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Songs Analysis: Themes and Motifs Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Mar 31st, 2022

The Sugarhill Gang – Rappers Delight

The song Rappers Delight is clearly representative of what used to be the discursive essence of themes and motifs, explored by the early affiliates of the Hip-Hop musical genre. In it, the band members expound on the pleasures of enjoying life to its fullest, while implying that it is specifically one’s possession of a plenty of money, which allows the concerned individual to lead an independent and thoroughly delightful lifestyle: “I got bodyguards, I got two big cars… I got a Lincoln continental and a sunroof Cadillac”.

The song’s lyrics also explore the motif of sexuality – rappers make continual references to the fact that it is specifically their social status-related ‘coolness’, which allow them to have sex with as many women, as they can handle.

Even though that the earlier mentioned themes and motifs are clearly present in the modern rap-lyrics, the manner in which The Sugarhill Gang reflects upon them leaves only a few doubts, as to the fact that the song in question was composed in the late seventies. This is because; as opposed to what it is being the case with today’s rappers, the band members refrain from accentuating the aspects of their racial affiliation, as such naturally oppose them against the society.

In my opinion, this deprives the lyrics of Rappers Delight of a certain discursive depth and contributes to the fact that the discussed song can be well referred to, as such that promotes a highly stereotypical image of African-Americans, as people utterly alienated from the issues of a socio-political importance.

Africa Bambataa – Planet Rock

One’s exposure to the lyrics of Planet Rock, suggest that this song is being the least concerned with tackling any semantically identifiable issues. In essence, the song’s actual text consists of the lead-singer’s pleas for listeners to adopt a partying mood: “Party people, party people. Can y’all get funky?”. The most memorable aspect of how he does it is that there is an undeniable hype to these pleas, which in turn implies that the listeners’ likelihood to ‘get funky’ positively relates to their willingness to get high on alcohol or drugs.

Nevertheless, the song in question is not altogether deprived of a certain political sounding, because it subtly refers to the promoted activity, as being associated with the lifestyle of the self-proclaimed ‘Zulu Nation’ members.

In addition, the drumbeat, featured in the song’s melody, is clearly reminiscent of the drumbeat in African folk tunes. This subtly implies that the song’s semantic content (even though there is very little of it in the song) cannot be discussed outside of the band members’ clearly defined commitment to celebrate their ethno-cultural uniqueness.

Even though, as it was mentioned earlier, Planet Rock may not be praised on the account of its thematic richness; there is nevertheless a certain rationale in referring to it as being rather powerful, in the discursive sense of this word. This is because, it does prompt listeners to explore what happened to be their socially suppressed anxieties/desires – hence, empowering them to an extent, as individuals unaffected by the conventions of a perceptual euro-centricity.

Newcleus – Jam On It

This song is another good example of what hip-hop rapping used to be all about, during the course of the eighties. After all, the song’s most easily identifiable trademarks are: the ideological neutrality of its lyrics and the inclusion of electronic music, as the tool of emphasizing the melody’s rhythm. Briefly, the song’s lyrics glorify the lifestyle of intellectually liberated individuals, who strive to have fun, as the main purpose of their existence: “You gotta funk it up until it knocks you down”.

At the same time, however, some of the song’s lines do seem to sound rather politically charged, like the following: “Jammin… It’s what separates us from the rest”, “I’m down by law when it comes to rockin’ viciously, you see”. As these lines imply, there is indeed a qualitative difference between African-Americans (us) and the rest of Americans (them).

Moreover, the latter line subtly suggests that African-Americans are in no position to explore their music-related aesthetic tastes to the fullest, as it can be well deemed an ‘illegal’ activity.

Thus, Jam On It can well be referred to as a ‘transitional’ rap-song, which marked the process of Black rappers beginning to explore the issue of the Black people’s ‘otherness’, as such that defines their existential mode more than anything does, from the mid-eighties on. Therefore, this particular song can be recommended for listening by people who are interested in learning about the history of American hip-hop.

