The Revelatory Potential of Transcribing Hip-Hop (Part 1)

Literary critical terms seem out-of-place in hip-hop.  But it’s all there. The more I think about it – bored somewhere reciting a song in my head – the more you realize how formalist early hip-hop really is. There’s something almost counter-intuitive about the oft-cited seeds of rap – The Last Poets, Gil-Scot – who are much more verse, beginning a movement that uses alexandrines (“F*R*E*S*H”) You can use literary terms to describe some of what is happening, but the best hip-hop tropes are difficult to describe rhythmically. I think that´s because many of our terms for meter have to do with the termination of a line. But where does the line break in hop-hop?

This interest or question has led me to start transcribing rap songs for OHHLA – that is the online hip-hop lyric archive – a generally reliable source for rap song lyrics. Like the OED, it’s an archive that accepts contributions from its readers. Thing is OHHLA has their own system for transcribing. For one, they don’t use punctuation. So a line break serves as the punctuation (which I think is how some other languages work). If you send them a transcription, they re-format it to the OHHLA standard. However, I think much is lost in this kind of transcription. Maybe the end of the eight bar loop should maybe correspond to a linebreak. Or should the MC’s anticipated line end be marked with line breaks. Could meter help here? I’m going to be thinking and writing about these things in the coming months while transcribing new and old songs still not in the OHHLA.

In the meantime, here’s my transcription of “The Bond” by the classic Bronx duo Showbiz and A.G (from their new album) and below that a link to the OHHLA standardization of this transcription.


Yeah. This is why we got into this music shit. Because we love the art. This is what we do whether we get paid for it or not. But when you get to the business side of it, into the industry, shit just change man. Niggas fall apart. All that other shit. It becomes about money and all that bullshit.



We make up to break up

promises are broken,

friends turn to enemy

feelings that we holding.


The Fame make you feel

you can do your own thing,

do the money take away the pain.

Huh – whatever the reason

we trippin cause we different

then when we started;

the energy is missing.


Damn – Fife and Tip called it quits.

What is all of this,

Gotta be more than hits.


Thought RUN DMC would last forever,

similar to Salt n Pepper and the original Spindirella,

Peter Rock and CL, Eric and Paris,

These ain´t just rappers

These are part of our fabric.


Some say it´s money, other say it´s ego.

Some grow apart,

look at Goodie Mob and Cee Low.


Show and AG even when we not performing,

make sure that´s my nigga long after we recorded.


[Interlude/Andre the Giant]

You motherfuckers come in the game,y’all niggas stay in the game. Y’all niggas keep it funky with each other.  Niggas start getting all Hollywood and shit like that. Know what I mean. Becoming other niggas once you get a little fame and shit. Yo fuck that man.



Even my bigger niggas took the brand for granted.

We supposed to put the city on our shoulders like Manning.


It happened with the Rock, P.E., Cam and them,

Prince Marky Dee and them,

Questions can´t answer them.


Not to mention John Lennon the Beatles,

Diana, Supremes, Mike left Tito.


When Cube left NWA it was questioned,

When Dre left NWA it was destined.


Insane the fame is a roller coaster.

Slick and Thug split after the show was over


Friendship gone business replaced

That´s success that´s the truth let´s face it


I want success the bond is so important

Can´t pay with my friends a price I´m not afforded


Don´t be sad it´s over, be glad it once was

Signing off, Show and A, nigga one love.


[Andre the Giant]

Yeah man. See this is how it goes down. All y’all motherfuckers don’t know about the game want to get in the game, y’all don’t know shit about it. This shit tear motherfuckers apart. Fake nigga shit. Real nigga shit. DITC. Look out for the new DITC album coming. Look out for the new DITC album 2012. This is what we do. Ride out yo.

You can see the OHHLA standardized version here.

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