February 26, 2013

Why Not Rhyming Resumes and Rapped Interviews?

I don’t consider myself an authority on pop music, or any music, even though ESPN broadcast my own pop songs (which I composed and performed, as instrumentalist, for the vocal duo “JeLL”) on and off for a year (2005), as pump-up background to dry-as-felt pool tournaments. But, I’ve hated rap from the days when both it and I were much, much younger.

I’m waiting, but, like Hell, it seems rap won’t flicker, die out and simply “go away”.  Far from it—in fact it has spread like spilled Coke on fire throughout China’s culture and cities I visited on this extended road-trip of mine.

So, of course, I can’t help thinking: If, despite its detractors (like me), such a simple thing as relentlessly, usually very predictably rhyming, pounding speech in (rap) “music” can inexplicably dominate the planet, why not use it in cover letters, or even resumes and interviews to captivate companies and capture jobs?

(Don’t laugh. Recently, there have been news reports of equally unusual, even weirder applications of rap: a rapped Canadian courtroom apology offered a victim by his convicted assailant and rapped responses of the defendant in a U.S. disorderly-conduct trial.)

But, before answering the question, “Why not rhyming resumes and rapped interviews?”, a little background is in order.

Mother Goose, Banging Spoons and Rap

Perhaps I would have loved rap when I was an infant, because to me it sounds so much like the props of infancy: banging spoons, baby rattles, repetitive prattles, and Mother Goose nursery rhymes—make that “Mutha’ Goose”, to update the idiom and image.  (This suggests that rap is at least a preschool offshoot, if not a replica or direct extension of a daycare curriculum.)

Don’t get me wrong: Rhyme is a very effective, if not absolutely essential teaching tool for the very, very young because it provides handy mnemonics for connecting and remembering otherwise more difficult to remember unrelated words, and for entertaining babies and some older children with the “surprise”  phonic connection between semantically unrelated vocabulary items, e.g., “jumped over the moon”….”ran away with the spoon”.

Ironically, some nursery rhymes seem more adult than much rap: There are nursery rhymes that at least in part dispense with rhyme and give us a break from it, e.g., the first verse of “Jack and Jill”—only “fell down” and “broke his crown” really rhyme, since “water” and “paper” do not. (However, it has been claimed that “Jack and Jill” is as dark a tale as any told in gangsta and other rap.)

I might even have liked, or at least used rap, when I was six—if I wanted to be like other kids and robotically skip rope half the day, using rap to pace myself. (Am I the only one who hears only the doggerel rhymes and boring rope-skipping rhythms of nursery rhymes in most rap?)

Alas, I grew up (maybe too fast, past rope and rap).

Don’t Blame Jagger

Above all, I am frazzled by the contrived rhyme at the expense of melody, sweetness, harmony, counterpoint, composition, rich instrumentation and just about everything else that the term “music” used to mean.

I forgave Mick Jagger for all those “-tion” (“shun”) rhymes: “satisfacshun”, “girly actshun”, etc., since the music was, in fact, music— and truly, very good music, if you ask me.

However, without their great music, the rhymes of The Rolling Stones would be just as annoying as the relentless anti-musical rhyming of rap.

This annoyance, to put it mildly, hit me one evening as I, trying to spoon up some quickly melting chocolate ice cream at the Sanya Bay beach on Hainan Island, China, suddenly got my ears pelted with booming American rap. (I can’t be more specific: It all sounds the same to me.)

That was in garish, grating contrast to the soft, melodic, sentimental, complex, sung Chinese pop music (“sung” not being a dynasty) that had been piped out the same department store just minutes before. (If you want an iconic and splendid sample, try “Zi Teng Hua” (“Wisteria”) by S.H.E.—an enormously popular girl-trio from Taiwan. Yes, it will sound “sappy” to anti-sentimentalists, but maybe magical to many others.)

