"What's Good: Notes on Rap and Language”

What a supremely fine and lovingly crafted book this was. Astute, admiring, and entertaining scrutiny of decades of rap lyrics. Huge kudos to author Daniel Levin Becker. A few especially great passages I drew circles around in my copy:

I will go to my grave wishing my self-conscious rhetorical throat-clearings could sound so cool. What Nas seems to toss off here is not just a very efficient overview of the themes he’s spent his career elaborating—decadence, gunplay, activism, divinity—but also a rare window onto his composition process, his creative deliberations, the whole inner monologue around medium and message that is at once so tantalizing in a rapper and so often viewed as beside the point. Most of all, though, what I hear in it is a true statement about what it’s like to speak on something so much bigger than yourself, so much more expansive than the present, something inexhaustible and infinite that is also right here. It’s what it feels like, for me, to put words to a way with words that so often leaves me, before the rest colors itself in, speechless.


All the discrete and interwoven pattern recognitions in this book, assembled with joy and leaving me no closer to a unified theory of how it all fits together, seem to be proof of rap’s multitudes, its dynamism, its knack for illuminating a bigger picture by obscuring many smaller ones. This is what the best art does, and I think it’s also why we play with puzzles. It’s not about the completed image, but about the slow, oddly suspenseful progress we make toward resolution and completeness—otherwise we’d just look at the picture on the box the puzzle comes in, right? There is so much in the world that is at least provisionally more awesome, more arresting, more puzzling than good. The endlessly deferred promise of understanding, being in the dark and working ever toward the light, just might be what makes the whole thing, impossibly, float.

Stephen Schenkenberg @schenkenberg