We are all aware that there are deep and long-reaching cultural divides between the races, generations and at times, even gender. But none are quite as complicated as hip hop “slanguage”. That’s my word yo, it’s mad ill how cats spit out here. It ain’t difficult to peep how dumb heads get it twisted. Straight up. (Nah mean?)
At times, deciphering hip hop lyrics is like translating another language. That’s because a lot of black speak is often coded. Rappers have become adept at twisting meanings, puns and word sounds. For example you might hear; “These strawberries are bananas!”, or “For the lap/Jimbrowski must wear a cap/ Just in case the young girl likes to clap”. Confused? You’re not alone. The resulting dialect can sound quite confusing to someone who is outside of the core culture. In fact, many law enforcement agencies have individuals on staff whose sole purpose is to decode urban slang. I won’t front, sometimes the shit I hear confounds me! Like my surprise when I discovered that “supersoak that hoe” had nothing to do with waterguns or gardening tools (go figure!).
On a fortuitous visit to Urban Outfitters, I came across the answer to my problems. A little book simply called “UNDERSTAND RAP” compiled by William Buckholz. As I thumbed through the pages reading the various translations of popular rap lyrics, I felt my self moving closer and closer to a state of pure cool. The book is over 190 pages of popular rap lyrics and phrases broken down into a language even “your grandmother could understand”. I can’t wait to test it out in the hood. Now when I see a homie and he says “Dirty money got me sanitizin my hands“, I’ll know that dirty money refers to income garnered by illicit means (e.g. drugs, prostitution). A common metaphor for engaging in immoral deeds in general is “to have dirty hands.” Sanitizing thus refers to either money laundering or avoiding criminal liability.
What’s even better is the creators of this book also have an interactive website where you can not only submit your own lyrics or phrases to be translated, but you can also HELP TRANSLATE phrases and lyrics submitted by others! What a world!
With the UNDERSTAND RAP book and website, I never have to worry about those rap guys talking over my head again!
(Leave a comment with some of your favorite, confusing hip hop lyrics or slang phrases)