The stark contrast between our rap and the softer, sweeter Chinese pop could have been more striking only if I were a dog, blessed/cursed with hypersensitive dog hearing traumatized by rap’s booming-bass. I was hearing the difference between the MTV-style love of power (bang-bang guns, bling-bling by the tons, muscles, muscle cars, virility, etc.) and the Chinese pop-culture’s theme of “the power of love” (first loves, sweet reminiscences, wistful yearnings, etc.).

I wanted to cry—and not because the rap song was sweetly sentimental. (It, like most rap, wasn’t and didn’t even try to accomplish that.)

Can you really imagine anybody, thirty years from now, anywhere on planet Earth, upon hearing a  20th-century growling gangsta rap, e.g., “Gotta shoot up my nose, crank up the Bose, prowl the hood, beat up somebody good”, turning to a spouse of decades, eyes glistening with the tinge and twinge of memories, sweetly saying, “Honey, they’re playing our song!”?

Unmysterious Rap Supply, Puzzling Demand

The fact that anybody wants to crank out rap is not in the least mysterious: One reason is that there are no unpublished melodies left to sing. With most permutations of short, easily remembered real pop melodies having been tried and exhausted by the commercial mass-market corporate music-machines of the late 20th-century, the easiest option was to dump melody—there were virtually none left, and who wants to be sued for plagiarism or, God forbid, to not be “original”?

With more rap-sheet-related skills than real musical training (or talent), some gangsta rappers-in-the-making realized that talking is easier than getting into Julliard or even merely competently carrying a tune.  No complicated instrument to play, no high Cs to hit. (Despite the temptation to conclude the name “rap” is a contraction of “rap sheet”, I won’t.)

In addition, some quickly discovered that being a rap star is an excellent way to snag a lot of loot and boot, without having to use the weapons on your album cover. On top of that, people will, perhaps for the first time ever, LISTEN to you—again, even if you aren’t pointing anything at them.

So, the supply-side explosion of rap onto the pop-culture scene seems to be no mystery. But why the demand? Here are my best guesses:

  1. Percussion is an icon of power; pounding rhyme is a form of percussion. Power is everything in rap and hip-hop subcultures.
  2. Some drugs make monotonous beats, predictable rhymes and the resulting mental glaze-over seem utterly fascinating. A lot of people use drugs.
  3. Remembering rap lyrics and their rhymes can confer as much status in some quarters as a high score on the LSAT or doing volunteer work with the homeless. This is particularly impressive if the performer is otherwise regarded as “uneducated”.
  4. Having repetitive work (which a lot of young people have these days) is more bearable if there is a repetitive rhyme-and-drum beat in your head. It’s the principle underlying the chanting of roadside rock-smacking-and-cracking chain gangs.
  5. Composing and memorizing the most complex rap lyrics, e.g., featuring rhymes within rhymes, is probably more interesting than Sudoku.
  6. A hunger for poetry—any poetry
  7. Blasting rap from your car boom-box will attract girls who fall into categories 1-6, above.

Why Not Submit Rhyming Cover Letters?

So, why not submit rhyming cover letters or give rapped answers to job interview questions? The short answer is simple.

Go ahead and try it—but only if you are going to be evaluated by people to whom some or all of the points 1-7 somehow apply when you apply.

Otherwise, there’s almost zero chance that you will get their rap(t) attention, much less the job…

…unless the boss or HR manager is a kid in daycare.


Note: This is one in a series of articles written by Michael Moffa while one the road, on the scene and on the job in China, autumn 2012. He says he was not responsible for the short rap inserted into one of his published and broadcast songs.

Read more in Cover Letter

Michael Moffa, writer for Recruiter.com, is a former editor and writer with China Daily News, Hong Kong edition and Editor-in-chief, Business Insight Japan Magazine, Tokyo; he has also been a columnist with one of Japan’s national newspapers, The Daily Yomiuri, and a university lecturer (critical thinking and philosophy).