April 12th, 2013 / 9:30 am
Craft Notes

Rap Genius: A First Look

rapgeniusSomeone grabbed me the other day. He wanted to talk about Rap Genius/Poetry Brain. He wanted me to talk about Rap Genius/Poetry Brain. I am good at talking—so I figure, why not? I mean this guy who asked me, he knew Barry Hannah, and I started right off the jump writing about Barry Hannah, and Hannah’s hospital visitation from Christ—which is just gorgeous and I would like to experience someday before my brain pops:


But then I had to cut the stuff about Hannah.

If this article were up at Rap Genius I could make the words “Hannah’s hospital visitation from Christ” into a link and when you clicked on it, then it would open directly to the part of the interview in The Believer where Hannah talks about Christ appearing in Hannah’s room at the old hospital.

Since it’s not, you have to go to the link and then scroll through the whole interview between Deep Water Hole Tower and Barry Hannah to find that moment of CHRIST appearing in Hannah’s hospital room, and the mountains behind him.

I don’t know much about Rap. I used to smoke Oregon marijuana and drive around as a skinny pale shit listening to my brother’s tape of “Too Short” in my brother’s old red Honda stick shift, driving through the hills of Portland, already making up crazy voices in my head to tell stories with, but not telling any of them, just listening to them making me crazy in my head. So stoned, and driving, and everything like a song. The whole world singing. Which was probably the best. The not telling them and just having them. I definitely didn’t believe Too Short and guessed he was just playing with voices in his head too. I didn’t think of any of it as factual, or having any larger implications, or that there was anything real to find out about. Which was my fault. I was dumb about rap. I was just another freaky weird kid driving around in a brother’s car, cologne in the console, getting drunk and stoned and looking at the sky. I don’t know why, but I want to put this link here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Uee_mcxvrw. If this were Rap Genius I could put this in as a link in the word freaky up above. You’d just click on freaky and the video would open in a little window and you would still be looking at this thing I’m writing and you’re reading. I was dumb about life. I thought it was always going to sing and that I wouldn’t have to find out about life in order to use my voices.

queenlatifahAs for Too Short, I didn’t think too hard about his lyrics or anyone living by them. I’d moved to Portland and become a male teenager and wanted to be high all the time, after a few years of running around malls with this black kid I was friends with who grew up in the Portland ghetto, which really was a ghetto. Again, if this were Rap Genius, I could put links to photos and stories and clips about the Portland NE Ghetto and what it was like back then. We used to go to the mall and buy cassettes of Nate Dog and Queen Latifah (http://rapgenius.com/Queen-latifah-unity-lyrics) and L.L. Cool J. If I had Rap Genius back then I could have looked up the lyrics to all kinds of songs and found out about shit, and understood what Too Short was rapping about.

When I lived in Oakland years later, where Too Short was from, I lived in a tree house with real glass windows and walked naked protesting missiles with my naked six foot one inch girlfriend, Lida (here there could be a pronunciation key for her name in Rap Genius), who loved me while I was sober but left me after I got loaded and, though not violent, I was badly-mean in my ugly-shit-loaded nature rubbing my eyeballs grouchy every day all day loaded, which is a surface treatment for some heavy realities: drugs, meanness, men and women, aggression. These things make fun subjects in fiction, but in my life have led to great unforeseeable suffering and death of my most loved ones, as in most people’s real life. Things I won’t talk about here and now. I didn’t know shit when I was a young shit listening to Too Short, or with Lida in my earliest of twenties in Oakland.

