Wednesday, April 28, 2010

the poetics of Lil Wayne

As I mentioned in my bibliophilia post, a great deal of my undergraduate research was dedicated to invective poetry. Specifically, I wrote a lot about the connections between Roman satirist Juvenal and popular rap artist Eminem.

Since I spent my undergraduate years in New Orleans, I spent a lot of time fielding questions about the difference between Juvenal and Juvenile.

Juvenal. Juvenile. Ianus?

But I digress. My undergraduate days might be a distant memory, and my years in New Orleans may be long gone, but I still spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about the poetics of hip-hop.

I've actually been working on a blog post about hypallage, but I popped Lil Wayne's incredible 2007 mixtape The Drought is Over Pt. 2 (download it free + legal here) in my CD player today at lunch and I was like damn! That's a lot of puns.

Eight clever uses of double-meaning in a single verse of a Lil Wayne song today. This, I thought, would make a great blog post. I apologize in advance for the formatting--this is tricky to lay out in a way that is easy to read.

Lil Wayne "I Know the Future" [Tha Carter III Sessions]

Straight from the bottom of the cut
I give it to these b*tch n****s like Mama taught me
One man with no weapon at war, but I'm an army
My flow is capital, attention! Lieutenant, you're penny-pinchin'
And they demolished that invention
You better get your dollars up
And guess what, I was up
I get my cheese like Mickey Mouse
or else you better Donald Duck
Like a shooting range target
I get all kinda bucks

Be my shooting-range target
N**** I got good luck
N**** bye bye good luck
Got your momma shook up
Lil bad *ss n**** who thought Popeye wasn't tough
I'm on that lala twist it up
I'm on that syrup slow it down
and I like four freaks too, and I ain't Yung Joc but its going down
I buy that marijuana field, then I just mow it down
Big Bad Wolf yes I just blow it down
(no homo)
and to Holly Grove I will hold it down
Like a circle of knives I got the sharpest flow around

My flow is capital - His flow is capital (adj, excellent, important), but his flow is also capital (n, a source of profit). The addressee of the song has a flow that is weak by comparison ('you're penny-pinchin').

I get my cheese like Mickey Mouse - He accumulates a lot of cheese (slang n, money) much in the way beloved cartoon Mickey Mouse gets cheese (n, dairy-based food product)

you better Donald Duck - You'd better duck (v, crouch) (referring to popular pantsless Disney character Donald Duck (n, waterfowl)

Like a shooting-range target / I get all kinda bucks - In the almost effortless way that hunters shoot at plastic bucks (n, deer) at a shooting range, Lil Wayne accumulates bucks (slang n, money).

I ain't Yung Joc but its going down - It's going down (slang phrase, something is about to happen), despite the fact that Lil Wayne is not Yung Joc (ATL rap artist who performed the incredibly quotable 2006 hit "It's Goin Down"**)

**Hilariously, there is a Wikipedia disambiguation page for the phrase "It's Goin' Down"

I buy that marijuana field, then I just mow it down - Lil Wayne mows (v, cuts down) the marijuana field and mows (v, destroys) it down by smoking it

Big Bad Wolf yes I just blow it down (no homo) - A beguiling three-part pun! Like the Big Bad Wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, Lil Wayne blows (v, sends forth a current of air) the field down and blows (v, exhales) the marijuana smoke. Lil Wayne throws in his signature (and controversial) three-syllable caveat "no homo" so that we don't consider a third meaning of blow--one that refers to a sexual act on a man.

Like a circle of knives I got the sharpest flow around - An interesting dual pun. Lil Wayne has the sharpest flow around (n phrase, the most incisive rapping skills), which is similar to a circle of knives (which are sharp and arranged in a round shape)

...This is the kind of thing I think about all day.

Discussion Question:
What is your favorite poetic device? Here's a handy glossary to jog your memory.


  1. i like it, props for posting on facebook too, otherwise i would have never found this. anywayss i like the way you think, i have a similar thought procesess, i would really like to see what you could do on expanding this topic, possibly analysing other rappers

    - Jordan

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Amazing break down baby :-)

    I had to repost it on my blog and add my own weak attempt at syllepsis!

    Like a punk, I submit

  4. Jordan, thank you so much for reading! I'm glad to know there are other Weezy fans out there who like poetics. I hope to make this an ongoing series on my blog, so be sure to follow me! :)

    Nick, thanks for the shoutout and I LOVE your homegrown syllepsis!

  5. My fave is Hysteron-Proteron! The inversion of events for the sake of effect. You and I had a discussion about it once. The 50 Cent song "Just a Lil bit" includes the line, "I wanna unbutton your pants Just a little bit Take 'em off, pull 'em down Just a little bit." He describes taking off the pants after he has already stated that he wants to take them off completely.

    The example I use most often when explaining hysteron-proteron to people is the line at the beginning of the movie "American Beauty." Lester is narrating and says, "My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighborhood. This is my street. This... is my life. I'm forty-two years old. In less than a year, I'll be dead. " All of the events leading up to his death are what comprise the rest of the movie, and by the time we get to his death, we've forgotten that he already told us.

  6. omg girl you know how I feel about hysteron-proteron! Greek for 'second-first'

  7. I don't have much to add to your genius, but I just wanted to let you know that it made my day.

  8. :) Thanks Brad.

    Don't worry--Aunt Katie will wait until your child is at least in high school before I start sending them Lil Wayne albums. :)

  9. Thanks darlin! I didn't know you had a blog!

  10. Dear author of the last comment--

    You're right, now that I think about it--this doesn't quite qualify as syllepsis. It's really just straight-ahead pun. I stand corrected.

    You had some interesting points but you were so condescending that I decided to delete your comment--I'm not into that kind of negativity.

  11. Okay I am finally getting around to posting on this one (which I loved too, and whosoever decided to get mean about the syllepisis/pun business is just a showoff and obviously didn't enjoy the overall wonderfulness of this blog). MY favorite poetic device is praeteritio. I came to love it living in Texas while I was trained in All Things Southern by You and by Ronda Rich (author of the excellent "What Southern Women Know about Flirting" and "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should". I have learned to use praeteritio in my daily interactions. "And there's no reason to even mention the fact that she slept with half the department." But then every good Southern Girl would add "...Bless her heart." What is the name for this device? Ameliorating a nasty comment with "bless her heart" should certainly have a name! Anyone?

  12. thanks for the vote of confidence Mimsy! they were right about the syllepsis/pun thing, so I'm glad they commented. Also they reminded me that I needed to turn on comment moderation haha.

    I really need to read that book! And um if there isn't a name for that poetic device we should INVENT ONE. omg that would be a great blog post! Giving academic names to Southernisms. hmmmmm

  13. Please do this on a rapper MUCH more talented than Lil wayne. Listen to Eminem's Infinite album it is full of these types of punch lines and he doesnt have to state that he's not a faggot, it's already known.