King Lear, Rap Music and Talking to Ghosts

“…by the sacred radiance of the sun, the [mysteries] of Hecate and the night…From whom we do exist and cease to be, Here I disclaim all my paternal care…”

The above quote is spoken by King Lear in the first Scene of King Lear when he disclaims Cordelia. In one of our first classes Dr. McCoy said something about how the name “Katrina” held a violent history. I did some research into the origin of the name “Katrina” and apparently it comes from the name “Katherine.” The etymology of “Katherine” is debated but a couple of the possible etymologies directly adhere to violence. One of the possible origins is the Greek word for torture; “aikia.” Katherine was also the name “borne by a semi-legendary 4th-century saint and martyr from Alexandria who was tortured on a spiked wheel.”

However, I also noticed that the name is thought to have possibly derived from the name of the goddess Hecate. Apparently Hecate was “a goddess associated with witchcraft, crossroads, tombs, demons, and the underworld.”

The mention of “crossroads” and “the underworld” prompted me to think of the mythical crossroads between this life and the afterlife. Then I went back to Joseph Roach’s commentary on Dennis Scott’s play An Echo in the Bone (1974). Roach writes about how Scott’s play works as a type of crossroads by showing “how the voices of the dead may speak through the bodies of the living.” He goes on to discuss how the “politics of communicating with the dead” refer to “a strategy of empowering the living through the performance of memory.” I began to think about how artists do this today; specifically the rap duo Run the Jewels (RTJ) and Kendrick Lamar.

In the Run the Jewels’ song “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost)” Killer Mike opens the song by “conversing with a ghost.” It seems that the song’s ghost is a victim of oppressive forces and that his death is inspiring a riot. The next verse is El-P’s turn and he allows the ghost to speak through him and say that we (the living) will “never be alone again” because “the murdered all stay” and “we (the dead) got an army now.”  In the third verse this army of the “dead and defiant” literally begins rising from the dead, a situation very similar to what Roach tells us is Dennis Scott’s ability to “populate the stage with spirits resurrected from the depths of circum-Atlantic memory.” I find this to be particularly relevant to our class discussion because RTJ are suggesting that the accumulation of the murdered is just as dangerous as any other kind of unregulated accumulation.

The song “Mortal Man” features an interview between Kendrick Lamar and Tupac Shakur (the potential use of this song within course work was originally given to me by Alpha Barry and Jay Guisao in our ENGL 458 course). Shakur’s part in the interview is actually audio taken from an interview he did with Sverges Radio Station (P3) in 1994. The song, which was released in 2015, has Lamar repeating the lines “the ghost of Mandela, hope my flows they propel it.” The repetition of these lines can be seen as Lamar insinuating that the ghost of Mandela is speaking through him in the song. This idea is backed up by Shakur’s final statement in the interview—once Lamar says “sometimes I be like, get behind a mic and I don’t know what type of energy I’mma push out, or where it comes from” Shakur responds, “Because the spirits, we ain’t even really rappin’, we just letting our dead homies tell stories for us.” These are the last lines spoken by Shakur in the song and is seen as a statement by Lamar that he is going to continue to let the memories of the dead speak through him.

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