arizonaBack then, in our earliest of twenties, we were out in the desert: Lida and I, when I was sober before I got loaded again, and we were together. This is a story about how we had sex on top of a car and got pulled over leaving the site of coitus, both of us liking the hell out of each other during in the act, looking at one another, she looking back over her golden hair over her shoulder, me looking at her and smiling in sweat-glistened happiness, us in youth’s joy of doing it lopingly in the sand and sun, this was in Arizona—we got pulled over by first one trooper, then another, finally in total fifteen troopers thinking we were running Meth, telling us that we just pulled out of Meth Alley (this could be a link and I could put up photos and maps of where Meth Alley was), and that if we weren’t there running Meth we were stupid as shit—and we were running Meth or we’d have been killed out there in Meth Alley, surely, so cut the shit before they razored our car seats apart, they told us, as this was a stakeout, finally, and after however many months of getting warrants, they had me right where they wanted me, out of the car and I was laughing and laughed on the side of a highway in the heat that felt alive and good to be in, during a post-coitus fifteen trooper pulled over living spectacle kind of time in a kind breeze leaking out spunk into a pink skirt of Lida’s which is all I was wearing. I felt sure they’d been watching us, the troopers. I didn’t know how long they’d hold us on the side of that road, in the sunhot big gravel, or how long they’d rip our car apart.

Too Short raps about running drugs and pimping and guns. I remember this, foggily, what Too Short rapped about. (http://rapgenius.com/Wiz-khalifa-on-my-level-lyrics).  I remember a kid in my hometown who pulled a gun on a kid on the playground. This was in Ohio. And nobody arrested him or put him in a special ugly status in the world. He was just shunned by the whole town. He was a fat full-hearted sad lonely kid. He had to take anger classes. He and his family moved away. That was his and their punishment. To be shunned and have to move away.

wiztooshortIn my old hometown, that would have seemed like a punishment to everyone there, but who knows if it was any punishment. I’d hit that kid who pulled the gun on another kid; I’d hit him years before with a long pole from an umbrella from a table at the local swimming pool. (Here I could put a link to the pool, or a photo of a pool, or a video of one kid bullying another kid.) This was before I moved away from Ohio, of course. I heard about the gun incident from Oregon. Stoned. On pills. Or just stoned. I remembered how I had poked him in his fat with that pole, and how it was sexual in some way, and how I had shouted about teaching him manners while my friend watched and we sneered at each other, ugly, knowing we were being so ugly, everyone feeling awful about it later. Feeling like it wasn’t me who had done it, but it was me. And it was some part of me who wanted that done to myself. The kid who pulled the gun pulled his daddy’s shotgun on the other kid. I don’t know why he did it. He must have felt he had his reasons. Though now that has become too serious: guns at schools. You know about all that. Yes, I feel responsible for this, for my meanness, for how boys treat each other, and how other boys treated me, and I treated him, and I mean to admit it and say I am sorry. I am sorry. Tony. When I think back to it, and this is the to-God’s honest truth, I swear, I was trying to get him to toughen up, was why I was picking on him. I felt the world was going to hurt him, and I wanted to make him snap out of it, toughen up, pull himself together—fit into the town. My God, when friends of my big brother came to our house, I always felt like a younger sister, like a sissy, like I wanted them to love me, to fall in love with me—even so, I would play it wild and tough and straight down the line. I was always, and am always, running high rpm heart rates into and at the things that make me feel little and weak, charging the hill, the fire, the law, the whole world. Except when I meet the Hounds of Hell bikers, or the big sombitches here in Texas. Then maybe I don’t charge the fire… But when I drank, those were the fires I charged first, blood-eyed, looking for the big out! I’m sorry. Tony. It was wrong all down the line. I was. Here is a little prayer for you, little brother.

