Monday, December 10, 2012

Rhetoric Of Rap

Rap music has been deemed a work of art by critics while opposition cites it as a demeaning and violent genre of music. The idea of rap as an art form, a musical composite of representations of life and people is interesting. Taking the lyrics of Insane Clown Posse’s (also known as “ICP”) “Sedatives,” I will examine the way in which this genre is artful through its use of repetition and irony as well as how ideas are joined.

ICP's Shaggy and Violent J

 “Sedatives” is performed with a allegretto tempo (moderately quick beat) and tells the story of a man (spoken through the first person narration of Violent J and Shaggy from ICP) who enjoys “to suffocate people and bite their necks” and has landed himself in a psychiatric ward wherein he is at one point in an isolation cell from his violent behavior. 

This song repeats the idea of “sedatives” continuously throughout. These repetitions come in the forms of:
  • Episeuxis (repeating a word immediately after stating it) in the chorus
  • Epistrophe (repeating a word at the end of successive phrases or clauses) within verses
“And it’s sedatives, sedatives,”
“And I'm looking at this scalpel diggin' into yo chest, if I could only move but 
them sedatives.
You know they savin' your life, them sedatives”
  • Diacope (repeating a word after an intervening phrase) within a verse
“And it's sedatives, sedatives…
Movin' down the hallway with arms strapped down with sedatives”

There are also repetitions of the word “sedatives” throughout the song as it becomes the main idea and concept of the piece. This is done to revert back to this concept as its role is evident throughout the song; sedatives is the reason why he’s in the ward, how he has become more manageable, and it returns him to a violent state at the end as he realizes that “There are probably no sedatives in hell, and that's the only reason why I'm alive still.” 

ICP wrote this song with other forms of rhetorical devices in mind when they join ideas. For example, ICP raps, “I fake pain and call'em over and play dead.” In this line, the subject “I” is the subject for all three verbs present, but it is stated only once. This is called diazeugma, meaning having a single subject for multiple verbs or phrases. They also use prozeugma, using one verb once and leaving it implied for a later phrase, in the line “High on sedatives again put me in a tiny place, chin strap muzzle over my face.” In this instance, the verb “put” is used once for both clauses. 

This musical group also intended for their song to be interpretive. The setting of the piece is an analogy for the real world; a psychiatric ward is a controlled area in which deviants are conditioned the way that society controls and conditions deviants. The speaker feels as though that his impulses and urges are being suppressed and opposed by society. ICP also uses an analogy for the hallways in the verse “Movin' down the hallway with arms strapped down with sedatives.” Hallways are corridors for travel, so in this sense, the hallway is possibly a corridor through his life, and “sedatives,” or society’s conditioning and nulling of his right as a being in his own control, have paralyzed and handicapped him. In this way, the speaker presents sedatives as a negative influence instead of a positive substance. 

An analogy between the recreational time the speaker experiences and the real world occurs in the lines “Recreation time we went to the courtyard, four guards in white and they might be important/ And the sky is blue, and I can watch trees grow, watch leaves flow, and join a sedative show.” This analogy shows how the speaker is free to do as he pleases, and the sedatives of his life have mellowed him out without adhering to his destructive and physical urges. 

These analogies work with ICP’s use of irony, or conveying a different or opposite meaning than what is on the surface. Near the end of the song, the speaker states “And I even had my very own room these days/ White straight jacket, padded walls, and pjs.” While it may seem that he had earned his own room out of good behavior, it is realized in the next line that a “white straight jacket, padded walls” allude to a padded cell—seclusion for misbehaving patients. And in the line “Well I thought they were sedatives, but they were only medatives,” the speaker uses an ironic association between sedatives (a tranquilizer that induces a calm state) and medatives (meditate—or reflect peacefully), but the speaker does not want “medatives” as they force him to reflect on his actions and character. The speaker also uses irony in the line “You know they savin' your life, them sedatives” because as he is choking his nurse, the sedatives are affecting him negatively while they are positively affecting the nurse (“saving” him). The sedatives are also playing a hindering role as they are handicapping the speaker from causing further harm to others as the sedatives are relaxing him and, in a sense, killing his will to continue his attack. 

ICP uses irony in this way to exhibit ideas that are understood by many. For instance, by simply stating, “I misbehaved, so I was secluded,” the speaker tells his audience about the events, but he artfully included the mishap as well as exhibited the punishment someone experiences when acting as he or she desires—solitary confined for misbehaving. And in consideration of the audience of rap music—“American  Demographics  magazine reported  on a survey conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited…revealed that 58% of  those younger than 18 years and 59% of those 18 to 20 years liked or strongly liked rap” (Sullivan 610)—this music contains elements its listeners relate to. 

ICP fans

Rap music has found its way into conflicts based on its nature and content, but this genre’s supporters claim that it possesses an art medium of expression. And in consideration of the devices used, rap music does exhibit rhetorical devices of creative styles. 

By Melissa Holen

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