Scottish Rap

No Rabbie BurnsRap music originated in the medieval taverns of Scotland rather than the mean streets of the Bronx and Brooklyn, an American academic has claimed.

Professor Ferenc Szasz argued that so-called rap battles, where two or more performers trade elaborate insults, derive from the ancient Caledonian art of “flyting”.

According to the theory, Scottish slave owners took the tradition with them to the United States, where it was adopted and developed by slaves, emerging many years later as rap.

“The Scots have a lengthy tradition of flyting – intense verbal jousting, often laced with vulgarity, that is similar to the dozens that one finds among contemporary inner-city African-American youth.

“Both cultures accord high marks to satire. The skilled use of satire takes this verbal jousting to its ultimate level – one step short of a fist fight.”

Flyting is a contest of insults, often conducted in verse. The word has been adopted by social historians from Scots usage of the fifteenth and sixteenth century in which bards would engage in public verbal contests of high-flying, extravagant abuse structured in the form of a poetic joust; the classic written example is The Flyting of Dumbar and Kennedie, which records a gloriously scurrilous contest between the poets Walter Kennedy and William Dunbar.

Echoes of the genre continue into modern poetry. Hugh MacDiarmid’s poem A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, for example, has many passages of flyting in which the poet’s opponent is, in effect, the rest of humanity.

The academic, who specializes in American and Scottish culture at the University of New Mexico, made the link in a new study examining the historical context of Robert Burn’s work.

Comparing flyting and rap battles, he said: “Two people engage in ritual verbal duelling and the winner has the last word in the argument, with the loser falling conspicuously silent.”

Source: The Telegraph.

Image: From the book cover for No’ Rabbie Burns, by Stuart Macfarlane under the pen name, Stuart McLean.

One response to “Scottish Rap

  1. Robbie Burns — a fitting partner to Scott Joplin, the American ragtimer and “father” of much of modern music. I’m not sure about rap having Scottish origins. But I do trace rap to ragtime in my upcoming book Scott Joplin and the Age of Ragtime (scheduled for Spring 2009 publication by McFarland Publishing).

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