Rap lyrics and hip-hop slang resources; or, online translation from hip-hop to standard English
January 3, 2005 2:51 PM   Subscribe

Rap lyrics often leave me quite baffled -- my English is clearly not good enough to get them 100%. Are there any good (online or dead-tree) resources to learn more American street/hip-hop slang? And what about websites offering translations of rap lyrics into plain English?
posted by matteo to Society & Culture (23 answers total)
 
You might try urbandictionary.com.
posted by trey at 2:54 PM on January 3, 2005


There's Urban Dictionary.
posted by mrbill at 2:54 PM on January 3, 2005


hip hop dictionary
posted by the cuban at 2:59 PM on January 3, 2005


don't forget to check out Urban Dictionary
posted by skwm at 3:19 PM on January 3, 2005


Also, there's the Dictionary of Urban Language.
posted by Jairus at 3:42 PM on January 3, 2005


OK, thanks everybody.
I also heard from a friend about this "UrbanDictionary" site, is it any good?
posted by matteo at 3:43 PM on January 3, 2005


I've spoken American English my entire life, and rap lyrics still baffle me. I wouldn't fault your English skills for your inability to understand.
posted by sbutler at 3:52 PM on January 3, 2005


This is my favourite rap lyric translation site - if you want them broken down in to 'plain' english, look no further!

Was herbin' em in the home o' the Terrapins
Got it dirt cheap for them
Plus if they was short wit' cheese I would work wit' them
Boy and we...got rid of that dirt for them


becomes

Don't forget my friend, at one time in my life I dealt narcotics in the state of Virginia
Well, not necessarily narcotics, but I did sell marijuana there
I got a good price from my distributor, so I was able to reduce my overhead,
And when my customers still couldn't afford my prices, I'd still find a way to complete the transaction
Through compromise and savvy business practices, we both got what we wanted


Clear now?
posted by Gortuk at 4:04 PM on January 3, 2005


this isn't a quick fix, but if you try to listen to a fair amount of rap music, from different eras/regions/styles, after a few weeks you'll probably have picked up a lot of the meanings from context and such. and whenever you're really stumped, there's always good online dictionaries.

and listen to Big L's "Ebonics" for a quick primer.
posted by rxrfrx at 4:04 PM on January 3, 2005


Rap lyrics (especially 'underground' or 'backpack' Hip-Hop's lyrics) are often so self-referrential and solipsistic that it takes a freakin' PhD to decode them. Many to most words and phrases reference so many other layers of reference to one's own clique that it can be daunting, to say the least, to decipher what's going on.

Case in point: Today I was listening to Copywrite's new (horrible) "mixtape" where there is a reference to "KMD droppin' Mr. Hood" which is a reference to a former outfit of a current star of indie Hip-Hop (MF Doom).

I guess what I'm saying is... listen for the beats and cadence, let the lyrics you can understand be easter eggs that reveal themselves upon repeat listenings.
posted by basicchannel at 4:25 PM on January 3, 2005


Ehyo, this rap is like ziti, facin' me real TV
Crash at high-speeds, strawberry, kiwi
As we approach, yo herb, the Gods bail
These Staten Island ferryboat cats bail
Fresh cellies, 50 thief up in the city
We banned for life, Apollo Kids live to spit the real
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 4:34 PM on January 3, 2005


oh Ghostface! *sigh* <3
posted by basicchannel at 4:41 PM on January 3, 2005


I assume that any word I can't define in a rap song either means a gun or marijuana. So far, this has stood me in good stead.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:02 PM on January 3, 2005


Was herbin' em in the home o' the Terrapins

becomes

Don't forget my friend, at one time in my life I dealt narcotics in the state of Virginia


Shouldn't that be Maryland?
posted by Ufez Jones at 5:29 PM on January 3, 2005


Any given noun might be a brand you've never heard of. That makes it a little tougher.
posted by smackfu at 5:41 PM on January 3, 2005


Any given noun might be a brand you've never heard of. That makes it a little tougher.


try google
posted by rxrfrx at 6:26 PM on January 3, 2005


not to mention, Virginia is a commonwealth.
posted by glenwood at 7:53 PM on January 3, 2005


Ha, you guys slay me.

The Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive has served me in good stead for some years, although I see they're using annoying Flash ads now.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:27 PM on January 3, 2005


I am also a big fan of OHHLA, but I would caution that there doesn't seem to be any fact-checking whatsoever.

Fave example: Blackalicious' 'Passion' contains the lyric "I did it without plaques." ('Plaques' is used here as a reference to gold/platinum records. Guest vocalist Rakaa Iriscience is telling us that he's not in it for the money.)

OHHLA, however, reports the line as 'I do without blacks.' This is not a common sentiment in the world of hip-hop.
posted by box at 8:30 AM on January 4, 2005


Not trying to derail - the question seems fairly comprehensively answered at this point - but your question made me smile.

I'm currently playing Grand Theft Auto San Andreas and - even as a native English speaker - I'm really struggling to decipher the spoken dialogue in the early stages of the game. Practise and increased exposure seems to be helping however...
posted by dmt at 9:13 AM on January 4, 2005


um, maybe i can be the first to speak *out* against urban dictionary?

while some of the entries are correct, i'd put the accuracy at well under 100% -- let's say 75%.

a lot of the entries are laughably wrong, and either someone's having a good chuckle at their computer or is just totally clueless.

that's what happens when they let even people like me add entries to supposedly canonical texts.

(but UD's a good start, you know.)
posted by fishfucker at 10:03 AM on January 4, 2005


Yeah, use Urban Dic with caution -- check against other sources.

And include me among the native speakers often utterly baffled by rap lyrics (though I greatly admire the poetic energy).
posted by languagehat at 11:00 AM on January 4, 2005


I'm currently playing Grand Theft Auto San Andreas and - even as a native English speaker - I'm really struggling to decipher the spoken dialogue in the early stages of the game.

I had the same problem, and turning on the English subtitles helped a lot. (But I figure most of the dialogue is pretty superfluous anyway... the game tells you everything you really need to know.)
posted by xil at 11:41 AM on January 4, 2005


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