I hope all of you managed to consume the assignment for this blog post. No? That’s fine, I’ll just leave it right here. Enjoy it at your leisure before we continue. I’ll wait for you.
Wasn’t that great? Let’s discuss these guys a bit.
Like many people, my introduction to the rap group Das Racist was, unfortunately, Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, at which point I unwisely wrote them off on the basis of a single song. Luckily, a friend of mine linked me to a video from their most recent album, and I quickly became an enthusiastic fan as I listened to more and more of their music. Though it’s not strictly the point of this particular post, the fact that I almost summarily dismissed Das Racist as a jocular stoner rap group, like too many people, and nearly missed out on a talented trio with subtle but powerful social messages illustrates the very purpose of my whole blog.
I’m going pretty far afield, though. Let’s get back to this track and take a look at a very specific excerpt at the very end.
papa need his medicine
reticent to let them in
-Himanshu “Heems” Suri
No doubt those lines and their rhymes are particularly impressive, but I mostly want to take a look at the usage of “reticent” there. Most dictionaries will distinguish between “reticent” and “reluctant” by stipulating that the former involves holding one’s tongue while the latter involves not wanting to take action more generally. When I initially heard the line, it caught my ear. Obviously not wanting to let someone in seems to be a prime candidate for “reluctant” and makes little apparent sense if we’re just talking about someone laconic. “Reluctant” would through the meter and excellent rhyming off, but I thought it would have been easy enough to swap “reticent” with “hesitant” in the next line and all words would fit with proper standard usage. Such a simple solution! Why didn’t they think of that?
That’s sort of where my solution falls apart. These gentlemen are three well-educated, word-savvy artists who’ve released multiple rap albums, a musical genre most famous in my mind for literary technicality. That’s not to say that their judgment shouldn’t be questioned, but maybe I ought to delve a bit deeper than the “simple solution.”
While “reticent” seems to work well enough with “Bedouin” in the freedom of a vacuum, when “hesitant” is contrasted with “reticent” here, it highlights the forgone action. In such a context, this usage evokes the nomadic tradition of Bedouin culture, one both embraced by emigration and left behind by living in a home (into which the subject is so reluctant to let people). Hesitance is thus more than reluctance; it is dichotomy, the ambiguity of an immigrant’s life. Through the lens of immigration, reticence is about more than being unwilling to say, “Come in.” Rather, it communicates the fear of language and accent barriers. Keeping mum obscures that perceived cultural handicap while simultaneously excluding people from his situation. The picture here is suddenly not of a man reluctant to open the door but of a man caught between two worlds, afraid to leave himself vulnerable and available in the face of both unfamiliarity and opportunity.
All I had to do to see it was stop trying to proofread their rap song and listen.