Welcome back to Know Your History, your monthly dose of hip-hop knowledge. Today we are exploring the poetic device known as the simile. More aptly, we are looking at instances where rappers have taken the word “like” out of the comparison in a style that has been branded “hashtage rap”.
If you missed part one, you can go back and read it now, download the podcast for free, stream it with the player below, or just continue reading.
An emcee made it part of his style several years before this became the popular thing to do. Nowadays, you can’t listen to the radio or the latest mixtape or album without hearing an example of hashtag rap. In fact, it is getting so overused that it is now played out. It has become cliche and therefore something to be avoided according to the unwritten rules of rap.
In fact, this style was used in the early 2000s by a particular artist and members of his camp. It didn’t become employed by the masses until the second decade of this millennium.
So who was this early pioneer? I tell you he was part of the Dipset Crew. That’s right, I am talking about Cam’ron. Here is an example of how he used this style.
“I’m on the westside of Chicago, lookin’ for a bust down
And make me put my two arms up – Touchdown!”
That was from his song “Dipset Anthem.” Here is another example from “Girls.”
“And hope is hopeless, disappear in the air – Hocus Pocus.”
There are countless examples of the Dipset Crew using the truncated simile. Some of time, their use of non-sequitors seemed a bit absurd. The words didn’t quite connect as powerfully as we heard Drake or Kanye West do it several years later. Maybe that is why the style didn’t catch on until the late 00 decade.
But we can trace its use back even further. These rappers didn’t make it a style like Cam’ron did. In fact, when Cam’ron employing similes with use of “like” or “as,” Twitter hadn’t even been launched yet. That’s something to consider, the style that owes its name to Twitter was around before the popular micro-blogging platform was.
And speaking of Twitter, remember to follow us on there. You can find me @chasemarch just like you are running after the month. Daddy J maintains @DOPEfm and Jose reps @thewordisbond. Great hip-hop news, links, music, vidoes, podcasts, and real talk can be found on those platforms every day.
So Twitter launched in 2006 and quickly grew to become one of the biggest social media sites online. There are over 500 million users who generate 340 million tweets every day. Pretty impressive numbers.
I’ve got some impressive numbers to. I found some early examples of hashtag rap that will probably surprise you.
Method Man used this style in 1999. “The aliens they just landed/Any you in the way/Overthrow these niggas planet – independence day / fellons get slip melons.”
That was from a song he did with Left Eye called “Cradle Rock”
But we can go back even further. The Notorious B.I.G. did it in 1997 on the hit song “It’s All About the Benjamins.”
He says, “uhhh, undercover, “Donnie Brasco”
It would have been nice to credit the first use of Hashtag rap to Biggie. He really was a gifted lyricist and we lost him way too soon. But I found earlier examples.
Jay Z did one year earlier with his song Dead Presidents II. He says, “At the end of the fiscal year than these niggaz can wish to/ The dead presidential — candidate.”
But we can go even further back. ODB of the Wu-Tang Clan used it in 1995.
“I get psycho killer, Norman Bates”
That was an awesome rhyme. It shows that ODB really could kill a track just like the character he references from the horror film Psycho. The comparison really works well without him having to say “like.” That word wasn’t necessary for him to paint that picture for the listener.
Can we stop there? Or are there earlier examples of hashtag rap in hip-hop history?
I tell ya, I’ve been working on this show for weeks now. I tend to get a bit obsessed about things and I don’t mind sharing that with you. But there comes a time when the research needs to end. Otherwise I could drive myself nuts trying to find earlier examples. I have this fear that after I complete this show, and after it is aired, I will find an even earlier example than the one will end with today. Oh well. so is life, I suppose.
It’s a bit hard to find these examples without carefully listening to records and there are so many albums, singles, MP3s, videos, and whatnot vying for my attention that some might slip by.
In my digging, the earliest example I could originally find was from A Tribe Called Quest.
“Mind gets flooded, ejaculation”
That’s from the slamming track “Bugging Out” from the classic album “Low End Theory” by A Tribe Called Quest. It was released on September 24, 1991.
One month early, PM Dawn released “Of the heart of the soul and of the cross.” Their stand-out hit from that album was a tracked called “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” and it is the best example of the modern hashtag rap style that I have been able to find.
“I guess I’ll leave that question to the experts, Assuming that there are some out there/ They’re probably alone — solitaire.”
They set up the comparison, pause, and then deliver the punchline. It’s an effective use of a truncated simile. And exactly the kind of thing that Drake did and made popular twenty years later.