Kurtis Blow – The Breaks

In his song, Kurtis Blow enlightens listeners on the fact that one can never be in a full control of its life, as the life’s dynamics never cease being affected by a number of unforeseen developments – ‘breaks’: “Breaks to win and breaks to lose

But these here breaks will rock your shoes”. Nevertheless, even though Blow refers to these ‘breaks’, as being necessarily counter-beneficiary, there is an undeniable aura of optimism to the song.

Partially, this can be explained by the fact that, despite the song’s formal affiliation with the genre of hip-hop, it is heavily affected by the musical conventions of disco. This is also the reason why The Breaks can be well used, as the musical accompaniment to dancing. Because of that, there can be only a few doubts, as to the fact that the song in question was written in a time when the genre of hip-hop was through the early phase of its development.

Although The Breaks is a rather optimistic/’light’ song, there is a clearly defined philosophical sounding to it. This is because it does encourage listeners to contemplate on the sporadic nature of life-challenges. What it means is that, after having been exposed to this particular song, people would be much more like to adopt a proper stance, when it comes to anticipating and addressing these challenges.

Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five – The Message

In this song, Melle Mel and Duke Bootee reflect upon the actual realities of an urban living in America. According to them, while dealing with life-challenges, many people end up being pushed to the limits of their endurance, because their experiences, in this respect, often cause them to realize that they are in fact living in an ‘urban jungle’: “It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder.

How I keep from going under”. Hence, the song’s subtly conveyed message – it is specially the society, which should be blamed for the fact that many of its members fail at attaining a social prominence.

Unlike what it used to be the case with the semantic content of the hip-hop early compositions, the themes and motifs, featured in The Message, appear to be clearly socio-economic. After all, they emphasize the fact that is the very specifics of a post-industrial living in America, which cause many affected people to grow mentally unstable (Jenkins 9). This, of course, suggests that there are clearly political overtones to this song, as it tackles the issue of people’s exploitation in the intellectually honest manner.

Due to what has been pointed out earlier, I think that there is indeed a good rationale in referring to The Message, as a discursively powerful song. After all, this song can well be discussed, as such that indicts the country’s rich and powerful, on the account of the latter enjoying their lives, at the expense of denying the same opportunity to the society’s underprivileged members.

Run DMC – Sucker MCs

This particular song is concerned with the rapper (Jam Master Jay) expounding on the particulars of his lifestyle, as an individual who has what it takes to take a practical advantage of opportunities in life.

The song’s main theme is that it is specifically one’s financial well-being, which reflects the extent of the concerned individual’s happiness: “Champagne caviar, and bubble bath. But see ahh, ah that’s the life, ah that I lead”. The song also promotes the idea that the situation when many people fail, while striving to enrich themselves, is thoroughly natural, because it correlates with the objective laws of nature.

Even though that Sucker MCs can be best described as a rather apolitical song, it is nevertheless discursively progressive. This is because it encourages listeners to consciously realize something that the majority of people are being aware of on an unconscious level – the measure of just about any individual’s worth reflects the amount of money that he or she happened to have in the bank – pure and simple.

It is understood, of course, that many moralistically minded/religious people may disagree with the song’s foremost message. Yet, it does not make this message less valid. After all, the very notion of the ‘American Dream’ has traditionally been associated with the notion of a material prosperity. Therefore, it will not be much of an exaggeration to suggest that Sucker MCs is indeed an intellectually enlightening song.

UTFO – Roxanne Roxanne

Roxanne Roxanne is one of the most famous early hip-hop compositions. In it, the rappers (Shiller Shaun Fequiere and Jeffrey Campbell) tell the story of how they tried to win a favor with Roxane – a girl they met out on the street. As the song implies, it is specifically their ‘sophistication’, which each of the rappers believed was going to attract Roxanne: “She’ll (Roxanne) take to my rap, cause my rap’s the best. The educated rapper MD will never fess”. In the end, Roxanne agrees to go out on a date with one of the rappers.

