Fact-Check the Rhyme
The Anthology of Rap is rife with transcription errors. Why is it so hard to get rap lyrics right?
How would you render that line? What do you think the rapper (Mr. Cheeks) is saying? If you're not from New York, you might think that in this tale, Mr. Cheeks used a linden tree and a van for the base of his drug-selling ("hustling") operations. But let's say you know Linden Boulevard from A Tribe Called Quest's hit song "Check the Rhime." Then Mr. Cheeks is selling drugs on Linden, out of a van. But let's say you know Queens, in which case you know the line refers to the intersection of Linden Boulevard and the Van Wyck Expressway.
Lowercasing van in your transcription of this line would be an honest mistake, but one that misses significant meaning. Regional references are just one factor that goes into accurate transcription, but it's a significant one. When LL Cool J addresses "Farmers!" at the end of "Mama Said Knock You Out," to cite another example, he is not addressing people who till the soil, but rather his friends on Farmers Boulevard. The Anthology gets that line right but offers no context or explanation.
To give credit where it is due, The Anthology corrected some of my own mishearings, particularly in the case of Lauryn Hill's "Doo Wop (That Thing)."I thought she was saying, "It's silly when girls sell their souls because of sin," even though she's just said "sin" a few lines prior to that. I believe the editors have it correct: "It's silly when girls sell their soul because it's in," as in "in fashion." I'm grateful for the lines they got right. I just hope the next anthology of rap will be more careful and will be right more often.
Got a copy of The Anthology of Rap? Share any errors you find in the comments below.
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Paul Devlin is a regular contributer to The Root and the editor of Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones (2011).
Clip of Eric B. & Rakim, "Eric B. Is President," Paid in Full © 6:23, 1986. All rights reserved. Clip of 50 Cent, "Ghetto Qua'ran," Power of the Dollar © Trackmasters, 1999. All rights reserved. Clip of 50 Cent, "50 Shot Ya." Clip of Ghostface Killah, "Daytona 500," Ironman © Razor Sharp, 1996. All rights reserved. Clip of The Roots, "Act Too (The Love of My Life)," Things Fall Apart © MCA, 1999. All rights reserved. Clip of Wu-Tang Clan, "Triumph," Wu-Tang Forever © Loud Records, 1997. All rights reserved. Clip of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, "Superrappin'." © Enjoy Records, 1979. All rights reserved. Clip of Nas, "Ether," Stillmatic © Ill Will, Columbia, 2001. All rights reserved. Clip of Ol' Dirty Bastard, "Brooklyn Zoo," Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version © Elektra Records, 1995. All rights reserved. Clip of Pharoahe Monch, "Simon Says," Internal Affairs © Rawkus/Priority/EMI Records, 1999. All rights reserved. Clip of Lost Boyz, "Lifestyles of the Rich & Shameless," Legal Drug Money © Uptown Records, 1995. All rights reserved.