Poetics of Rap: Lil’ Wayne and, um, kenning

In a recent post on Lil’ Wayne, a fellow OTI blogger claimed that “Thus, Lil Wayne is not great because his metaphors and similies are tight, but because he mixes these metaphors with an avalanche of tropes and techniques including … Continued

In a recent post on Lil’ Wayne, a fellow OTI blogger claimed that “Thus, Lil Wayne is not great because his metaphors and similies are tight, but because he mixes these metaphors with an avalanche of tropes and techniques including personification, anti-personification, hyperbole, kenning, punning, and onomatopoeia.”

Which is possibly the single most overthinkingit post in the brief history of our blog. But that’s beside the point. The point is… kenning? Really?

I haven’t found a kenning in Lil’ Wayne, so far. And at first, I was going to write a post saying that kennings just don’t happen in rap. (They basically don’t happen in modern English – the few that do occur tend to be idioms, like “beer goggles” or “bible-thumper.”) But then I happened to be listening to “Gimme the Loot,” off of Biggie Smalls’ epic 1994 masterpiece “Ready To Die.” And I came across this line…

“Motherfuckers better strip! Yeah, nigga, peel!
Before you find out how blue steel feels
from the Beretta! Puttin’ all them holes in your sweater!
The money-getter! Motherfuckers… [etc.]”

Italics are mine, to indicate the kenning. This could potentially refer to Biggie himself (i.e. Biggie is the one who gets money). I prefer to think that it’s another reference to his pistol (i.e. a pistol is that with which one gets money, as opposed to a tool for self-defense), which would tie in nicely with the earlier lyric “When it’s time to eat a meal/I rob and steal!”

But either way, it’s a kenning.

And where there’s one, there’s probably more. Find them all! And post them in the comments! I want this post to be the first page that pops up when you google the phrase “kennings in hip-hop.” Which shouldn’t be hard, since the phrase currently returns zero hits.

13 Comments on “Poetics of Rap: Lil’ Wayne and, um, kenning”

  1. sheely OTI Staff #

    What about Wayne’s intro to the “We Takin’ Over” Freestyle from last year’s Drought 3 mixtape, in which he proclaims, “Its me, the rapper-eater”.


  2. fenzel #

    “Rapper eater” is a little soft for a kenning. “Eater” is too much like a verb, and it doesn’t really stand in for anything else. My understanding is that a kenning usually means that you’re using a combination of two nouns to refer to something that could be expressed more directly, if not necessarily more simply.

    A lot of hip hop kennings come from classic-era Bad Boy, because B.I.G., Puffy and MA$E like that dense syntax without a lot of verbs, and they get a lot of mileage out of the rhythmic break that comes from forcing together nouns where they sound unnatural.

    One examople from _Hypnotize_ (I’ll find more):

    “So I just speak my piece, (c’mon) keep my piece /
    Cubans with the Jesus piece (thank you God), with my peeps”

    “Jesus piece” is a kenning for Christianity or the cross


  3. Stokes #

    I don’t think “rapper eater” can be ruled out just because it has a verb. Most of the classic Norse kennings are noun phrases, but one that comes up a whole lot is “Ring Breaker,” which for some reason means prince. Kennings that use verbs can pretty much always be rephrased as genitive noun constructions (in this case, “breaker-of-rings”), but that would work with rapper eater (eater-of-rappers) too.

    By the way, my captcha for this post was “immense fart.”


  4. Stokes #

    Oh man, I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before! In the song “Batty rider,” by Buju Banton, the titular batty riders are short shorts, i.e. that which rides upon the batty (“batty,” of course, being a Jamaican word for “booty”).


  5. B #

    I’d put a comment on this but I know nothing about rap. So just to help the cause I’ll say “kenning” and “hip-hop.”


  6. Professor Coldheart #

    As proof of how deep you folks have infiltrated my brainpan, I was still thinking about this 6 months later when listening to “Ready to Die” on a drive through Cambridge.

    “One More Chance” opens as follows:

    When it comes to sex, I’m similar to the thrilla in Manila
    Honeys call me Bigga, the condom-filler


  7. sheely OTI Staff #

    I was just listening to Wu-Tang’s “Da Mystery of Chessboxin”, and came across this line by ghostface:

    “yo, nobody budge while I shot slugs
    Never shot thugs, I’m runnin with thugs that flood mugs
    so grab your *eight plus one*”

    Where eight plus one refers to a nine, i.e. a gun. I’m pretty sure this is a kenning, or a metalepsis of kenning and something else?

    Thoughts from the poets/ poet-eaters out there?


  8. Gab #

    I’d say that works. I haven’t heard that song (sorry, I guess I’m deprived), but I’m assuming there wouldn’t be a feasible way of putting “nine” in there instead?


  9. sheely OTI Staff #

    Well, it wouldn’t rhyme or scan…

    But it again begs the question, what figure of speech is it to call a 9mm pistol a nine? Is it synecdoche?


  10. Matthew Wrather #

    Um, abbreviation?

    It raises the question, by the way. It doesn’t beg it.

    Well, actually it does. It both begs and raises the question. Which is quite a feat.


  11. Iset #

    “The kenning does not quite function as a metaphor, which is ‘the figure of speech in which a name or descriptive term is transferred to some object different from, but analogous to, that to which is it properly applicable’ (OED) The idea of transferral of meaning in the definition of a metaphor is at odds with the idea of substitution of meaning in the OED definition of the kenning: ‘one of the periphrastic expressions used instead of the simple name of a thing.'” – Gillian R. Overing in “Language, Sign, and Gender in Beowulf”


  12. Jim Harbor #

    Jay-Z’s classic epithet Hustler of Virgina (HOV) is a kenning in the same way classic genitive phrase kenning work (The sun as “Sky’s Jewel”)


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