Guess what I found out.
It rhymes. It rhymes the INSIDES of words. It looks into words like looking inside sugar Easter eggs for the magic scene. Then it sets them spinning like tops.
It is so cool.
I had no idea.
I haven't paid much attention to music since Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, you know, in 1975, and anyway, here's what I'd heard about rap: it's violent & racist & misogynistic.
So I gave it wide berth.
Except sometimes I'd hear guys rapping in the back of the city bus and it was clear to me this was living poetry. But still, I never once sat down and listened to it.
Then a couple weeks ago I heard Tish Jones rap at a media conference. I was only there because of The Book [current status: sticking bamboo splinters under the nails of my psyche], but she was the thing. She stood with her toes over the edge of the stage, and so did her words.
Soon afterward, as these things go, I was wasting time in Barnes & Nobles and I saw a clerk directing a young black guy in a hoodie to a book he was looking for, commenting, "This is selling a lot."
Curious what the only person in the store not carrying a Starbucks was buying, I looked at the book. It was rapper Jay-Z's Decoded.
(You know I'm musically ignorant when I tell you I had to look up Jay-Z on Wikipedia later. (Billboard ranked him in the top 10 most successful artists of this century. Plus, he's Mr. Beyoncé. (Even I know Beyoncé.)))
I skimmed through Jay-Z decoding his lyrics and his life, and on p. 161, I read this sentence:
"The larger point was, I wasn't going to be a partner to my own invisibility."
I bought it.
I bought it because I recognized that. I saw that same refusal to participate in one's own obliteration in bink's DVD to ART project, and, yes, in Trekkie culture ("I don't care, I'm wearing my Starfleet uniform in public"), and in every other culture of authenticity.
Also, it was on sale.
That week everyone was talking about the Jay-Z interview on Terry Gross's Fresh Air. When I heard his remix of "Hard Knock Life" from Annie, I thought, this is as audacious as mixing John Donne & Star Trek.
So, intrigued and attracted, I added going to the open mic Tish Jones hosts at a local coffee shop to my List of Stuff to Do, and tonight I, who almost never go out after dark, went.
And was smitten.
It wasn't so much what anyone was saying (which varied), it was how they were saying it--along the lines of pulling doves out of top hats.
And the rhymes! I went up to a couple of the rappers afterward and burbled on about how cool the rhymes were.
I was like, "You guys! This is so neat! Your stuff RHYMES!!!"
They took it really well.
I've been working in the word mines for the past ten years in publishing, and this was like coming up and seeing the open sky;
like stepping out of the word sweatshop and seeing words at play.
Really, I had no idea.
No idea how cool rap can be and no idea how much I've been feeling like a sharecropper in my writing work.
Well, maybe a little bit I did, this week.
Maybe you remember me working on the Frindian War book. I'd tried hard to show what a complex scene it was.
So... I saw the final version. It got edited into a book about George Washington. The title got changed and everything to add his name.
As a book about GW in the war, it's good. (Hey, I hope it sells a lot! I get royalties.)
But it's not the book I wrote.
GW is not important to the war; I didn't even need to mention him, and now I wish I hadn't. I'd only used him to frame the story, as a fun "waddya know?"
The thing is, it's not my book, it's the publisher's.
Says so on the contract, signed by me.
If I could rhyme, I'd rap about it.