This is to say I made boy mistakes. Playing boy. Trying to figure it out. There were other causes, sure, drunk father, drunk mother, of the kid who pulled the gun, his sister the first girl I ever had a sexual experience with, if you don’t count holding hands with another girl when I was in fifth grade, touching her knee, us trembling and afraid, exhilarated, in a theater, somehow then more in my body and stronger than I am now, on a date, me a skinny badly outfitted kid with teeth braces, her the only black girl in the whole town except her sister. This was one day in an old movie theater on a warm Ohio night (http://americanclassicimages.com/Default.aspx?tabid=141&txtSearch=CATAdvancedSearch1%2c35%2c3%2c1872&catpageindex=2&ProductID=32197), watching Fried Green Tomatoes (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwYDQG0c-cs), her wearing knitted stockings and a pleated skirt and a white button up blouse. Or were her legs bare? Or was she wearing jeans. I remember the dust in the air of the light of the projector. Red velvety matted seats. Sticky floor. I remember her knee. It was bare, I think, and I was in jeans. I know I felt her knee warmth. Skin to skin.

beastieboysAnd then being in church and looking at those windows and wanting to be with light. And driving through the hills listening to Too Short, all of these acts of being a man, when really, truly, in my private moments in a bath, or in the mountains…I’m both a man and a woman. I’m more like a teenage boy and also what I imagine a teenage girl feels like. I’m a six foot five lunatic giant kid getting a belly in my early thirties. Still, that’s what makes the world go over itself. The friction, the bad feelings, the wrongness. Sin is integral to salvation. But who knows where that kid wound up? Or his family? The one with the gun. He might be anywhere. He might be the happiest Buddha in buddhahood. I don’t know. (http://rapgenius.com/Beastie-boys-lay-it-on-me-lyrics).

Once I was headed home in that red Honda, when I (we) still had a home and parents and people to give a shit what was wrong with me (us), and I was so stoned my eyes were bursting veins, exploding veins, in that warm feeling of itching and being high, and I went to put Visine into my eyes, and leaned my head back. Drip drip drip splat into my right eyeball—I felt this crazy fire burning through my eyeball into my nerves through the back of my eyeball. Into my brain. It was tape cleaner. This was back when we had tapes. My eyeball was covered in blood for about a day or two. I didn’t go to the hospital. I don’t know what I did, though back then I liked to get stoned and go to sleep. Do other things in there. Also eat. I used to squirt mustard into my mouth to cut the smell of smoked pot. I used to wash my fingers. It is such a different idea, the idea of having a tape of an event, versus having it on a file, an electronic file. The electronic file feels so removed from a body, a self, a sovereign blood-bound being with a sea-like pulse of life inside the flesh, being a person; one wheel pulling the tape from the other wheel, across the tape guides and pressure pad. This versus a digital file of a digital self, with no sovereignty. To me it feels like it’s about sovereignty. I miss tapes. I miss records. I miss the old days. It was always funny and weird and seemingly unreal—with fifteen patrol cars on the side of a two-lane highway, no one else in sight, but the tweakers somewhere looking out through scopes—of course this was in the time of CDs before the time of iTunes or whatever—but the objects kept us connected to the ground. Though with the CD we were leaving the ground quite a bit. I love a real made object still. I love my desk in my office and vinyl flooring and my six-shooter pistol. Everyone is going to die. It’s still nice to have a desk while we are here. (http://www.uberti.com/firearms/single-action-cattleman.php)

Picture 65I hardly know anything about Poetry. I mean I know a lot about poetry. But no one knows anything about poetry. Some can do it and some can’t do it. I’m trying to get us to the other part of the Rap Genius site. Rap Genius is where people take rap lyrics and post them and make links out of words, phrases, or lines, or movements and make a link out of them—the link goes to an image, or a site, or a video, or photo, or explanation. Although, there are parts of books and stories and fiction under the Rap Genius site, also. Poems, too. So, it’s kind of cursorial. I’ve been alerted that poets are freeloaders mostly, supported mostly by people they sleep with, and they have to be fearless. They have to know the names of objects. They have to have a lot of thuya (link to Gilbert poem). Guts. They have to be good in the sack. Male and female poets. They have to experiment. Each poem is an experiment. The whole fucking world is an experiment. How do you account for how connected you are to the earth? Are you? Where is the center of the earth? Where is the center of you? Where is the center of the universe? Where is the center of you consciousness? What keeps you together? How can you stand being in a place you can’t locate, in a universe (multi-verse, link to multi-verse theory?) you can’t map, in a person you can’t understand, in a life you can’t chart, among people who don’t understand? How can you not stand it? It’s incredible and freeing and alive. It’s the definition of alive. It’s why we tell stories. It’s why rap. Why poem. It’s why why. It’s live.

