John Lennon Influencing Drake?

(I’ve added two notes at the end since I originally wrote this.)

Drake does this thing when he’s rapping where he’ll say a line and then say a single, non-sequitur word* that is related to that line. For example:

“I can teach you how to speak my language. Rosetta Stone.”

“Swimming in the money come and find me. Nemo.”

Lil Wayne does it too, interestingly only after That Carter III. I’m curious who influenced who? Examples from WEEZY:

“Been running this shit. Blisters.”

“That’s that mob shit n*. Martin Scorsese.”

I’ve heard Nicki Minaj do it too. Neat that they’re all sort of in the same group and do a lot of songs together, I guess these things spread. Two examples from Nicki Minaj, within a few seconds of eachother:

“Hang it up. Flatscreen.
Plasma.
Hey Nicki hey Nicki. Asthma.”

I like this kind of style. Metaphors and similes are a major part of rap, but usually within the structure of sentences. This is almost like they’re too cool to bother with putting their metaphor/simile into a sentence. I think it comes across as cocky, which is cool. Actually sometimes they’re metaphors/similes, sometimes they’re metonyms. Metaphors/similes talk about the similarity between two things (e.g. I can teach you how to speak my language, I’m the Rosetta Stone/I can teach you how to speak a language like the Rosetta stone does).** Metonyms refer to something by way of another thing that is “intimately associated with that thing or concept” (Wikipedia). For example calling a credit cards ‘plastic’, calling a language a ‘tongue’ or referring to the mob by saying Martin Scorcese.

Now onto John Lennon! I wrote in another post that as far as I know John Lennon was the first singer to truly break the fourth wall in a song. The first person to talk to a specific audience, identified as himself. I also said that by doing this he made rap possible, mostly jokingly. Now I think that he might have been the first person to do this sort of thing that I’ve been talking about. In the song “It’s Only Love” he says:

“When you sigh my, my inside just flies, butterflies.”

Butterflies is a single non-sequitur word, related to the line that came before it. It’s a simile for the way he describes feeling, but without putting the simile into a sentence (i.e. my inside just flies as though I had butterflies in my stomach). I guess another way to look at it is he’s specifying what he meant when he said ‘flies’, again without doing it in a sentence.***

In reality it doesn’t quite matter exactly how it’s related. It’s a single word added after a sentence and related to it in some way, but without other words to make the relation explicit and grammatically correct. To me that makes it the same as the rap examples.

What’s my point here? In all seriousness I don’t actually think that this style in rap comes from “It’s Only Love”. But I think it’s very cool, and indicative of how creative he was, that John Lennon came up with this sort of thing decades ago. Maybe he himself got it from somewhere, I’d love to hear about it if you know of an earlier example.

* When I say non-sequitur I mean that it doesn’t follow grammatically. It comes out of nowhere in the same way that the rap examples did. Obviously it isn’t a non-sequitur in terms of meaning.

** Often it could be either a metaphor or a simile, depending on how you phrased the sentence around the extra word.

*** I suppose you could say that it’s part of the sentence, but tacked on and without any words to make it fit grammatically. Same thing really.

Note: A friend of mine pointed out that none of the examples I mentioned are true metonyms because the single word would never be used as a substitute for the idea it’s related to (e.g. you wouldn’t substitute “Scorsese” for “the mob”). So if the word doesn’t imply a metaphor or a simile, but is simply related to the sentence, I’m not sure if it technically qualifies as anything more than just that.

Note: I just read that this sort of style (apparently called “truncated similes”) was originated by Big Sean, especially in a song called “Supa Dupa”.  Here is Drake talking about it!


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