24 February 2011

Tag Words In Rap Lyrics

Girl you always on my mind, got my head up in the sky
And I'm never looking down feeling priceless, yeah
Where we at, only few have known
Go on the next level, Super Mario
I hope this works out, Cardio
Til' then let's fly, Geronimo

- From "Rocketeer" by Far East Movement

In your city, faded off the brown, Nino
She instincts she got more class, We know
Swimming in the money, come and find me, Nemo
If I was at the club you know I ball Chemo

- From "Forever" by Drake featuring Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Eminem.

Both of the lyrics above use the device of at the end of a line of the lyrics with a specialized kind of "tag word" (such as Super Mario, Cardio, Geronimo, Nino, Nemo, Chemo), that is not a part of a sentence, that is a metaphor or homage that sums up and accentuates the line's meaning, and that completes the rhyme pattern of the lyric. The tag words used in this way provide semantic repetition without word repetition. They also work like error bits in numerical codes, clarifying what was meant by the line before in case bad diction or sound distortion left the hearer with an ambiguous meaning.

Despite the fact that one generally thinks of rap and hip-hop as "low culture" or "popular culture," devices like "tag words" are quite a bit more sophisticated than most of what you will see in most poetry in the English literature canon (just as jazz theory is quite a bit more sophisticated and complex than the music theory of conventional classical music).

While metaphor and rhyme are ancient poetic devices, but I can't think of any place that I've seen the "tag word" device used in this way outside of the rap/hip-hop music genre.

Are tag words a hip-hop invention, or are there precedents for it in other kinds of lyrics or poetry? If there are precedents for it, is the hip-hop use a reinvention of the device, or is it following a precedent that I'm not aware of?

The closest precedents seem to be some versions of call and response in the black church preaching rhetorical tradition associated with the concept of "nommo". It may also be present in soul and gospel music with which I'm not very familiar.

You see somewhat similar kinds of tag devices in Haiku as a result of its strict syllable limitations, but Haiku are generally unrhymed.

Is there a formal name for this poetic device, as there are for devices like alliteration, assonance, apostrophe onomatopoeia, internal rhyme, iambic pentameter, metaphor, etc.? This book, reviewed here and here, might say, but I don't own it.

In some ways this is the inverse of enjambment which is the continuation of the logical sense — and therefore the grammatical construction —
beyond the end of a line of poetry, and is sometimes done with the title, which in effect becomes the first line of the poem. Instead of extending a grammatical construction beyond a line of poetry, it is cut short and then filled with the tag word.

It also has some similarities to code switching, where a lyric switches from one dialect to another (e.g. from formal "Standard English" to an Afro-Caribbean dialect) to flavor the context and meaning of what is said. It is also something of an inverse of the device of using the same word in a lyric more than once with different meanings (i.e. antanaclasis).

No comments: