Alexey Chernyakov Is it time to study rappers’ lyrics at school? 07/06/2024, 08:00

Unlike Russian rock poetry, which has been studied by philologists for a quarter of a century, rap in Russia has only recently become the subject of serious scientific research. In the academic environment, there is interest in Russian rap – or rather, that part of it represented by artists who pay great attention to lyrics – and this is not without reason.

In general, Russian rap is an extremely heterogeneous phenomenon, represented by a large number of artists, very unequal and unequal in poetic terms. A very small part of them is capable of writing really interesting and original texts, but it is from such works that one can understand what literary traditions modern rap authors rely on.

If we talk about the possible poetic origins of Russian rap, the first and most obvious analogy is the poetry of Vladimir Mayakovsky.

In the work of modern rap artists there are many points of contact with Mayakovsky’s poems, sometimes unexpected, sometimes quite revealing.

Rap poetry is, first of all, related to the poetic technique of the author of “Clouds in Pants”. – A departure from strict, classical syllables, with regular alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables, to tonic, stressed poetry. In the Russian poetic tradition, Mayakovsky, if not the founder (the tonic system of versification itself, of course, is much older than the innovator poet), then without exaggeration, can be considered the brightest outbreak of tonic versification.

Another important point of contact is Mayakovsky’s stylistic revolution in the field of poetic language.. Vladimir Vladimirovich’s poetry is built on stylistic layers of language, on the constant tension, oscillations between “beauty” and “ugliness” – high and low, poetic and rude, lyrical and profane. A similar aesthetic challenge to the avant-garde, a “slap in the face to public taste”, we can easily find among the “literature-centered” Russian rappers – for example, among the groups Husky, Slava CPSU, “Makulatura”, “Night Loaders” ”, “25/17” and others.

Unexpectedly, the poetry of another “cult” writer of the 20th century, Joseph Brodsky, echoes the work of Russian rappers. He also often moves away from syllables (although not in the same way as Mayakovsky, of course), as if “tearing” the verse from the inside, loves intra-verse enjambment, builds a complex and non-trivial rhyme, turning the poetic form into prose – these are techniques that we regularly find in the most interesting Russian rappers from the point of view of poetry.

Many domestic rap artists, especially interesting from a literary point of view, were strongly influenced by Russian rock culture of the 1980s and 1990s, especially by Egor Letov, who is one of the main sources of quotes in Russian rap. Some of them deliberately and consistently saturate their texts with literary allusions, so that they can expand their reading range and understand what kind of prose and poetry they are interested in.

But perhaps the most important point that highlights the deep relationship between rap and literature lies in the musical form of the genre: rap artists do not sing, they read.

But this is the primary, ideal form of existence of poetry – the sound of the author or reader coming from his lips. Rap ​​should also sound, and the richer and more interesting it combines text content with the author’s reading (and not always skillfully complicated – sometimes, on the contrary, rappers deliberately read simply, carelessly, even boringly, thereby achieving a strong aesthetic effect), the more valuable it is from a literary point of view. And here we have another unexpected literary “relative” of rap – such an experimental poetic form as sound poetry.

Paradoxically, the phenomenon of Russian rap … lies in the existence of the concept of “Russian rap” – in fact, “Russian rock”. If you think about it, this emphasis on the national component seems rather strange: when it comes to a musical genre, they usually say “rock music” or “rap music”, but in no way associate them with the country or language in which the lyrics are written. But the combination of “Russian rock” and “Russian rap” has firmly established its own special semantic flavor.

It is customary to speak of the secondary nature of Russian rock, since the first Russian rock artists actually copied Western models.

In this sense, the concept of “Russian rap” often carries an ironic sound; when Russian rappers try to imitate American rappers – not only in music, but even in behavior – its secondary nature is heightened to some extent; they are completely different cultural systems.

At the same time, Russian culture in general is characterized by an emphasized literary centrism: the famous formula of Yevgeny Yevtushenko “A poet in Russia is more than a poet” basically determines the view of literature in Russia. If we consider rap in terms of literary creativity, then, perhaps, we should admit that in the Russian and American traditions there are approximately the same number of text-oriented artists. And what is especially interesting is that they do not always fall into the mainstream – on the contrary, the most successful and popular rappers among the public have nothing to do with literature. At best, their texts may be good, but this is nothing more than a verbal accompaniment to a musical series; no one will take this literature seriously.

