I’m still mulling over our big week in politics, with Jon Stewart’s rally and the rather less enjoyable elections that followed, and I’ll dig into those in video form this week. I’ve also (probably) got some news coming about my radio show. But first, we need to deal with a more pressing issue: the transcription of rap lyrics.
Last week Slate posted an article about Yale’s new Anthology of Rap, blasting it for allegedly being “rife with transcription errors”. Naturally I took this as an invitation to get my nerd on, and see how many mistakes I could find. So I picked up a copy this weekend and skimmed through, sticking with songs I know and remember well.
The value and import of treating rap as poetry have always been hotly debated by fans, and I’m generally in the “hip-hop is already hip-hop, who cares if it’s poetry” camp. But I have to admit this book is lots of fun to read while listening along with the music, and I’m not sure “rife with errors” is a fair estimation. These transcriptions get a lot of tricky things right, and are a few steps above what is currently available online.
THAT BEING SAID……yes, I think I see some other mistakes. Here are 14 of them:
1. For ODB’s “Brooklyn Zoo” (page 545) the book says: “Energy building, taking all types of medicine.” This is a common mistake but any hip-hopper of a certain age, who grew up in NYC, will know the correct lyric is:
“In a G Building, taking all types of medicine”
-a reference to the psychiatric ward of King’s County hospital in Brooklyn. EDIT: this correction was just confirmed for me by the illustrious Sophia Chang, who verified it with the Gza today.
2. For Lauryn Hill’s “Final Hour” (page 415) the book says: “Word to Boonie, I makes a lot like a Sunni,” which wouldn’t make much sense. I’m fairly certain the correct lyric is a reference to the formal Muslim prayer that Sunnis perform 5 times a day:
“I make Salah like a Sunni”
3. And another little nitpick from the same song: the book says “Had opportunity, went from ‘hood-shock to ‘hood-chic”, but that should be identified as Hoodshock, the name of the music festival Lauryn helped organize in 1996.
4. At the end of “I’m Bad” (page 217), the book has LL Cool J telling the cops: “Gimme that, boy. Get Funky!” But of course what he actually says is:
“Gimme that walkie-talkie!”
5. For my favorite Ice Cube track, “Bird in the Hand” (page 424), the book says “And you’re playing against the ghetto black fly,” which again doesn’t really make sense. I’m pretty sure the correct lyric, which is a pivotal line in the song, is:
“And your plan against the ghetto backfired”
These next few are minor quibbles:
6. On Lil Kim’s “Queen Bitch” (page 449), the book says “Roll with the niggas that be thuggin, buggin in the tunnel in Eso’s,” but it should read as “..in The Tunnel and Esso’s“, referencing two of NYC’s big hip-hop clubs at the time.
7. On Biggie’s “One More Chance (Remix)” (page 476), the book says “As I lay down law like Island Carpet,” but I’ve always taken that line as a reference to the longtime local outlet “Allen Carpet”. Can any fellow New Yorkers corroborate this one?
8. On the Fugees “Fu-Gee-La” (Page 398) the book has Lauryn saying “take no shorts like poon-poon’s.” But out of respect for the hallowed tradition of poom-poom shorts I think this should read as “poom-pooms” or “pum-pums”.
9. On “Wrath of Kane” (page 139), Big Daddy Kane is quoted as saying “Destroying negativity and suckers that come with/the weak, the wack, the words, the poor.” But “the words” doesn’t fit at all with the rest of that line, and I’ve always heard it as either A) “the worse,” or more likely B) “the worst” with the S and T muddled together a bit in his delivery. (A small nitpick but I’ll take any excuse to post this track)
And last but not least, on Lady of Rage’s “Unfuckwitable” I saw at least 5 questionable lines:
10 The book has Rage saying “I’m folding MCs like Times with dirty consonents and vowels.” Much as I like the idea of Rage explaining the proper way to read the NY Times, though, I’m afraid the correct lyric is
“I’m folding MCs like towels with dirty consonents and vowels”
11. Earlier on it quotes Rage saying “I rock the home of the fucking atlas,” which should read:
“I rock the whole motherfucking atlas”
12. Then on the very next line, the book says “”Save that racket for the tennis court and uh, brought your mission” which I’m pretty sure ought to be:
“Save that racket for the tennis court and abort your mission”
13. Later on it has Rage saying “Make em tremble when I spit through the dental of these instrumentals,” which I’m pretty sure ought to read as:
“Make em tremble when I spit through the dental on these instrumentals”
14. And a bit later in the same rhyme scheme the book says “I told y’all from the get-go I rock harder than credentials” which once again makes no sense. The correct lyric is a reference to the insurance company also known as “The Rock”:
“I told y’all from the get-go I rock harder than Prudential” .
So what have we learned here? Well it seems pretty clear that A) I have no life, and B) Yale’s Anthology of Rap has a few more errors than it ought to. It would also greatly benefit from fleshing itself out with footnotes. But again, I do think it’d be an enjoyable read for any fan and I don’t mean to knock it wholesale.