It’s a hard knock life

It’s a hard knock life. We can all sing to that. Jay-Z related to the little red-head girl and his audience of middle-aged rockers, teenagers, black folk, white folk, straight folk, gays, and whoever-they all get it. It’s a hard knock life.  Throughout the ages moralists have extolled the virtues of working hard. After all, if things come too easy, do we actually value them? The true joy comes from a sense of personal achievements, from overcoming the hardships. Don’t we all strive for the underdog, appreciate the Cinderella story, and who thinks the spoiled prince should get the prize without having to work for it (although he could have worked a little harder than just hiring his coachmen to drive him around the country side meeting beautiful women). It’s a hard knock life and the pleasure is in building back up, working toward our dreams and then the dream becomes meaningful. Rap on Jay-Z.

I am that white girl who listens to rap, who is part of that broader audience that Jay-Z at one time couldn’t imagine his music reaching and now realizes is a part of the revolution of hip hop. Jay-Z’s goal in authoring Decoded was to prove rap lyrics are poetry. I already knew this when I picked up this book. Years ago I found myself listening closely to rap on the radio and realizing that it was a new form of poetic. While I will admit many of the lyrics can be misogynistic, explicit, and even vulgar-the words flow, are rhythmic, and layered with metaphorical language. As Jay-Z says, “Flesh and blood became words, ideas, metaphors, fantasies, and jokes.” At the time, I was in a writing workshop in which the professor stretched us, her students, to try new techniques out of our usual comfort zone in writing (I am not sure I have any comfort zone in writing). I was inspired by my newfound appreciation for rap so I attempted a playful banter between two people in this form of dialect. I successfully failed and even managed to offend a couple of people who didn’t understand the humble innocence of my writing exercise.

Rashaad Newsome is a multi-talented contemporary artist who works in a visual language expressing the bling associated with the hip-hop culture while chronicling stereotypical identity labels of cultural history attached to class, race, gender, and sexuality. This 2011 collage is titled “What’s Beef”.


Today, as I read Decoded by Jay-Z, I am learning more than just the deeper meaning to his word choice or the history to his trajectory into stardom, I am learning why and how this new form of expression is an important form of expression to our contemporary times.  Who knows, maybe this book will inspire me to overcome my fear and courageously attempt my hand at my previous inspiration to writing in this dialectical form. Can it be called black vernacular? Not exactly. It is a poetic black vernacular. A Shakespeare verse of contemporary times. Rap is not entirely dependent on race or gender; for examples consider Eminem, K$sha, or the Beastie Boys; it is a talent for musicians who are also wordsmiths. It is a part of the popular hip-hop culture.

Hip-hop confronts language and brands as does Hank Willis Thomas’s art. This is an image from his Pitch Blackness book titled Branded Head. Just as words tell a story, so do images.

This entire aside, I was thinking it would be absolutely fantastic for Jay-Z and Beyonce to do a spoof on Sonny and Cher,( after their baby is born). I can visualize a comedic mix with I Got You Babe. I hope they do.


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