From a literary point of view, we can say that Russian rap makes great use of the tonic verse system, and with a competent approach it gives really interesting results. I have noticed many times that the lyrics of some rappers (for example, Husky) suddenly become syllabic – iambic or pseudo-syllabic when presented on paper or on a computer screen. But this is not audible to the ear: the artist deliberately makes sure that nothing of the iambic or trochee remains when reading, compressing or, conversely, lengthening the syllables, emphasizing the stress.

If you look at rap with a philological eye, it suddenly becomes clear that it is unlikely to find something completely original there, that in fact there is something that does not exist anywhere else. But this is not a minus, but a plus: this proves once again that these texts fit into the paradigms that we usually call literature. Perhaps rap poets use some techniques more explicitly, further revealing the poetic form. At its best, rap poetry demonstrates working with words. Rap ​​loves non-trivial rhymes – imprecise, compound, internal, panto rhymes when all words rhyme in two adjacent lines. Rap ​​poets work with rhythm, play on the combination of conflict and stylistic layers, and often use intertextual mechanisms (quotations, allusions). Of course, they did not invent all these techniques, but this approach allows rap lyrics to be on the same shelf with the best examples of modern poetry.

Rap artists, including Russians, attract large audiences; their tracks can be seen, perhaps, in any teenager’s playlist. But it’s too early to talk about using rappers as material for lyrics in school.

Firstly, The school’s literary canon is a conservative one; difficult, complex and changing over a long period of time.. The composition of the writers and works that I studied at school a few decades ago is somewhat different from what modern schoolchildren study in literature classes. So, under the heading of “modern literature” the school curriculum still includes Yevtushenko, Vysotsky, Rubtsov, prose writers and provincial writers – and these are texts that are more than half a century old. New, fresh literary phenomena are included in the school curriculum with great difficulty. Although many writers undoubtedly deserve it.

If we talk about “older contemporaries” not casually, but fully and seriously, then we need to study Brodsky and the poets of his circle, for example, Evgeniy Rein. Yuri Levitansky, Lev Losev, Viktor Sosnora, Timur Kibirov, Dmitry Prigov, Alexey Tsvetkov, Elena Schwartz should be included in the school curriculum; among younger writers there are Dmitry Vodennikov, Boris Ryzhiy, Maria Stepanova, Grigory Dashevsky and other equally interesting poets.

But the issue is not just about the conservatism of school curricula.

Rap poetry is a very specific literary material, and not every teacher can handle it at a professional level.. In 2016, the story received a wide resonance when a schoolgirl from Khabarovsk passed off a piece by one of the leading Russian rap artists as a poem by Mandelstam and received an excellent grade for it. The problem is not only that the teacher did not notice the change, but also that in order to adequately present rap material as part of modern literary life, a literature teacher must have a nuanced and detailed understanding of the most relevant cultural contexts, and, alas, not everyone can do this. Still, why not assume that the situation will change in ten years?

Can rap work without music? The lyrics of a rap song, separated from the musical part and, more importantly, from the author’s performing act, give the impression of a fish caught ashore. Rap ​​is a solid poetry that is valid only in its entirety. And this is how rap poetry differs from rock poetry, which, as numerous publications have shown, can well exist as an independent poetic text – for example, the works of Alexander Bashlachev, Yegor Letov, Yanka Diaghileva, Dmitry Revyakin, Dmitry Ozersky and others. Perhaps that is why Russian rappers rarely publish their texts in book format, emphasizing in their songs the inseparability of words from music.

As an experiment, you can take texts that are perceived by the ear as filigree, hear the work in scale, rhyme, verse structure, and catch how the reading itself forms the stanza in a certain way. But when you see the same text as a transcript on a website, for example, you get the impression of disappointed expectation, the entire aesthetic effect is instantly lost.

Rap poetry, of course, is original, and its best examples can definitely be classified as a separate literary genre. And it is quite possible that philologists will study it more closely. This is already the case with Russian rock.

The author expresses his personal opinion, which may not coincide with the editors’ position.

What are you thinking?

Source: Gazeta


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