Rap: The Art of Storytelling
The art of storytelling is one that many have attempted but few artists have achieved. We each have different parameters we use to determine the qualities of good rap music. For me, the main one is storytelling. Rap music from the 90s, especially east coast rap, touches my soul. The artist is able to tell a story that the listener either relates to, or tries to relate to. Either way, storytelling rap is captivating.
“It’s Been a Long Time” by Rakim is a straight classic. Rakim put on a clinic with his great and vivid lyricism and storytelling. The first verse sets the tone. He talks about how those in the hip hop scene, producers and fans alike, have long waited for his debut album. He compares the anticipation to how long believers waited for Jesus. A stretch? Yes. A great metaphor nonetheless? Yes. He fleshes out his progression as an MC to a well-respected lyricist responsible for inventing new sentences that people respond to.
The second verse helps further tell the story of the fans’ wait for the album and how the debut solo project of The God MC has finally arrived. .
In the last verse of “It’s Been a Long Time,” Rakim makes his claim as to why “The 18th Letter” deserved the anticipation it received. . He speaks about his talent as a performer and how people cannot figure out the source of his great skill. His line “still leave authors and writers with arthritis” is so powerful because no matter how much one tries to write rhymes as good as Rakim’s, they could never succeed. He further illustrates his connection to lyricism by comparing his bond with his notebook to that of Muslims with the Holy Qu’ran. The first verse introduces the long wait, the second illustrates why people have waited and how the wait is over, the third one exemplifies why he was worth the wait. Rakim writes deep lyrics about how he is a skilled lyricist and that is why this song proves the art of storytelling in rap.
Mos Def’s (Yasiin Bey) – Ms Fat Booty is an absolute classic. Mos Def gives his honest perspective of Ms. Fat Booty, whose name is later revealed as Sharice, through each scene where he sees her. She seems like the type of girl who gives out fake information to the guys as a way to turn them down ‘nicely’. To Mos Def, she also seems like a gold digger who’s really only out to meet guys that can give her things. A lot happens between Mos Def and Sharice in scene 1, but I’ve never been one to put up spoilers so you’ll have to listen to the song to get the full story.
Mos Def’s lyricism is refreshing because it’s clear and honest and explains a lot without being vulgar. He also knows he’s flowing and telling a story because he continues the story with “Scene 2- my fam’s throwing a jam/ Fareed is on the stand, big things is in the plan.” This line transitions to a party where Mos Def, yet again, meets Ms. Fat Booty. Scene 2 brings some dialogue, plot twists, and more of Mos Def’s lyrical mastery. In this scene he is able to present his conversation with Sharice. His line “How you feeling? ‘Oh, I’m fine’/ My name is Mos, ‘I’m Sharice’”’exemplifies the art of storytelling because this story has more than one character and introduces dialogue between the two main characters of the song. .
In the first verse Mos Def described a lot of the scenes and conversation related to Sharice. In the second verse he gives a timeline of where him and Sharice is at:
Three months, she call I feel I’m running a fever
Six months, I’m telling her I desperately need her
Nine months, flu-like symptoms when shorty not around
I need more than to knock it down, I’m really trying to lock it down
It’s quite frankly one of the best rap love songs ever released in my opinion. Some rap songs are loved because of the beat, some songs are loved because of the lyricism, but this song is loved because of both.
“93 ‘til Infinity” by Souls of Mischief is a poem I don’t want to end. The Oakland natives deliver lyrics you have no choice but to listen to . If you aren’t a 90s baby, you’ll want to become one after hearing this song. It is quintessentially the kind of song that makes 90s hip hop superb. The intro is an actual introduction giving hints of what we’re about to hear. It begins this story with Tajai telling the listener that the members of Souls of Mischief- Phesto, A-Plus, and Opio- are maxin’ in the studio. They hail from East Oakland and they are relaxed despite how hectic it can get where they’re from. Out the gate we already know Who? What? Why? Where?; all the makings of a great story.
Opio kicks off the first verse with his tale of how he spends his free time. He calls up a girl named Bridgette whose man is apparently “wack.” “Chillin’ drinkin a forty and smoking a joint in the California heat;” something he finds as nice and relaxing as the island of Maui. A-Plus, like Opio, finds pleasure and inspiration in just smoking joints and meeting nice ladies. The other members also tell their tales of how they chill in the verses that follow, with varying levels of detail. I love this song because it isn’t extravagant. What I mean is that they are just a group of guys who talk about what they typically do. To some these lyrics may sound mundane, but to many this is what they call life. It’s realistic in a refreshing and relatable way.
There are plenty of other rap songs that demonstrate the art of storytelling, but these songs are just the ones I’ve heard more recently. A great motivator of putting pen to paper and hoppin’ on the mic is to share something with the listener. The stories these rappers share in their songs are definitely worth listening to.