Thursday, December 02, 2004

Layer 'pon layer. I've been reading Tricia Rose's essay "A Style Nobody Can Deal With" from Black Noise. When I get around to my mega-Jay-Z post, I'd like to explore in more detail her take on the key hip-hop ideas of 'break', 'layer' and 'flow', but it's layering I'm interested in right now.

I wrote a post last night that somehow got lost in Blogger. It was either have that post and none of my others, or all my others and not the new post. But I've been thinking some more about my "body talking" theory, which made me think about various aspects of hip hop practice as conversation. This taps into a body (pardon the pun) of existing research on 'call and response', and also with the stuff I started thinking about in terms of non-verbal vocalisations.

I had a brainwave on this topic in the car going to work one morning, listening to "I Like That" by Houston et al, in which successive rappers perform one after another, as if responding to what the last one said. Tim wrote that they sound almost like they're overlapping: "everything about this track seems to suggest a certain spilling over, a wasteful excess that I love." I was thinking about this some more on the weekend listening to "Tilt Ya Head Back" which I originally didn't think much of, but it's really growing on me. I was particularly interested in the subject positions that Nelly and Christina create through their overlapping parts:

Nelly: You stand there looking at me
Christina: at me
Nelly: I stand herre looking at you girl
Christina: at you boy
Nelly: You know exactly what's on my mind, yeah yeah

I was thinking about this as an interesting example of hip-hop dueting. The convention is to change the pronoun to reflect the change in gender of the singer:
R Kelly: Would you still want me?
Ashanti: Want you
R Kelly: Would you still be calling me?
Ashanti: Still calling you
R Kelly: You be loving me?
Ashanti: I'll be loving you

De La Soul: We ain't never gonna discriminate, so let me compliment your size
Backup chick: Compliment my size, yeah yeah...
R Kelly comes across as quite insecure and needing reassurance about his masculinity. And it sounds quite odd in the "Baby Phat" example that the woman is agreeing about her size. But Nelly and Christina fuck with conventions in a good way. You'd expect Christina to swap her pronoun to agree with Nelly, but what they really mean is that their checking out each other is mutual, and that they each know what the other was thinking, hence "You know exactly what's on my mind".

And when you look at the chorus, Christina's lines evoke a kind of dreamy detachment ("Daaaaaance all night!"), while Nelly is focusing on the precise movements she makes ("Tilt ya head back, bring it back up slow-ly"). They dramatise the tension between togetherness and apartness that you find in booty dancing: the intense, all-enveloping eroticism of moving so closely with someone else; yet the simultaneous ability to perceive in disjointed fragments. I'm not sure if I've described this very well. But it's accomplished through conversational turn-taking.

I've been reading all sorts of crazy linguistics shit about identity construction through turn-taking. See, in fashion theory there's a consensus that clothes "speak", in that they convey meaning, but that the range of things they can "say" is limited and contingent. But I think that if I can make a plausible theory that wearing bling is a form of body conversation, that can open up its range of meanings, and make available for analysis some of its contradictions, like the irony of white hipster bling, and the political quietude of white suburban bling.

I'm also looking at some stuff on postmodern irony. I found a great book that I'm hoping can reconcile this with the linguistics.

I had better get back to it now.

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