The hip-hop historian in me didn’t want this trail to end with PM Dawn. Although, truth be told I bought that album on cassette back in the day. Their second album was even better, in my humble opinion, but they are a pop act. I wanted to be able to attribute this style to a real hip-hop group.
So I kept digging. I listened to some of my old school tapes. I searched the lyric archives online, and I talked to my brother about this topic. He immediately reminded me that Public Enemy employed this style a bunch of times. He should know, he might just be their biggest fan.
So here is an example from their debut album way back in 1987. I’ll play a portion of it fro you right now.
This is Public Enemy “Raise the Roof”
Did you catch the hashtag rap. If not, let me spell it out for you. “Fly ladies of the 80s – sororities”
That is awesome!
I am so glad I found an old-school example of hashtag rap. I knew there had to be one and it is so cool to have this trail end with Public Enemy.
So there you have it, Public Enemy employed similes without the use of “like” or “as” way back in 1987. This is hashtag rap when the pound symbol really had no useful function. I always wondered why it was on our phones. Now I use it all the time on Twitter and so rappers use it all way too often.
It has become a style where rappers are running out of comparisons to make but still feel the need to throw in a hashtag or a ridiculous non-sequitor. It is getting way out of hand.
I remember back in the early 90s when rappers would overuse the simile. Erick Sermon used to litter his rhymes with them. And I don’t mean to pick on him because I love EPMD but some of his comparisons seemed a little off.
Rappers need to be creative. This is a poetic artform afterall. But maybe it is time to hang up our reliance on simile. When used too often in rap, it really starts to water down the message, It doesn’t paint a clear picture in the listeners’ minds. It just becomes noise.
Back in the ’90s, in the backpacker era, rhymes were so littered with similes that it was starting to get out of hand. Wordsworth joked about it in High and Mighty’s Open Night Mic Remix. He said, ‘You can’t write without using ‘like’/ What are you, some sort of valley girl?”
In this second decade of the 2000s, we really need to hear someone taking shots at the overuse of hashtag rap. Thank goodness we have this track from Taboo.
That was Now Yous Can’t Leave by Taboo. He talks about the overuse of hashtag rap in that song. I especially like the line, “these bitch MC’s are gimmicky Took the like out your similes so I don’t like your similies”
This whole thing reminds me of another gimmick that got played out in the 1990s. Das Efx had a tongue-twisting kind of flow that many rappers tried to imitate. The Beatnuts called out the overuse of that style in their song “No Equal”
“But all that tiggedy-tiggedy tongue-twistin shit don’t impress me
It’s just a phase, and you know damn well
That you’ll fall off in a minute, cause that shit don’t sell
Funny how you think you could surpass me, or outlast me
With that bullshit style, you’re fallin fast, gee
See, I suggest you go back where you came from
(Your mic, and my mic) Come on, don’t play, son”
That was The Beatnuts “No Equal” and if that song came out today, they wouldn’t be calling out tongue-twisting. They would have said, “All that hashtag rap don’t impress me / It’s just a phase, and you know damn well / That you’ll fall off in a minute, cause that shit don’t sell.”
So, it really is time to retire this poetic device. Hashtag rap has become cliche. It works in moderation and has been diluted from overuse. We need to take a pause on this pause-stop-flow. See what I did there?
There is a lot of room for creativity in hip-hop. Let’s not forget that.
Before we rap things up on this topic, I did manage to find an even earlier example than the Public Enemy one I played for you. I’m cheating a bit because I am going outside of hip-hop culture, but good music is good music and this artist is definitely a pioneer in his genre as well.
I am talking about John Lennon. We wrote a hashtag line way back in 1965
That was from “It’s Only Love” by The Beatles and the hashtag line is “When you sigh my, my inside just flies, butterflies.”
I wanted to see if hashtag style rhymes had been used in literary poetry but this is a show on the history of music. As such, I am happy with this search bringing us back to a music pioneer such as John Lennon. He might not have influenced the style of rap, but then again?
Thanks so much for tuning in today. I have had a lot of fun exploring this topic in detail. If you have any comment about the show and what we do. get at us on Twitter. @DOPEfm for the radio show @thewordisbond for the hip-hop magazine website and podcast, and @chasemarch to reach me about anything hip-hop, education, writing, skateboarding, or anything else.
Gotta love the hashtag and how easy it is to communicate online with anyone, anywhere in the world. We continue our mandate to bring you the best in real hip-hop music and talk every single week over the airwaves or wi-fi.
This is Chase March signing off till next week reminding you, “You Better Know Your History!”
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