Maybe it would be nice to be able to make a map for some things, though. The unknowableness is why use your mouth, why coitus, why live. To enjoy the act of mapping? That’s a reason to get up and out of bed and get a hard on? Or get wet?

Reading maps of meanings for things you’ve wanted to know about is something. Or to at least be able to figure out what rappers are saying and what they mean? And what poets are talking about? And what some “experimental” fiction is doing, saying, meaning? In Rap Genius you can upload texts and find uploaded texts, poems, fictions, and they have links made of terms, words, phrases, lines, etc., that you can open right there in the site. It’s like VH1’s Pop-Up-Videos for lyrics, poems, and literature. But instead of just words, people can put links to things that also open right in the site to connect things, and find out about other things, and construct new forms of fiction, forms of poetry, of essays, etc. There’s about a million readers a day on the Rap Genius site. (http://rapgenius.com/).

Picture 67Maybe someone who knows some shit can help by posting a rap song and making the words be links to other things on the internet and to pages that open within the pages of Rap Genius where the song has been posted? To tell a whole story about an experience by posting links in the lyrics of a rap song would be an idea. You could make some hybrid essays on the site, or fictions, or poems. It could be smart. It could even, this site, include the entire text of Finnegans Wake by James Joyce with all the words, or most of the words, as links that you can click on to understand what James Joyce probably meant, based on smart peoples’ research, using books that exist already, but putting all the information in a place where you can read the text as it is and open links in the site. Are you following me? Michael Bible is an example of what can be done at Rap Genius—he’s over there mapping out the entire text of Finnegans Wake and it’s unbelievably smart. Bible’s also doing this for other texts, including some of Faulkner’s books. Here is a taste of what Bible is doing: http://rapgenius.com/James-joyce-finnegans-wake-lyrics.

Here is some guy I’ve heard of from someone else, talking about his stuff a lot: http://rapgenius.com/Tao-lin-february-lyrics.

Here’s a bit about Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury: http://rapgenius.com/William-faulkner-excerpt-from-the-sound-and-the-fury-june-2nd-1910-lyrics.

This is for bookish people. And for rap fans. Too Short was for rap and mostly was sold on cassettes. But now he’s on CDs and iTunes. Fuck iTunes. I don’t give a fuck about iTunes. I am still on the wheels on the road trip. It’s still skin to skin. Hand to knee. But I can get into this Rap Genius site. You can upload your writing, create links, insert definitions and explanations, and do the same for other texts. Right now, Bible, somewhere, is probably working his utter genius brains out going through Finnegans Wake, so someday it will be up on the internet, every word, every sentence, every movement made clear for you, a map of the universe of Joyce’s seminal text. Everything someday will be mapped, in madness, shooting out in all directions, in sin, in all the sin that was all the fun that we had, in the holy reaching effort to connect our living mapping, to stories. In love with making our map back to the Godhead. The only thing is, it’s all digital. The only thing is, it’s not life, or even life on tape, but this is actually a new real-life patterned-seeming digital. Me. I can drop into the web and get out. I can lurk into Rap Genius and get into what people are doing with fiction and poetry there. Then as for me, I’m out looking for skin to skin.

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  1. mimi

      ah! the rap/street~urban dictionary~wikipedia triumvirate of language-plasticity-elasticity knowability (often find myself googling hip-hop lyrics)

      keeps a goof like me on the cutting edge as i traverse the east bay (‘teach’ in oakland 3 days a week, the ‘iron triangle’ of richmond 2 days) straining my ears to unnerstan’ my students ha ha

      i like this post

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