Guest Spot: Nocando explains the power of wordplay

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Flash Bang Grenada: “In a Perfect World” (f. Open Mike Eagle)

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Some rappers tell stories, some tell jokes, and some mangle language into a string of witticisms. A few manage to do all three of these things at once. It’s this balance that LA-based rhymer Nocando hopes to achieve. His affiliation with stalwart rap collective Project Blowed led to a rapid ascent of the battle-rap circuit, culminating in a 2007 Scribble Jam championship. Known for his clever, sarcastic style, he recently teamed up with kindred spirit Busdriver to form Flash Bang Grenada. The duo’s debut album, 10 Haters, was just released in late August and received a TWBA nod. Here, Nocando explains what wordplay means to him, and how he hopes to one day harness its powers.

by Nocando

As far back as I can remember (roughly seven years ago), I’ve been consumed with wordplay. It’s the tool that a rapper’s ego uses to stroke itself. Even if the rapper doesn’t pause after the punchline and say, “Get it? Let’s get it!” and use ad libs like “Dayummmm” to highlight his wordplay, he secretly wants to do. I’m not trying to make this an “I hate wordplay” rant, because I’m one of the wordplay-abusing rappers in question.

Me: Hi, I’m Nocando. I’m a wordplay junkie.
Other wordplay junkies: Hi, Nocando.

I’ve written dozens of songs that have personal meaning to me, and approximately twice as many that are utterly devoid of anything remotely profound. And the thing is that even the meaningless songs are strewn with similes, metaphors, imagery, and lots of mocking of other rappers. Every time I listen to one of them, it feels like I gave myself a pep talk, jerked off with one hand, and beat Street Fighter 2: Championship Edition with one credit using the other. As much fun as that may sound, the euphoric feeling is short-lived. The lyrics that I’m most proud of have the least amount of wordplay and can be recited in crowds that don’t listen to rap music — the way that real heads / wordplay junkies do.

I’ve learned firsthand that words can be powerful — and not in that after-school-special sort of way. Words can break hearts or break up families, get someone hired or fired, get you laid or get you jumped, and so on. Wordplay and poetic devices are best used to accessorize ideas. If you go overboard with the accessorizing, it makes the idea appear tacky. If the idea isn’t already attractive in the first place, then you’re just putting a wig on a pig and fooling no one but yourself (by yourself, I mean me).

To me, there’s nothing like a subject that is so attractive that it screams to be touched and approached with just the right amount of metaphors, similes, puns, and punchlines. In my opinion, the best lyricists always have great subject matter, concepts, ideas, and wordplay. One day, I aspire to find that balance.

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