From Plato to Dre these divisions have been synthesized and persisted to exist, in so many hip hop and rap tracks (especially that of 90-00 Dre dominated Gansta Rap) the female vocal has been relegated to the backing track and designated the musico-corporeal position of Dionysian signifier rather than be granted any position of ‘meaning’ or the produced prevalence of it’s stoic, masculine counterpart. Dr Dre has long been the master of reinforcing this hip hop manifestation of platonic and synthetic engendering. Take for example the strict division audible in Eminem’s Drug Ballard. On the one ear we have the faux-sensuous, quasi-orgasmic simmering vocal shimmerings of a honeyed honey’s humming, the experience is sheer breathy corporeality, after the first 20 seconds of the track we are afforded a sonic intimacy with the singers (Dina Rae) lungs, laryx and lips. On the other ear we are not given the same corporaural; instead we told a story, a story about drugs and his (Eminem’s) experience of drugs. We do not contemplate his vocal apparatus, we do not imagine his thin, pursing and viciously rapping lips or the texture of his neck and warmth of his breath, there is no essence or corporeality (even when he is rapping about his body) instead we are transported (aligning with Mallarmean poetics) to his subjective experience of drug use by the semantic power of (his) words. Between these two voices, one phone, one logos – and between this metaphysical chasm… is the beat.
The absurd pantomime of ‘Bad Intentions’, by Dr Dre feat Knockturnal, is another example of such divisions. As before, other than the beat the instruments are so aligned with Dionysian temptations, corpaural moans and Marsyan/Pan pipes one could almost presume that the absurdly macho Dre read a book about how to be the super-logos-Man on record (sup Dre ;-)). At the core of this conformist and platonic ode to pudenda is the pan pipe sample. Pan is interchangeable with Marsyas, their myths entwined and coagulated, both Pan and Marsyas were flautists who beckoned forth the force of nature. The flute (or pan pipe) became a symbol of the corruption of natural instincts:
“Bacchic frenzy and all similar emotions are most suitably expressed by the flute… (Aristotle, 2001, Politics VIII, 1342b 5-6)” (Dolar, 2006, pp. 46)
“…and there was a forth, the dithyramb, as it was called, dealing, if I am not mistaken, with the birth of Dionysus. (…) Possessed by a frantic and unhallowed lust for pleasure, they contaminated laments with hymns and paeans with dithyrambs, actually imitated the strains of the flute on the harp, and created a universal confusion of forms.” (Plato, Laws, 700a-701c)
In metaphysical terms Dre’s choice of sample on Bad Intentions is the most mythically apt and analogous sample he could have programmed to juxtapose the lyrics (in the traditionally Dre productions practice of logos/phone metaphysical dichotomizings). Everything that is Dionysian, ‘sinful’, lustful or feminine is summed up in the taunting pipes of Marsyas and Pan (let’s not forget, due to Pan’s ubiquity in Victorian and Edwardian neopaganism his appearance is the basis of our modern day Satan). Melted into this heady panpipe sample we find feminine corpaural moans, ohs and ahhhs; cringingly clichéd, hammy nudges and winks add to Dre’s preposterous composition, production and lyrics; the platonic, traditionally masculine view of what should be the feminine and corporeal is caricatured against the a-corpus, pro-logos boasts of Dre and Knockturnal. Dre and Knockturnal stand separate, telling stories, bragging and exclaiming from a position isolated from the music and corporeal elements:
“No talkin, fuck how your day go
You want dick (yeeeaah!), will bitch say so”
When the female voice, the content of the tracks music and samples is addressed directly it is only a response to an unheard question, from a woman hoping to talk. The opportunity to enter into any form of dialogue, to exchange logos, to communicate through semantic language is spurned by Dre, logos is for the men. The men tell the stories and offer wisdom and insight whilst the others tend to everything that is corporeal, musical, and apart from logos.
“let us dispense with the flute-girl who just made her entrance; let her play for herself or, if she prefers for the women in the house. Let us instead spend our evening in conversation. (Plato, 1978, Symposium 176e)”
Perhaps not coincidentally, Dre and Knockturnal are continuously swamped in large coats and velour track suits, unlike the sleek, Rick Owens clad silhouettes of ASAP Rocky and Robb Bank$. Dre’s and Knockturnals Disneyesque vision of their priapic ivory tower positionings as wise speaker, story teller and engaging insight giver is as deluded as Plato’s assertions.
For every rap there is a beat, for every line there is a voice, for every poem there is the animating minds eye of the reader making music. At every step we contemplate rap (arguably the most musicalized of semantic voices) we encounter the beat, we encounter rhythm, something so corporeally infective, with such physical manifestations that it can be argued that the most cerebral and internal aspect of poetry is also that which is most externalized and corporealized. An a capella rap is the rap most overtly enjoyable as the vitality of rhythm and semantics conjoin. From the dark, repressed backgrounded realms of musicality and rhythm and from the brightly, ever foregrounded territories of semantic/logos/speaker dominance we can appreciate a penumbra of vocal semantics as rhythm, of words as beats. The voice as extimatic dyad, Mobius Voice operating most autonomously as both logos and phone, not one, nor the other can be glimpsed in a capella rap tracks. Voice is not chastised by it’s traditional position in musical contexts (outside of music), but becomes music; yet simultaneously Voice is not ‘mere’ sonic but ultimate story conveyer, of ultimate semantic position, of speaker at the front, in sonic spotlight. It is both and neither. This lack of a division is peculiar to comprehend after such theorizing upon the Rap Voice. It is strange to relinquish our conditioned readings of millennia of synthetic metaphysical divides and engenderings. But is this peculiarity, the incomprehensible, un-knowable, unheard of chasm between logos and phone that is manifested in Voice (especially in the a capella rap) not also the magic of voice, song, music, rapping, speaking, uttering, singing, shouting and wailing? Perhaps the voice would remain more powerful, more enthralling if we maintain the guise of such divisions? Or are these divisions our gods and bangs? Elabourate exclamations of a word we do not know, of a song we cannot sing?
(1) See Negarestani’s Corpse Bride, pp. 129-130. Collapse Journal, Vol IV: Concept Horror, Ed. Robin Mackay, 2008.
(2) A particularly overt example of RZA’s Godlike treatment of the rap vocal can be heard at around 2:20 into Bob N’L, on Birth of a Prince (2003), however this technique is present on many RZA productions, also see Ol Dirty Bastard’s Raw Hide on Return to tha 36 Chambers (Old Dirty)
(3) Although we differ on the timbral merits of Method Mans larynx.
(5) RZA’s producer alter ego is Bobby Digital, and is it not coincidence that one of the most legendary producers of gangster rap chose the loaded intellectually superior title of Dr Dre?
(6) Rick Owens designs are so sensitively corporeal and ergonomic that they are very much aligned with the feminine aspect of imposed synthetic metaphysical divisions. Heidi Slimane on the other hand, is fiercely Masculine, his designs are sharp, a-ergonomic and aggressive.
(7) My term but see Dolar’s definitions of extimacy of the Voice: Dolar 2006, pp. 81