Even though that Roxanne Roxanne if an ideologically neutral song, it nowadays would have been deemed politically incorrect. This is because, despite the fact that both rappers do express their admiration of Roxanne, they nevertheless appear fully aware that there is nothing truly special about her. In their eyes, she is nothing but one among the millions and millions of similarly minded ‘broads’ – pretty on the outside, but quite shallow on the inside: “I ain’t comitting suicide for no crab… calling her a crab is just a figure of speech”.

Thus, Roxanne Roxanne can be well referred to, as a song that accentuates the fact that men and women are different, in the psychological sense of this word. Yet, this is exactly what attracts them to each other – quite contrary to what the conventions of political correctness imply (Wouters 730).

Salt N Pepa – Tramp

In this song, the rap-singers (all female) go about warning women that they would be much better off exercising a caution in their relationships with men. This is because, according to these singers, men are obsessed with sex, which in turn causes them to treat women, as nothing short of prostitutes: “You know that kind (of men), excited all the time. With nothin’ but sex on the mind”. The song concludes with the band members suggesting that, due to their awareness of what accounts for men’s true agenda, they will not be easily victimized.

The earlier provided summary of this song leaves only a few doubts, as to the fact that feminists composed it. After all, the text implies that the singers’ foremost agenda in life was protecting their bodies from coming into a close contact with men – quite contrary to the fact that female bodies are being specifically ‘designed’ to be ‘penetrated’ by men for the purpose of ‘baby-making’.

Therefore, Tramp can be discussed, as such that reflects the singers might have been affected by the condition of a sexual frigidness, common among feministically minded women.

I personally do not think that there is much of a discursive value to the song Tramp. It is not only that it provides listeners with an utterly distorted view of male sexuality, but it also aims to stereotype all men, as sexual maniacs. Given the coarse sounding of the singers’ voices, we can speculate that the themes and motifs, contained in this song, are rather subliminal.

Songs from Texbook B

Sir Mix-a-Lot – Posse on Broadway

In this song, Anthony Ray raps about the road-trip that he and his friends undertook along the streets of Seattle: “In the Black Benz Limo, with the cellular phone. I’m callin’ up the posse, it’s time to get rippin’”. As they continue to drive around, the ‘posse’ is growing larger, while putting a strain of the car’s suspension. This, however, does not cause the rapper a great deal of worry. According to him, there can never be too high of a price for having fun.

What is especially noticeable about this particular song is that it emanates the strong spirit of solidarity – Ray and his friends appear to share the same existential values. In fact, this enables them to have fun, in the first place, as the sensation of unity, on their part, causes the crew members not only to feel quite safe, but also elevates them to a position of authority.

This is the reason why, while faced with the incident of some other man mistreating its girlfriend, one of Ray’s friends decides to give this person a lesson: “My homeboy P.L.B. co’ sprayed the boy with mace”.

Therefore, it will be appropriate to refer to Posse on Broadway, as such, that contains a clue, as to what accounts for the main difference between African-Americans, on the one hand, and Whites, on the other. This difference is concerned with the fact that, unlike what it is being usually the case with Whites, Black-Americans never hesitate to stick up for each other, when circumstances call for it.

LL Cool J – I Need Love

I Need Love is an essentially love-song, in which LL Cool J expounds on the fact that, having not had loved any woman for real, he could never make his life complete, and expresses his deep-seated desire to fall in love. The lines “I need love. I need love”, repeated over and over, throughout the song’s duration, emphasize the sheer genuineness of the rapper’s desire, in this respect.

One of the song’s most memorable aspects is the fact that it points out to love, as something can only be truly experienced within the context of men and women pursuing a heterosexual relationship with each other: “Warmth… is created by a girl and a boy; You’re as soft as a pillow and I’m as hard as steel”.

In its turn, this suggests that the author knew perfectly well that accounts for the actual mechanics of a loving relationship between the representatives of both sexes – namely the fact that, while on their own, men and women experience the sensation of a psychological incompleteness. This is why; it is in the nature of psychologically adequate men and women to long for each other.

