A+ R A-

Simile Symbols in Hip-Hop

E-mail Print PDF

Share this article with a friend

A remote background story of Similies began with the insightful Primitive African Shaman fetching from plants, herbs, and other natural things whatever it took for proper similitude comparisons. To illustrate, the extracted ingredients of a snake's venom and blood were refined to give maximum benefit and minimum dangers. Ingesting that "just right" brew was a way to enter trance states. In pharmacology--requiring spending years in the forest studying plants, herbs, and berries--similar principles were used by Very Ancient African physicians to discover which could be used as drugs. An example was the use of willow bark, from which aspirin comes, to relieve pain. Meanwhile, religious practices included "Primitive Science"--like eating a lion’s heart to be like the lion in courage or swallowing plants with leaves resembling body organs to cure disorders of that organ or drinking a stew of herbs. Refinements over the millennia resulted in highly effective pharmacological skills which were brought to the Americas by Enslaved Africans. Concepts from these skills were extracted by Conjurers to heal the Enslaved and Black Preachers compared them to daily living religious concepts. This was aided by similies--figures of speech of great scope and variety in the European Bible. Examples: comparisons with beasts of the field, birds, rain, wind, lightning, trees, mountains, and disasters. These Similes were introduced by “like” or “as" (a word meaning 'Also' to indicate a word/phrase that is synonymous or near equivalent) so as to make a direct comparison of things (Metaphors give implied comparisons). To say: “her frightened eyes were like saucers,” instead of meaning her eyes and saucers are really alike, the big roundedness of one reminds listeners of the big roundedness of the other. Such comparisons shape a picture in words.

Slang and Vulgarism work on exactly the same principles as does Poetry--both making constant use of similes and metaphors in realms of imagination. A simile appeals to ones imagination, even at the expense of seeming to be illogical. Some are based upon "Likeness" of the "Affinity" type (i.e. a close relationship + an external actual resemblance as, for example: “African Slaves were packed in slave ships like sardines in a can.” Or, “that child is as busy as a Mexican jumping bean.” In Hip-Hop and rap music there is as much figurative language as in any Shakespearean sonnet or William Blake poem. They did not arise to fill a void but rather simply to provide new ways of extravagant self-expression for members in ones in-group, as "she acts like she's rarin' to go.' It can be found throughout the "street" culture; prison; the illegal drug trade; the criminal persona; male and female bravado; creative ways to boast about ones sexual exploits or conquests; and expressions that capture and reflect ones experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Examples: "My rhymes are like shot clocks, interstate cops and blood clots, my point is your flow gets stopped"; "I come fresh like your breath after you brush, wack Mc's like that orange soda get crushed"; "Like Slick Rick the Ruler I'm cooler than a ice brick, got soul like those afro picks, with the black fist, and leave a crowd dripping like John the Baptist." Such is thinking on multiple levels. These are clearly stated comparisons. There are countless other ways Simile compare two quite different things that are similar in at least one characteristic. The way similes are formed in everyday speech is usually the result of simple comparisons based on what is readily seen: “It’s hot as a furnace in here”; “my love is like a gardenia flower”; “she eats like a bird”; “he is slow as molasses going up hill.”

Similes can help explain abstract realms: “Religion is to the Soul what life is to Nature”; or Darkness falls “from the wing of night/as a feather is wafted downward/from an eagle in his flight” (Longfellow). Making a habit of using similes and metaphors is an excellent way to develop the mental discipline of seeing interrelationships between seemingly dissimilar things. As a result, this allows one to extract principles from those same dissimilar things. Similes and metaphors are a reflection of the human ability to see the pieces of the universe in a unified way. To recognize that there are only a few principles in the Cosmos is to see one thing either in another or see one thing connected to different parts that are all connected--the concept of Wholism in African Tradition. In short, Similes 'grease' the conceiving of messages and increase a readiness for the message to be believed.