Category: prison songs

  • Toasts, Signifyin(g), and the Roots of Rap

    Content warning: explicit language and situations. Although the cradle of rap is generally acknowledged to be community-room parties in the South Bronx, the genre draws from multiple threads and locations, from Jamaica to Louisiana to the hobo poetry of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The white Oklahoma-born writer George Milburn, who spent time […]

  • Captain Jack

    In the novel White Tears by Hari Kunzru, which is about the haunting of a 21st-century sound engineer by the ghost of a forgotten early-20th-century bluesman, the allegorical figure of “Captain Jack” appears early on, in a quoted song lyric. The lyric is from Son House’s “County Farm Blues” (1941): Down South, when you do […]

  • Authenticity (part IV: Black Metal)

    Read “The Unexpected Rise of Zeal and Ardor’s Spiritual Black Metal Blues.” and listen to the embedded audio. Listen to the song “Row, Row,” from his album Devil is Fine: Listen to Furry Lewis’s “Furry’s Blues”: The lyrics: I believe I’ll buy me a graveyard of my own Believe I’ll buy me a graveyard of my […]

  • More Call and Response

    The musical forms brought to the Americas by slaves from west Africa were generally functional: that is, they were used to aid in ritual, work, daily life, and war. Antiphonal singing also facilitated communication across distances. As the Malinke people of West Africa say, “There is no movement without rhythm.” Notice that rhythm aids with the […]