MUSIC: "Lose Yourself"/Eminem ("8 Mile" soundtrack)
AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- the art of rap. This form of music sprang from the hip-hop culture of young, urban African Americans.
RS: But, as often happens with black music, it is a white artist who is getting lots of attention lately -- especially now that he's starring in a semi-biographical movie, called "8 Mile." We're talking about Eminem. That's E-M-I-N-E-M, a play on the initials of his real name, Marshall Mathers.
AA: A top rapper is known as an M-C, meaning "master of ceremonies" or "microphone controller." A few years ago Priest Da Nomad, a local M-C from Washington came into our studios to talk about rap.
PRIEST DA NOMAD: "To rap is basically just like to speak, but it's to speak rhythmically. And when you -- you notice that when you talk anyway, you kind of define a rhythm, but we don't really notice it. So it's really like consciously doing it, and it's just using your brain, which is a muscle. So it's like everything you do, it's like going to the gym with your brain."
AA: "And you have to keep working out and working out and getting stronger."
PRIEST DA NOMAD: "And there's different aspects of rapping. The one I specialize in is improvisational rhyming, which is called freestyling."
RS: Give him a word, he'll think up a rhyme. Here he goes off on the word "word."
PRIEST DA NOMAD: "We're going to break it down, the W, O, R to the aura and the D -- that's me, representative from DC, calm MC's like sedative, and that's a word, meaning to calm down, down I don't know, maybe that's the way you go, adverb, when I come through, rhyming is absurd. Or should I say the subject and the predicate -- before I hit the predicate, you're looking at me, dang he got mike etiquette. Oh goodness, smooth with this flowing eye, bust over the styles and hit you with the flow -- it's like the Nile River, delivery, like poetry, hit the high notes, like Al Green, on the scene, sort of like Valvoline, my tongue was dipped in oil to slide by rhythms ... "
AA: And he kept going. Priest Da Nomad started rapping when he was twelve. He annoyed his teachers by tapping out rhythms on his desk.
RS: He mastered the art of freestyling with practice, but also speech training and working with others.
PRIEST DA NOMAD: "We used to take speech exercises like doing debates, doing alliteration, going through the alphabet, doing story telling and environment rhyming, which is just picking things out in the environment and rhyming about them and just practicing like that. I read the newspaper every day. I try to feed my brain with as much data as possible, and then you practice drawing upon that data in a split second."
AA: Priest Da Nomad says rap lyrics don't have to be violent or vulgar. But tell that to the record companies.
PRIEST DA NOMAD: "When you talk about money becoming an aspect, that means things are going to happen to sell records. Certain artists and certain types of music are pushed because it talks about a certain lifestyle, and pop America -- white America -- is fascinated by that lifestyle."
RS: "How different are you from the twelve-year-old who was pounding on his desk in junior high?"
PRIEST DA NOMAD: "Well, I've grown and matured. I still have the same passion, though. My whole thing with what I do is when I feel something and when something moves me, I can't ignore it, and everyone from, like teachers and parents -- my mother used to tell me, 'why are you doing this?' She laughed at it at first because, she was like, 'OK, it's a phase he's going through.' And then after high school -- we were dealing with some record companies but before we could do a deal, one of them folded -- I went to school for a little bit, to college, and came back and got pulled back into music. Once I got back into it, I was like, this is where my heart is and I'm not ever stopping."
MUSIC: "We Got"
AA: We talked to Priest Da Nomad back in 1999, before he got the chance to perform at a nationally televised millennium celebration here in Washington. But, as he later told a Washington Post reporter, the lyrics they gave him -- written by basketball star Shaquille O'Neal and the rapper Coolio -- were "horrible." Too commercial.
RS: So Priest ended up saying thanks but no thanks to the man who invited him: the legendary black music producer Quincy Jones. Believe it or not, Priest Da Nomad still has a career.
In fact, he's featured on an album with another Washington D-C rapper, Storm the Unpredictable, coming out in January -- plus he tells us he's working on a new album of his own.
AA: And that's Wordmaster for this week. We're on the Web at voanews.com/wordmaster, and our e-mail address is [email protected] With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.