Reading The Message

Grandmaster+Flash+and+the+Furious+Five+furiousfivejaypegThis week in the Songwriting course we looked at rhymes and rhyme schemes and how they can be used to convey meaning in a song. So what if we look at the classic Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five track, The Message (lyrics, video) using some of what Pat discussed?

The song starts out with a portion of the chorus. Online lyric sites write it out in two different ways:

It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under

It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder
How I keep from going under

As I hear it in my head, I would have written it as three lines, sort of splitting the difference between the two. I guess we don’t know how it was intended. In any case, it is unstable in line length. The rhyme scheme could be aa, or xaa as I hear it. Since the song discusses an unstable environment, it makes an appropriate lead-in.

When we get into the verse, again I want to break lines in two. RapGenius has the first verse written as four couplets. To my ears, it sounds like a triplet and three quatrains:

Broken glass everywhere
People pissin’ on the stairs, / you know they just don’t care
I can’t take the smell, / can’t take the noise
Got no money to move out, / I guess I got no choice
Rats in the front room, / roaches in the back
Junkies in the alley / with a baseball bat
I tried to get away / but I couldn’t get far
Cause a man with a tow truck / repossessed my car

I put in a / where I hear a break. There are a number of near rhymes: everywhere/stairs/care, noise/choice, back/bat. As it’s written, I see instability in line length and semi-stability in rhyme up until the last two lines which are matched, balanced and resolved.

The chorus opens with two unbalanced lines, so it tips over the edge. Edge/head form an assonant rhyme pair, playing up the instability. The next two lines are unbalanced in an opposite way, with the first line being the short one. There is an internal perfect rhyme in wonder/under, although I don’t know how to account for internal rhyme based on anything Pat has said in his videos.

The subsequent verses show more of the same: varying line lengths, near rhymes and internal rhymes. Each verse is longer than the previous one. Some of the verses show an uneven number of lines, although I’m not convinced that we hear them that way. I suspect that when verses get that long our ears stop counting, and instead pick up rhythm and rhyme.

The last verse is like an epic, running twenty-eight lines if I counted correctly. Line length seems to be all over the place, creating forward momentum and spotlights galore, to purloin Pat’s parlance. There seems to be more perfect rhyme, although I can’t tell if that’s by chance or design. It would make sense in that it creates a sense of finality, but the rhymes loosen up at the very end – lost/forth, song/young – to the point where they’re barely rhymes at all. Maybe it’s supposed to suggest that it’s all just chaos in the end.


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