7 min read

Bonus cold [M̀gbàkọ́ óyí]

What does Corinna's comment to Pindar in ancient Athens have to do with the lyricism of Nas, Jay-Z & with a mad, throw-away line by Guru?
Bonus cold [M̀gbàkọ́ óyí]
At Crested Butte last week

Click if above embedded audio link doesn't show up

Corinna warned Pindar, who was still young and prided himself on his eloquence, that he was unpoetic for not telling myths, which are the proper business of poetry, but that he supported his works with unusual words, strange usages, paraphrases, songs, and rhythms, which are just embellishments of the subject matter. So Pindar, taking her words to heart, composed that famous poem, ‘Shall it be Ismenus . . . ?’ When he showed it to her, she laughed and said that one should sow with the hand, not with the whole sack.

—From Plutarch - De Gloria Atheniensium, translated in Loeb's Greek Library

Lemonade was a popular drink, and it still is
I get more props and stunts than Bruce Willis
A poet like Langston Hughes
And can't lose when I cruise out on the expressway
Leaving the bodega, I say "Suavé"
Premier's got more beats than barns got hay

—Guru [Gang Starr] - DWYCK

The throwback winter weather continues here, as I've returned from last week's trip to Ouray for a poetry performance at the beautiful Wright Opera House.

Uche performing at Wright Opera House in Ouray. Photo by Daiva Chesonis.

I also got a chance to snowboard Crested Butte, including a few great workout laps in the tree runs around the Silver Queen Express lift, which gives faint Arapahoe Basin/Pallavicini vibes. The conditions were absolutely scrumptious.

Travel, prep and events around the beginning of the Boulder County United club spring soccer season (I coach a U14 girls team) have not only disrupted this newsletter's rhythm, but have also gotten in the way of weekend DJ livestreams, but this Sunday I'll host a set based on this post, at around 6:30 Mountain time, if it works out (going snowboarding again, but to much closer Eldora).

I have a couple of tracks in the February Beat Garden tape; compositions on MPC, as usual, including Fly Freight. A bit of a contrast in styles from that straight boom bap to Garden Jaass, a bit of Asian/African fusion.

February Beat Garden tape - Youtube

I also released a heavy edit the Indeep classic "Last Night a DJ Saved my Life", flipping it into the way I might imagine it being released in a present-day Port Harcourt club.

Indeep - Last Night (UCHE720 Africanized Edit) - Soundcloud

The track is available for high-quality download from Bandcamp.

The classic Gang Starr track "DWYCK" (featuring Nice & Smooth) was released just about 30 years ago, and the famous lemonade line has been popping in my head at all odd times the past few months (and annoying my wife when I quote it for absolutely no reason at all).

Gang Starr - DWYCK ft. Nice & Smooth

Earlier this week, coincidentally, the awesome librarian parody "B*tches in Bookshops" popped in my head ("read so hard librarians tryna fine me"—yeah, I can relate).

B*tches in Bookshops (a Jay Z/Kanye West parody)

Of course that always takes me back to the Jay-Z/'Ye original,

Jay Z ft. Kanye West - Niggas in Paris (Official music video)

I'm not a huge Jay-Z fan, but the combination of Kanye's off-kilter production and Jay-Z's tumbling lyrics always gets me hyped. As if that wasn't enough, Spotify coincidentally (or maybe it was spying on me) served up another song I love despite it's Jay-Z lyrical backbone (I mean, to be fair to me, having Alicia Keys on the hook is a pretty heavy incentive).

JAY-Z - Empire State Of Mind ft. Alicia Keys

Listening to the Jay-Z lyrics and remembering his dictum that he tries to make every line in his verses a hook, I got to thinking about the fact that in the institutional world of poetry heavy ornamentation is often viewed with suspicion. You can go back to Corinna's warning about "sowing with the whole sack". Austerity in poetry has long been admired in the classicist West, and I've struggled with this, because though I consider myself a classicist in some ways, it's not austere verse that really gets my heart racing. When I read, and when I write, I am indeed looking for the entire sack. I want it all—a cyclone of ideas expressed in a cyclone of words.

