Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Yo, cop! What it is homies? Drop the verse. Word. Back in the day, a posse of homeboys rolled straight outta Compton with some seriously ill flava which they laid down in a gangsta vernacular that belied a deep intellectual communion with the human condition itself. Fifteen years after the appearance of 1992’s seminal The Chronic galvanised post-modernist scholars internationally, a fresh interpretation of the classic track, Bitches Ain’t Shit (but Ho’s and Tricks) by pasty beanpole and emotional hardcore composer, Ben Folds, provides the perfect opportunity to revisit in a less febrile academic atmosphere the critical context which gave birth to what appeared prima facie to be a remarkably jejune hip hopera. If it achieves anything (and the enlighened listener will concede that it achieves much), Folds’ exploration of Bitches succeeds in throwing into stark relief through its use of “gangstacoustic” patterns of melody the essential pathos of the narrative Dr. Dré, Kurupt, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dat Nigga Daz inhabit as the song plays out; a pathos obscured with pointed deliberation in the deployment of “street” posturing and the sinister - now nasal, now gutteral - tones with which the “raps” are delivered. But how did we get to here from there? Studio-quality audio here.
Bitches ain't shit but hoes and tricks, So, lick on deez nutz and suck the dick, Gets the fuck out after you're done, And I hops in my ride to make a quick run.
The novice critic might well be tempted when confronted with a text like this to appeal to the theoretical tools provided by FR Leavis and his New Criticism, but this approach is unlikely to be fruitful since a literal construction of the words as stated might lead one to the erroneous conclusion that Bitches is somehow a facile, confused, unfocused and aggressive work which could never be admitted to the canon. To illumine the authorial intent requires the application of the more “teleological” tools of the deconstructionists, which approach it is obvious from even a preliminary “reading” is fully in keeping with the artistic project conceived by the rappers themselves. The clues are in the language used. Dr. Dré is too well informed an artist to be unaware of the basic structuralism of Saussure which holds that language is a social product and that, therefore, the social aspect of speech is outside the speaker’s control. According to Saussure, then, language is not a function of the speaker but is passively assimilated from society. Speaking, or “rapping”, as defined by Saussure, is a premeditated act, however. Dré knows this. In fact, he embraces the underlying structural truth of Saussure’s insight by using highly charged, socialized, prejudicial and sexed “words” (bitches, ho’s, tricks) which he communicates to his audience though a violated, necessarily learned, grammar (gets out after you’re done, I hops in my ride). But the Dr. is also too well informed, as we shall see, to be unaware that Saussure himself had begun to recognize the limits of structuralism in his final working years and started to develop an identifiably post-structuralist perspective on the interaction of language and meaning according to which:
1. poetic language adds a second, contrived, dimension to the original word. 2. there is a correspondence between elements, in both metre and rime. 3. binary poetic laws transgress the rules of grammar, and 4. the element of the key word (or even letter) may be spread over the whole length of the text or may be concentrated in a small space, such as one or two words.
Dr. Dré uses each of Saussure’s insights here to inform the construction of the following tranche of rapped narrative:
I used to know a bitch named Eric Wright, We used to roll around and fuck the hoes at night, Tight than a mutharfucka with the gangsta beats, And we was ballin' on the muthafuckin' Compton streets, Peep, the shit got deep and it was on, Number 1 song after number 1 song, Long as my muthafuckin' pockets was fat, I didn't give a fuck where the bitch was at, But she was hangin' with a white bitch doin' the shit she do, Suckin' on his dick just to get a buck or 2, And the few ends she got didn't mean nothin', Now she's suing cuz the shit she be doin' ain't shit, Bitch can't hang with the streets, she found herself short, So now she's takin' me to court, It's real conversation for your ass.
Here, the key to unlocking the text is concentrated in a small “space” and confined to the two-word cipher “Eric Wright”, the “bitch” throughout the quoted lyric. Dré cleaves to the post-structuralist doctrine according to which meanings within texts are unstable and shifting. For example, “bitch” it is obvious admits of more than one interpretation as the “mike” is passed from MC to MC. Eric Wright was a Kelly Park Compton Crip who, along with Dré, was one of the original members of NWA, rapping under the moniker Eazy E. As the lyric suggests, while shit got deep as chart success followed chart success, material ease lulled the Dr. into a false sense of security. Eric it transpired was hanging with a “white bitch”, NWA business manager Jerry Heller, and conspiring with him “to get a buck or two”, that is misappropriate funds generated though the group’s musical activities. As the Dr. wryly observes of one of hip hop’s most infamous feuds, that is real converstation for your ass. Next post; "No Rap is an Island". Sneak preview:
Move up the block as we groove down the block See my girl's house, Dré, pass the Glock Kick in the do', an' I look on the flo' It's my little cousin Daz and he's fuckin' my hoe, yo I uncock my shit...I'm heart-broke, But I'm still lo'ked.
And! More exciting critical theory... "[the work] is a classic example of Woods’ recherché postmodernism and, like the work of Pynchon and Foster Wallace, is grounded in a kind of vital hyper-reality not seen since the breathless melodramas of the Victorian period. And yet, underlying the appearance of conventional melodrama is a truly fractured postmodern reality, presented as a disturbing, cinematic montage of disembodied genitalia, rolling low-riders, prison blues and locked n’ loaded Glock 9 mm handguns." Until then, we out. Peace.


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