This idea, clearly read between the song’s lines, cannot be deemed politically correct nowadays, when even the most grotesque sexual deviations are being discussed in terms of an ‘alternative sex-style’. Yet, this is exactly the reason why I Need Love should be recommended for listening.

MC Lyte – Paper Thin

Paper Thin is another song that belongs to the genre of the so-called ‘feminist hip-hop’. In it, MC Lyte positions herself as an emotionally (and probably sexually) frigid woman, incapable of entering into long-lasting relationships with men: “I’m not the kind of girl to try to play a man out.

I take the money and the gear and then break the hell out”. This, however, does not seem to worry the singer, whatsoever. Quite on the contrary – she takes pride in being deprived of any romantic illusions towards men, in general, and towards the person, she had just slept with, in particular.

Given the song’s actual content, mentioned earlier, it does not come as a particular surprise that it is being particularly popular with feminists. After all, its themes and motifs are indeed consistent with these women’s subliminal desire to grow out penises. This, however, is also the reason why Paper Thin may never appeal to the broader public – it is not only that it features a poorly rhymed text, but it also unappealing, in the aesthetic sense of this word.

As what has been said earlier implies, my personal reaction to this song is strongly negative. In all probability, while writing it, MC Lyte wanted to represent herself as a thoroughly progressive woman, aware of the world’s actual ways. Yet, she only succeeded in exposing the sheer extent of its own perceptual arrogance, as a cynically minded and simultaneously not very bright individual, who suffers from the deep-seated complex of being nothing less of a ‘man in a skirt’.

Ice-T – Squeeze the Trigger

Squeeze the Trigger is the good example of the so-called ‘gangsta rap’. In it, Ice-T raps about what he considers the actual truths of life – the fact that, despite the politically correct propaganda of ‘peace and tolerance’, the streets in American large cities are in fact war-zones, and the fact that hypocrisy is only the ‘talent’ that the American high-ranking politicians possess.

This is the reason why the people of color in the US have no option but to grow accustomed to violence – by doing it, they simply strive to increase the chances of their physical survival: “I rap about the life that the city streets gave me. Murder, intrigue, somebody must bleed”.

Even though that the song’s lyrics are indeed rather violent, Squeeze the Trigger is nevertheless a thoroughly progressive rap-composition. This is because it does not glorify violence, as a ‘thing in itself’, as much as it exposes the violence’s actual roots: “Homeless sleep on the city streets… While rich politicians soak their feet, in the pools at their ten million buck retreats”. This, of course, endows this particular song with a well-defined political sounding, which gives Ice-T an additional credit.

I think that Squeeze the Trigger does a good job, while encouraging listeners to face the reality, as it is – hence, making them more capable of adopting a proper stance, when it comes to addressing life-challenges.

Public Enemy – Rebel without a Pause

The lyrics of this particular songs are concerned with the singer’s understanding, as to what accounts for his existential self-identity, and with his willingness to celebrate it – even at the expense of being referred to as an ‘anti-social element’: “Hard – my calling card… Loud and proud kickin’ live next poet supreme”. This, of course, naturally causes the song in question to be perceived as utterly powerful, in the discursive sense of this word.

Just as it happened with the song, discussed earlier, Rebel without a Pause implies that those African-Americans that subscribe to the explored themes and motifs, no longer want to remain observant of the provisions of euro-centricity. The reason for this is simple – as opposed to what it happened to be the case with degenerate Whites, they have a plenty of vitality to them. In its turn, this naturally predisposes brothers to experience the sensation of being in control of the streets – in essence; this is what the discussed song is all about.

My opinion of this song is strongly favorable. Partially, this is because the song’s lyrics confirm the validity of my belief that there is no reason for one’s existential strength to seek any moral justification – being a strong individual is ‘good’ by definition, just as being weak is ‘evil’. Therefore, there can only be a few doubts, as to the song’s beneficiary effects upon those who listen to it.

