August 11, 2012

YO MAMA SO FAT SHE GOTS HER OWN ZIP CODE:

The dozens as American art form: No, your mama! : You can't understand hip-hop without understanding the insult-battle tradition, says Elijah Wald (Francie Latour, AUGUST 05, 2012, Boston Globe)

In 1939, a Yale psychologist named John Dollard traveled to the Jim Crow South to study the personality development of black children. Over and over again, he found something he hadn't been looking for. On street corners and in schoolyards, in big cities and small towns, among the young and old alike, he found black folks facing off in games of street banter that followed specific rules: two players, fueled by the reaction of a gathered crowd, insulting each other in rhyme. The more ingenious the insult, the better.

What Dollard had stumbled on--and breathlessly described in a psychoanalytic journal--was a tradition that influenced Langston Hughes in the 1920s, made Richard Pryor a legend in the 1970s, and continues to fuel rap beefs today: the dozens.

"The Dozens is a pattern of interactive insult which is used among some American Negroes," Dollard reported, in the first known article written about the street-rhyme combat typically touched off by two little words: yo' mama. "The jests fly--about infidelity, though each seems a faithful husband--about impotence, though both are apparently adequately married and have children--about homosexual tendencies, although neither exhibits such to public perception." Not to mention mothers, sisters, and girlfriends being stupid, raunchy, or just plain old ugly.

In "The Dozens: A History of Rap's Mama," writer, musician, and blues scholar Elijah Wald traces the comic and profane arc of the dozens clear through African-American culture--through rural works songs and the competitive jamming of jazz masters, through Mississippi barrelhouse songs and the iconic literature of the Harlem Renaissance. 
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Posted by at August 11, 2012 7:45 AM
  

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