It’s a good question. First up, why not?
I like hip-hop. And I’m fond of similes. A good simile is like a £12 bottle of Rioja on a winter’s night (I didn’t say I was good at writing them).
I didn’t grow up in the projects. As a kid in rural Northamptonshire, projects were a way to get good marks at school. As a teenager, I spent most of my time listening to lo-fi rock and grunge while my friends were arguing about Blur and Oasis.
Cast a spell on the crowd just like voodoo: discovering hip-hop
When I left the Rose of the Shires (seriously, it’s on the road signs) and went off to university in Sheffield, I made new friends and discovered new music.
Through a serious fondness for clubbing I found solace in late nights/early mornings dancing to hard house. When not bouncing around in dark clubs, we listened to all sorts of other stuff that was a revelation to my young ears.
Hip-hop was probably the most important of these personal musical breakthroughs, and the one that’s stuck with me. I’ve not listened to much happy hardcore since then. Thanks to Jamie, Garth, Mike, Mark and others for the induction.
20 years on and my collection has grown fairly large and eclectic. The tunes I’ll be posting about don’t reflect the entire spectrum of hip-hop out there. How could they? There are large swathes of artists that I’ve never listened to. So (at least at first) I’ll be focusing on artists and tracks I like. Actually, thinking about it, hardcore hip-hop fans would probably baulk at how thin my collection really is.
I got plans to take charge like major outlets: why do this?
Here are some reasons I’m doing this daft project:
- to discover who is the most similiest (totally a word) group/artist in hip-hop
- to share and rediscover tunes that I think are worth listening to
- to learn a bit more about US and hip-hop culture. Hip-hop lyrics are full of references I don’t understand
- to discover new hip-hop
My ultimate goal is to catalogue every simile in every hip-hop track ever made. Easy.
I guess along the way it’ll be interesting to see what common themes crop up in rap lyrics. Who knows, maybe I’ll get a PhD out of this someday, and join the illustrious ranks of hip-hop academics like Drs. Dre and Octagon.
But really, this is just about sharing good tunes, enjoying the poetry of rap lyrics and hopefully finding lots of new music along the way.
As the rhyme scheme drops like shock and awe: what are similes?
For the uninitiated a simile is:
a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid (e.g. as brave as a lion).https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/simile
You’ve probably heard M.O.P.’s ‘Cold as ice’ (this is the ‘clean’ version, an exercise in futility). That’s a well-known hip-hop simile right there – although as it’s technically a sample from soft-rock legends Foreigner I won’t let it in my database. But the point is, if you listen to a hip-hop tune, you’ll probably find at least one simile tucked away in it.
Spoiler alert: I’m going to allow ‘comparatives’ (like the Beastie Boys’ ‘cheaper than a hot-dog with no mustard ’). To exclude these on the basis that they’re not, strictly speaking, similes would mean missing out on some true lyrical gems. Head over to the how page if you want to know more. And don’t even think of complaining.
Push pen to paper like Chinua Achebe: why are there so many similes in hip-hop lyrics
Similes are a key ingredient of poetry and good hip-hop lyrics are poetry. Simple as that. They’re cognitive shortcuts, able to quickly conjure up all sorts of emotive stuff. If I tell you that you’ve got a face like a scrotum, you immediately know I’m saying it’s hairy, wrinkly and saggy. That’s one I got from one of Shakespeare’s earlier sonnets.
To attempt to add some academic credibility to this silly website I did try to do some ‘proper research’. I didn’t get far, to be honest.
In ‘Close to the Edge: The Poetry of Hip-Hop’ (2008), Mary Stone Hanley discusses the importance of lyrics in rap battles. Here, ‘verbal agility is applauded, lack of imagination booed’. Rappers’ ability to ‘give and take a lick’ – to take an insult and reply with a wittier response – is vital in winning these battles. It’s no coincidence that the subject if a lot of hip-hop songs happens to be how good the artists are at rapping.
My cursory search for academic literature on simile in hop-hop drew up little else. I reckon that PhD is as good as mine.
Now as we’ve established, I’m no hip-hop historian. But I reckon the popularity of simile and other figures of speech in hip-hop have come about from freestyle rap battles. It’s a valuable skill to be able to have a pop at opponents (and frequently their mums) in a way that is economical with words, inventive, occasionally shocking and often funny. As we’ll hopefully see, simile allows for a surprising amount of imagery to be packed into rhymes.
What about metaphor then? Why not catalogue all figures of speech in hip-hop? Because that would take fucking ages and be extremely complicated. Feel free to set up the Internet Hip-hop Metaphor Database if you like. The domain’s available, I’ve checked.
Raw like cocaine straight from Bolivia: a word on NSFW content
Oops. In that last paragraph I used a bad word. Obviously, hip-hop lyrics tend not to shy away from naughty words and difficult subjects. If you let your kids read this blog, don’t blame me if they pick up one or two new terms that you might not like. I’ll be presenting lyrics unedited.
There’ll be no hiding away from some of the unfortunate content too; some hip-hop contains lyrics that are undoubtedly sexist, homophobic, racist and just about everything-else-ist.
We’ll deal with these issues as they arise, shall we? I don’t intend to be an apologist nor a censor of unacceptable ideas.
I’m just here to catalogue similes.