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the roots of rap: LYRICS AND HISTORY:

Roots of Rap:

Words as Events: Cretan Mantinádes in Performance and Composition.
On the Greek island of Crete, the spoken word and storytelling function as conveyors of collective memory, local history, and as an outlet for exercising creativity and imagination. An example of that is the mandinádes folk poetry genre, fifteen-syllable rhymed couplets in iambic meter, each divided into an eight- followed by a seven-syllable part, where the fourteenth syllable must be stressed and the fifteenth unstressed. In fact, to be considered a genuine Cretan, one must know how both to recite and to compose mandinádes; in addition to serving as entertainment, they are also a means of expression of identity and a forum for discussing local issues, providing an opportunity for Cretans to express and debate their respective philosophies of life. Their meaning is judged for its performance and social appropriateness in relation to the occasion but also to the larger social and historical context of the community, transforming music and dance experiences into living memories.[1]

Flyting - Definition: poetical invective and political satire Scottish tradition is a dialog or conversation between adversaries.

"Loki's Quarrel" from The Poetic Edda is sometimes translated as "Loki's Flyting" and is quite old.

Dunbar vs. Kennedie: The earliest known example of the Scottish lowland genre appears to be "The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie," by William Dunbar, from 1508 or slightly earlier.

The earliest known flyting is something in Sumerian, maybe the Odyssey, where Odysseus defends against the insult in Alcinoos's palace. Then the Unferth episode in Beowulf (the poem probably = dates ca 600-800 in language), and then the Old Icelandic material (ca 1,000-1,200?).

Origins of
the Dozens


Roots of Rap

Educational CyberPlayGround Roots of Rap

The flyters were typically poets. Cf. with the old-time "cutting contests" of jazz musicians and the recent lyricized rap rivalries.

Flyting is formal verbal dueling, though the term does originate from the Norse context. For a more general discussion, see Parks, _Verbal Dueling in Heroic Narrative_ 1990.

Carole Clover summary:
Clover, Carol J. (1979). "The Germanic Context of the Unferth Episode." Speculum 55: 444-468. -- Clover seeks to understand verbal duelling in Germanic tradition by making analogies to the same behavior in other cultures and suggests the behavior had analogs as actual rituals. She discusses 'flyting', a literary theme in early medieval folk narratives; two people engage in ritual verbal dueling, and the winner has the last word in the argument, the loser falling conspicuously silent. Flyters depicted as having good verbal skill (451), and use applied eloquence (452). Exchanges are stylized, parallel, symmetric, stanzaic (4530. Many flytings do not end violently (459). And more besides; I cut out poor Unferth.

Some urban genres are comparable such as "playing the dozens" and more recent rap/hip-hop feuding genres.

Cf. too "The Dozens." Roger Abrahams Roots of Rap Signifying, Toasts, Griots, The Sporting Life, Oral Tradition, Hip Hop, The Dozens, Vaudevillian bawdy songs, dialect humour, minstrel patter.

America's First Rap Song 1861

An example of the "rapper's" art.

_Vanity Fair_ (N.Y.C.), Nov. 9, 1861, p. 216:

I see a crib that no one South can crack,
We lost our "JIMMY," would we had him back !--
Old ABE's a prig that all my coves do fear,
And with McCLELLAN, keeps me quiet here.
Else quick I'd cross and bienly dub the jigger,
Pinch all the swag and put the darbies on each nigger;
Then nap the regulars and go a hazard,
Cramp BILLY SEWARD, stave in CHASE'S mazzard.
Show all the North the Constitution's played out,
And lay out mudsills until all are laid out.
At WILLARD'S afterwards we'll call the roll,
Order up booze and never post the cole.
Mounting my prad, I'd go then to the forts,
Take all my bob culls and my bene' morts.
I'd hold high revel, sluice my gob alway,
Ne'er fash myself, nor think of cramping-day,
But Bingavast's the word ! I must namaze,
McCLELLAN'S cutty eyed and knows my lays;
_He's_ fly enough to shut up every boozing ken;
If _I_ did that each day I would be losing men.
Kinchins and cullies, all must have their bingo,
Keep the lush from them and they'll lope, by jingo !
Our game is dusty but we cannot stop ;
It's either fight or take the morning drop.
[_Enter one of Beauregard's coves, hurriedly._]
COVE.--The cops are coming !
BEAUREGARD.-------------------------Then I'll stow my wid,
Button my bone-box and do as FLOYD did.
[_Runs off (R.) as Federal skirmishers enter (L.)_]

Note the Irish name McCLELLAN and the possible borrowing words from Irish American Vernacular English.

Calypso Wars

Calypso insult-swaps that were such an integral part of Calypso. Also See American Virgin Islands

The tradition of trading humorous insulting songs in Calypso is called "wars" and can be done either in person with your opponent (s) or in thier absence with the expectation that they will respond later in their own performance. The in person wars were generally improvised on the spot although there were clearly formulae and some stock insults. Since they were anticipated, it can be assumed that the contestants gave considerable thought to what they would sing before the actual contest began. The singer who got the greatest approval of the crowd would be crowned Calypso King or Calypso Queen.

Further Reading:

  • Book Title: Deep Down in the Jungle
    Negro Narrative Folklore from the Streets of Philadelphia.
    Contributors: Roger D. Abrahams - author.
    Copyright 1963
    , 1970 by Roger D. Abrahams
    Peter Tamony helped a great deal with the Glossary
  • Abrahams, Roger D. 1962. "Playing the dozens." Jrl of American Folklore 75: 209-218. --- 1976. Talking Black. Rowley, MA: Newbury House Publishers.
  • In their 1998 book African American English (Mufwene, Rickford, Bailey & Baugh, eds), Marcy morgan gives a very useful contextualization and theorization of some related ways of speaking, "More than a mood or an attitude: Discourse and verbal genres in African-American culture". She discusses at least SOUNDIN'/SIGNIFYIN', READIN', and INSTIGATIN', as well as the DOZENS, in terms of directness and intentionality
  • Singers, Toasters and Rapper by Dr. John Rickford ringleader on the CyberPlayGround
  • Rapping and Capping Black Talk As An Art.
  • Kochman, Thomas. 1983. "The boundary between play and nonplay in black verbal dueling." Language in Society 12: 329-37.
  • Labov, William. 1972. "Rules for Ritual Insults." Language in the Inner City: Studies in the Black English Vernacular, Chap. 8. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Mitchell-Kernan, Claudia L. 1970. Language behavior in a Black urban community. Ph.D. dissertation. University of California at Berkeley.
  • Mitchell-Kernan, Claudia L. 1972. "Signifying and marking: Two Afro-American speech acts." John J. Gumperz & Dell Hymes, eds., Directions in sociolinguistics. New York: Blackwell, 161-79.
  • Morgan, Marcyliena. 1993. "The Africanness of counterlanguage among Afro-Americans." In S. Mufwene, ed., Africanisms in Afro-American language varieties: 423-435. Athens: University of Georgia.


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