Legendary rapper Ice-T is set to release a documentary (which he also directed) called The Art of Rap, which as the title suggests – will analyze and discuss the artistic elements of rap music, and rapping as a technique and form of artistic expression.
Ice-T’s wife Coco Austin, who you see with Em on the left there, recently tweeted saying they (herself and Ice-T) where in Em’s Detroit studio, implying he will taking part in this. Now, instantly, I can just imagine the noses of some people being turned sharply upwards towards the sky at the very suggestion; rap music is art. But let me say this, calling something art, or poetry, doesn’t mean it’s GOOD art or poetry. People who snuff or smugly chuckle when you refer to something like rap as art, totally miss the point and proper context of the word.
I could throw shit at a wall and call it my art, and you couldn’t tell me it’s not art. But does that mean it’s good art? of course not. It’s subjective, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Even though it IS subjective however, generally speaking, that does not mean you cannot argue the case for why something is good or bad art. There can be objective reasoning and structural analysis behind argument, which aims to turn the subjection into objection. This is the arguable reason for critics, and criticism existing, in my opinion.
And as popular as it is to jab at critics, I do think they’re needed and I do think they help progress and shape art, and culture to a degree. Well, I think that they once did that, but that criticism has been largely diluted over the decades into smarmy, self-indulgent self-promotion.
Critics these days seem to be more interested in fitting in as many clever, sharp-tongued remarks (to boost their own ego and woo the reader to their wit) than they do truly and fairly analyzing a piece of work. Where as, believe it or not, criticism began as a seriously honest attempt at unraveling and understanding art. Critics used to be respected people, and it was a respectable and useful thing to do.
Back when criticism was useful (and to a degree still can be) I think its purpose was to breakdown the walls of metaphor and creativity for the purpose of understanding a piece of art on an intellectual level, or in a way that could be broadly understood. When criticism does this, it can even make you see things in the piece that you didn’t at first see, or perhaps saw, understood and appreciated but weren’t quite sure for what reason(s). It can make you look at it from another angle, it can better and deepen your own understanding (no matter how smart or perceptive you think you are on your own) and help society sculpt its views on artists and their work. It can, overtime, help us realize what’s important (for the ages), what may or may have been historically significant and above all else, it can just be plain interesting, to a curious person. If you’re curious, it can be interesting to see what’s worked and why.
But long gone are those days thanks in part to celebrity culture and everybody wanting the spotlight on themselves. Most of us essentially want to show other people how clever and brilliant we are, and because we have so many platforms for doing that now (TV, publication, Internet: Twitter, YouTube etc.) – critics seem to use their profession as a stepping stone for their egotism.
It’s when critics began thinking they were more important than the work they were reviewing or that their personal opinion or dislike of an artist was more important than the broad, honest and careful attempt at deconstruction, that criticism got lost on us. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some great critics about (I’m thinking mainly of Roger Ebert) but, they’re few and far between.
And, there is of course universal properties to aesthetic or audio, or audiovisual beauty which the vast majority of us share otherwise it wouldn’t be almost universally agreed that say, The Godfather is one of the greatest movies of all-time. Or that Mozart, or classical music is almost incomprehensibly beautiful to the human ear. There is also of course broad storyline themes and tones which we all as humans adhere to, or that we on a mass level all appreciate; things which emphasize self-respect or pander to our empathy or ego, and so on.
It’s for these reasons I think that rap can be easily argued as not just art but, great art. Again, not all rap music, but the elements which hold it together. The next time somebody downplays your suggestion that rap is poetry or that Eminem is a poet, ask them… what is poetry? then ask them, what do rappers do? what techniques do they use in their lyricism. I think you’ll find they use literary techniques – rhyme, metaphor, simile etc. to achieve what they do. So whether you like the end result or not, how is that NOT poetry? you can’t decide something isn’t something that it definitively is, because you dislike it…
Let’s say you watch a crappy movie, or a movie you dislike, is that ‘movie’ now no longer a movie because you dislike it? was it not directed, casted, shot and on set. And did it not have actors and a script, did it not have the basic aesthetic, recognizable properties of a typical movie. Regardless of your own personal opinion, it remains a movie right? well, the same can be said of rap music.
So hopefully this will be an interesting pry into the art of rap. I’ve been quietly hoping for this type of project to surface for sometime and, even though this doesn’t look like it’s going to be on quite the level of analysis I would like, it still looks like a serious attempt to get to the truth of what rap is, or can be. And, if nothing else, the people taking part are the people that have the most right and experience to speak on those things. And nobody I can think of is more true to that notion than Eminem. Let’s wait and see.