On Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Baby Droppin’: The Anthology Of Rap Is Here

Back in 1992, the only access I had to printed rap lyrics, aside from The Source‘s monthly “hip hop quotable” was my local library’s copy of Lawrence A Stanley’s Rap: The Lyrics, ((You can still find a few copies on sale here.)) a collection of lyrics to one hundred and seventy five songs. I kept Rap:The Lyrics checked out for months at a time, along with the only other rap books available: Havelock Nelson’s Bring The Noise and Mark Costello and David Foster Wallace’s Signifying Rappers. ((Yes, that David Foster Wallace.)) These books introduced me to unfamiliar artists, deepened my appreciation for the music, ((Truthfully though, I learned more by listening to Red Alert and watching Video Musix Box.)) and seem to have set the stage for later writing on rap, for which I am thankful. Yale University Press has recently released The Anthology Of Rap, edited by Adam Bradley ((Adam Bradley is the author of Book Of Rhymes: The Poetics Of Hip Hop, a book of rap lyric criticism that I strongly recommend. This review from Hip-Hop Is Read provides more info.)) and Andrew Dubois. The mission of the book, as they see it:

This pioneering anthology brings together more than three hundred lyrics written over thirty years, from the “old school” to the “golden age” to the present day. Rather than aim for encyclopedic coverage, an impossible task, editors Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois render through examples the richness and diversity of rap’s poetic tradition. They feature both classic lyrics that helped define the genre, including Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s “The Message” and Eric B. & Rakim’s “Microphone Fiend,” as well as lesser-known gems like Blackalicious’s “Alphabet Aerobics” and Jean Grae’s “Hater’s Anthem.” ((From Adam Bradley’s website.))

The online response to The Anthology has been mixed. Literary critic Sam Anderson wrote about reading the book after successfully avoiding rap music for his entire life ((F’real.)) and then sat down with NPR’s Frannie Kelly to relate his initial responses to the YouTube curated audio of the songs in question. ((Only in the digital age.)) Werner Von Wallenrod’s review expresses skepticism for the value of a printed anthology of an oral/aural artform and its utility given the larger lyrics resources found online, but praised the book for containing fewer errors than the most popular internet sources. ((“A Great Big Book Of Rap Lyrics”)) Not everyone agrees; Paul Devlin, writing for Slate.com, claims that the book is filled with errors ((“Fact-Check the Rhyme”)) and directly disputed several of the transcriptions, including the one for Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Brooklyn Zoo”:

This one is controversial, but I’m convinced that Ol’ Dirty Bastard, on “Brooklyn Zoo,” is saying, “I drop science like Cosby drop the babies” and not “I drop science like girls be droppin babies,” as the editors have it. Listen to it closely. I hear “Cosby,” a clever reference to television’s most famous obstetrician (and father of five), and not “girls be.”

It turns out that the lyric has been debated on the internet for some time. I have to admit that I always assumed that ODB said “Cosby droppin’ babies,” but after listening to the song again, I have no idea what to believe. The folks over at the forums on philaflava.com are always ready to argue the finer points of rap; in the past the forum, the blog, and Twitter brought a debate over a Black Sheep lyric to a definitive resolution. ((It turns out Dres said “Dead retarded uncles in pease porridge may they rest.”)) This time, the faction that supported the “girls be droppin’ babies” had some compelling evidence on their side, including the Lord Digga remix of the song in which “girls be” sounds more likely than “Cosby.” Slowing down the vocals didn’t really clarify anything this time around, but a YouTube video of ODB performing the song live pretty much proves that “girls be” is in fact the real deal Holyfield:

I liked the line more when I thought it was “Cosby” but what can you do? One especially outspoken member of the forum who goes by the nom de plume “Icesickle” was convinced that ODB said “Crosby” and was referring to David Crosby’s negligent parenting style. These elaborate explanations are in fact part of the fun of all of this.

Adam Bradley shows up in the comments section and acknowledges that the transcriptions have errors. He suggests that such errors are inevitable and encourages readers to submit corrections ((Submit here if you’re feeling awfully smug.)) as part of an ongoing editing process that will hopefully result in future editions that are more accurate. Devlin responded in a manner that seemed far more reverent than his initial criticism in the review, and life goes on in rap nerd world; it will remain to be seen if Devlin will edit his own article in accordance with reader-submitted revision.  — Thun

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