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The Art of Story Telling in Hip Hop

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“Once upon a time not long go, where people wore pajamas and lived life slow…” was the opening line of a 1989 hip-hop classic recited by a British born rapper named Richard Walters, better known to the world as Slick Rick. These lyrics have been sampled, re-interpreted, and interpolated by more artists in urban music than I can remember. Also known to fans as “The Ruler,” Slick Rick has been deemed one of hip-hop’s most renown story teller’s to date, and fittingly so.

Hip-Hop artists have looked to Slick Rick’s unique story telling fashion in order to tell tales of the streets from their own personal point of view as urban poets. Throughout the years we’ve had so many apostles of the streets give us their poetic interpretations of the savage world that produced an art unlike any genre in music. You can list dozen’s of incredible songs that defined generations, such as Ice-T’s “6 in the Mornin” or “Brenda’s Gotta Baby” by Tupac Shakur. Every fan will argue their favorite story-telling rapper based upon which explicit depiction spoke them on the deepest level emotionally.

From Notorious B.I.G. to Big L, Nas, Kool G Rap, Raekwon, Ice Cube, A Tribe Called Quest throughout hip-hop’s timeline continuing to Jay-Z, Common, Blackstar, Elzhi, Outkast, the list goes on.

We wouldn’t have the classic rap narratives of my generation such as “Damien” by DMX or my all-time favorite, Eminem’s “Stan” if it weren’t for the predecessors that came before them. Hip-Hop music has painted us a detailed picture of real life by the verbal savants whose words serve as pictorials to some of the most amazing stories ever rhythmically recited.

The past decade we’ve been blessed with torch bearers such as Joe Budden, Royce Da 5’9, Saigon, Lupe Fiasco, Immortal Technique, Brother Ali and Vinnie Paz of Jedi Mind Tricks. I’ll even throw in a few of my personal favorites of recent that you may not have even heard of such as Grieves, Macklemore, and Oncue. The last three are on constant rotation on my Ipod playlists as they represent a more bridged gap of not only generation but ethnicity amongst artists.

Story telling in rap is by far one of the most unique aspects of hip-hop as a culture and what the music gives us in contrast to other genres (aside from possibly country). If you have a parent or grandparent that dismisses the art the resides in rap music, I suggest you pick a couple of your personal favorite songs to play that tell a story so fascinating one couldn’t depict a better picture visually. It’s apart of what defines the culture and the music, and has helped so many of us artists of the next generation tell our stories to those who are still writing their own.

Attached to this post is a link to a song of mine that tells the unique story of my first high school crush… And a hypothetical portrayal of what could be if things were different.

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