry’s ability to conjure meaning may help us render (if the reader will excuse my occularcentric vocabulary) the dilemma of the voice:
“The poet considered that the instrumental form of song was a deficient expression of the latter. Of itself, instrumental music can only produce In the mind of the listener a vague meaning – a line of emotion whose exact signification is fugitive. When associated with lyrics, the uncertain effusions of music can therefore never succeed, according to the poet, in truly marrying the precision of words. Opera, in particular, fails because it merges speech and song: This art produces only a totality of juxtaposition, in which the parts do not engender each other reciprocally but are deployed according to the parallel lines of libretto and score. (…) Only poetry – because it engenders a song with the aid of speech alone – is in a position truly to be able to produce a profound unity between thought and music. It is thus a matter of reclaiming Music from ‘strings, brass and wood’ so as to restore it to Verse. There is not even any need for poetry to be read in declamatory fashion for its (entirely mental) melody to produce its full effects: poetry is ‘silence’s musician’.” (Meillassoux, 2012, pp. 63-64)
With this bold statement upon the intrinsic musicality of word the dilemma(s) of The Rap can be understood. Rap is never not word, it can never jettison its meaning, as much as it can never emancipate itself from music, rhythm and the contingencies of delivery. This peculiarity is evident for any hip hop fan who sits down after the record has finished to study the alien hieroglyphics in the CD sleeve.
The slip we hear of the rap lyric into mere musical/production accoutrement signals, like an NYPD Rumbler siren, the possibility of that the poetic facet of the art is lacking. The rap needs to either word up or quit fronting, it needs to be the priapic spot-lit poet or else fall into the orchestra pit and become instrument. I suspect that for rappers of today, with such talented producers available and a monologue of clichés in their pads, the metaphysical choice of becoming instrument is their inevitable fate. “Fuck Flexin’in’in’in”.
So as rappers eschew lyrical content for the musical directness of an instrumentized voice we may recall once more Marsyas. Cavarero observes of how Marsyas “learned that the wind instruments are a prolongation of the mouth and that they are too similar to the voice. (…) they require breath and thus impede the flautist from speaking. In other words, the flute lets itself, dangerously, represent the phone in the double sense of the term: voice and sound. Whoever plays it renounces speech and evokes a world in which the acoustic sphere and expressions of corporeality predominate. .”(Cavarero, 2005, pp. 69). Marsyas’ sounding voice turned sounding instrument is not dissimilar to Robb Bank$’ or ASAP Rocky’s rap-turned-musical-component; semantic speech, logos, saying something, is renounced in favour of musical-sonic immediacy, their Voice is somewhat traded for the instrument of produced rap. If we recall the musical duel between Marsyas and Apollo was can contemplate further metaphysical verisimilitudes. Marsyas renounced semantic content for the song of the flute, the glorification of his own breath and the musicalization of his lungs - this act can be aligned with the rapper as instrument, the rapper who renounces poetry for the sonic beautiful, there is a sonorous voice and little more. Apollo, by contrast, played the Lyre, a string instrument that relies heavily on dexterous digital accomplishments and learned knowledge of modal arrangements. Apollo can be aligned with the producer, the arranger, the composer of infinitely complex possibilities. The practice is a digitalized craft of knowledge, arrangement, composition and execution, on Lyre or Logic(5).