Two Live Crew – Me So Horny

In this song, the band members rap about being horny to such an extent that they have no reservations, whatsoever, against discussing the subject matter in the extremely straightforward manner: “I’m like a dog in heat, a freak without warnin’. I have an appetite for sex, ’cause me so horny’”.

Even though that some people may find the song’s lyrics morally inappropriate, the rappers have to be given a credit on the account of their willingness to talk openly about what others only whisper.

This, of course, implies that Me So Horny can be referred to, as being an intellectually stimulating musical piece. After all, the song’s themes and motifs do imply that a sexual desire is one of the main driving forces in just about any person’s life (Treacy and Randle 20). In this respect, Me So Horny is perfectly consistent with the provisions of psychoanalysis.

Moreover, this song is also intellectually liberating – while exposed to it, listeners grow to be increasingly aware of the fact that there is nothing ‘shameful’ about the physiological workings of their bodies.

Therefore, it will only be logical to think of Me So Horny, as being educational to an extent. After all, people’s willingness to expose the sheer fallaciousness of a number of moralistic dogmas, concerned with ‘tabooing’ the sense of sexuality, is nowadays being deemed socially beneficial.

Boogie Down Productions – My Philosophy

In this song, the rapper (RS-One) talks about what he considers the qualitative aspects of his life-philosophy. The foremost of them happened to be his awareness of the fact that, in order to be able to emanate power, one should refrain from acting in the stereotypical manner: “I don’t… reinforce stereotypes of today. Like all my brothers eat chicken and watermelon”. Apparently, while promoting the earlier mentioned idea, the rapper wanted to empower Africa-Americans even further.

This, of course, provides us with a rational to refer to My Philosophy, as another example of how rap-music can be used to serve essentially educational purposes. After all, the song’s main philosophical premise is concerned with the realization of the fact that, in order to for people’s authority-claims to be legitimate, those who come with them must be thoroughly versatile individuals, capable of subjectualizing themselves within the surrounding reality: “It (life) is not about a salary it’s all about reality”.

The progressive sounding of this idea is quite clear, as it does prompt listeners to remain analytical, while trying to take a practical advantage of the opportunities that life periodically offers.

Therefore, I believe that My Philosophy does deserve to be recommended for listening, as a musical piece that is potentially capable of enlightening people on the true significance of a number of discursive issues.

NWA-Fuck the Police

In this song, the rappers talk about the fact that in today’s America, colored people continue to suffer from being exposed to the different forms of a racial discrimination. This is especially being the case when they deal with police: “(Police) searchin my car, lookin for the product.

Thinkin every nigga is sellin narcotics”. However, the rappers also express their belief that this situation will not last for much longer, due to the essence of the demographic dynamics in the U.S.: “Fuck the police and Ren said it with authority, because the niggaz on the street is a majority”. This statement, of course, can hardly be disagreed with (Jones and Jackson 77).

Therefore, I have no option but to refer to Fuck the Police, as another rap-song, the listening to which is capable to empower African-Americans rather substantially, in the psychological sense of this word. This is because it encourages them to believe that it is specifically brothers, and not the police, who represent the de facto authority out on the streets.

As such, Fuck the Police represents an undeniable discursive value, as a song that enlightens African-Americans on the sheer extent of their yet not fully realized existential potency.

Works Cited

Jenkins, Alan. “Inequality, Race, and Remedy.” American Prospect 18.5 (2007): 8-11. Print.

Jones, Nicholas and James Jackson. “The Demographic Profile of African Americans, 1970-2000.” Black Collegian 31.3 (2001): 72-79. Print.

Treacy, Vicky and Jacqueline Randle. “Breaking Sexuality Taboos.” Pediatric Nursing 16. 2 (2004): 19-22. Print.

Wouters, Cas. “Sexualization: Have Sexualization Processes Changed Direction?” Sexualities 13.6 (2010): 723-741. Print.

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