The one who ever asked themselves what does the soul of a rapper looks like, should definitely listen to or just read the lyrics of Coolio’s song “My Soul”. This song is a piece of rap music, which makes its lyrics particularly interesting. From the point of stylistics, rap is not a poetry or prose. Moreover, it is not even singing or speech. Rather, this musical form should be located somewhere in-between. The language of rap is usually a mixture of African American English (AAE) and a jargon of gangsters. The translation of the lyrics of “My Soul” into Standard American English (SAE) provides interesting insights on the conditions of the modern language.
This song was included on the album My Soul, released by Coolio in 1997. Being a specific music genre, rap identifies the whole rap culture. In other words, the subculture was formed on the basis of certain characteristics, implemented through the music. The lyrics of rap music must be spoken rhythmically, which means that the language itself should be changed accordingly. Throughout the song, Coolio (1997) describes his own life and his way to success. The rapper tries to explain that “artistic flavor” and control of his own soul are more important than the attributes of wealth.
The current paper is focused on the first six lines of the lyric’s Verse 3, as these lines contain several illustrative examples. The translation of these lines is included in Appendix 2. Generally, the whole text of “My Soul” is metaphorical. According to O’Conner (2010), “a metaphor takes the language used for one thing and applies it to something else” (p. 244). Coolio (1997) compares himself with such prominent people as Dominique Dawes, Bruce Lee, and Kareem Abdul in order to demonstrate his own perfection. While reading the translation of this piece of text into Standard American English, the one may assume that such a statement is just a self-gratification. Therefore, metaphorical language is used by Coolio (1997) as a way to justify his professionalism and skillfulness.
The language structures and grammar of “My Soul” are also interesting for the language students. One of the crucial grammatical characteristics of this song is the absence of the verbs. For example, Coolio (1997) avoids using the verb “have”: “You_ _ got into triple beams and guns you ain’t gon shoot / I _ seen a million rappers in the same Versace suit”. Such a peculiarity is typical for the language of rap subculture. Another important grammatical feature of this song is negativized auxiliary preposition, which is common for African American English. In particular, the line “But without no flaws” (Coolio, 1997) has a double negative connotation. Also, it is necessary to point out that a short form of “is not,” “are not,” “has not,” or “have not” is usually replaced by “ain’t”, like in “guns you ain’t gon shoot” (Coolio, 1997). This line is also illustrative from the point of phonetics. Dropping final consonants or sounds from words is common for the rap lyrics. The following features can be noticed: “gon shoot,” “servin’ wack,” and “scrappin’ with” (Coolio, 1997). As a result, the language of “My Soul” becomes simplified in comparison to the structures of Standard American English. On the other hand, it becomes more dramatic and sharp.
O’Conner (2010) believes that grammar was created to clear up possible ambiguities and to prevent misunderstandings produced by language. Such ambiguities, however, are the part of an artistic value when it goes to rap music. The life of the rappers and their audience is rather complicated. Therefore, their language should be both simple and metaphorical, to generate the sense of creativity and uniqueness. There is a global tendency to make the grammar simple so that the meaning of the words would be even more impressive.
- Coolio. (1997). My Soul. On My Soul. New York: Tommy Boy Records.
- O’Conner, P.T. (2010). Woe is I: The grammarphobe’s guide to better English in plain
English. Riverhead Books.