Of course not all Western ideals are strictly classicist. Many of my favorite "all dead" (see the B*tches in Bookshops piece for the reference) poems are by the Romantics, and for example I'd mention Coleridge's Kubla Khan and Shelley's Ode to a Skylark, both tour-de-forces that definitely sow with the entire sack. To put it in Hip-Hop terms, almost every line in these poems is a hook. I have my quarrels with the Romantics on several counts, but this isn't one of them.

I think of how Hip-Hop changed as it swung into the Golden age, a process you could argue started with DWYCK and probably found its crowning with the Illmatic album by one-time Jay-Z rival Nas. Nas spoke of writing "in my book of rhymes all the words past the margin", and that adds a new dimension in concordance with the Jay-Z principle. In effect they both look to put so much intensity of syllable and metaphor into their lyrics that it bundles the listener into a sort of euphoria. That's exactly what I too seek to do in my poetry, despite that Corinna would so vehemently disapprove.

There's more I could go into about how Hip-Hop emerged from relative lyrical simplicity into diamond encrustation of the golden age, and then cycled back into what old-timers like me sometimes call mumble rap over space music. I'm personally not so doctrinally against the trap era of rap, but I'll leave all that for another time.

DJ Premier on the famous lemonade line

What do we make of "Lemonade was a popular drink, and it still is", which as DJ Premier explains came as the spontaneous result of Guru's freestyling—a rarity as most of Guru's verse come from careful and skillful writing? I'm not the only one enamored of that ridiculous line—most B-Boys like to quote it as much as I do, and when a DJ cues pandemonium by playing DWYCK at a party, no line is rapped more lustily by the crowd. Jay-Z even borrowed the line much later on the remix for "All the Way Up". Yet no one knows what it's supposed to mean; even Guru's song-mate Greg Nice was bemused during the recording session. It's no sort of lyrical weapon as sharpened expertly by Nas or Jay-Z.  As a poet and critic I cannot explain why that line is so iconic, and still for some reason it hits as hard as any hook. Never minding layers of street wisdom, Guru just throws out a seemingly bromide non-sequitur. The poles from the seed sown by hand to the upended sack are as interesting in Hip-Hop—from the sharp hook to the mumble— as they are in traditional poetry.

Poaching from Corinna

If poetry's proper office is high myth
Then it holds only so many square ells
On offer in flow of form and ideas.
You open up each docket on page one,
Dear clerkly bard, and you'll be notified
When your day has finished, your shift card punched,
While heaven's editors, the overwatch,
Receive your inked scrolls through pneumatic tubes.

Or, might I tempt you to a new pursuit?
We scribes signed prime unmoved seek a recruit;
Your office would be home—the wild all-told.

And though we can't advance your weight in gold,
You'd be free to scene-steal, jazz up the act
Without a constant terror of the sack.

❧ Uche Ogbuji, 9 March 2023

Nwayo nwayo, a na m e kwu eziokwu

Opening with an Igbo line meaning "softly, softly; I'm speaking the truth", this recently re-released track feels as fine jump-off for the music recommendations, representing The Continent. The Naija boogie here will have you stepping proper geometry.

The Good Samaritans - Onughara

Like any badge-wearing Neo-Soul fan, I'm always fiending to hear something new from Musiq Soulchild, and that's what we have thanks to his collabo with Hit-Boy, album due later this year and a couple of teaser singles just released.

Musiq Soulchild "i remember you my ex"

I don't remember paying much attention to Reuben Vincent before this month, but he really brought it with his latest single, pouring his heart out about love gone wrong, and taking an assist from Rapsody.

Reuben Vincent - February 13th ft. Rapsody

More newsletter format tweaks: I won't have a tech/arts/culture section every time. Sometimes it will be some other topic I'm passionate about, such as, in this case, the links between traditional poetry and Hip-Hop. Please do consider sharing with others, and subscribing, if you haven't (button in the lower right). Ever new sounds for the listening, new plays on the field of words, fresh takes for tech's sake, with the side sauce of odd juxtapositions. Dá àlụ́-nu!

❧ Égwú 🪘 Ókwú ✍🏿 Ígwè 📡 Ńdụ̀ ❣️