Tyler, the Creator has archive fever. Wu-Tang clan have archive fever. Biggie and Tu-Pac have it too! No, they haven’t all come down with a flu affecting only the African American rap community, but they have all been participating in a nostalgic preservation of their lives through rap lyricism.
Derrida infers that in order for an archive to exist, it must have the potential to exist in an external space so that it can be registered, remembered, preserved or restored. Rappers distribute their archives in rap form where audiences listen to them, remember them, store them in their own type of archive (iTunes, record collection, etc.), and then restore them by listening to them again. This archival cycle creates a domino effect of archival activity, which multiplies infinitely, inferring a beginning, however, also an unseeable end.
Furthermore, archives are supposed to allow us to consider the future of archived material and the ramifications and legacies they’ll maintain due to the magnitude of their relevance. We see this manifested in rap culture with deceased figures such as Biggie and Tu-Pac retaining relevance post-mortem through their lyrics that live on, and their songs that we continue to listen to well after their physical presence has faded. Similarly, via the content of these lyrics, the writers themselves are able to allude to the possible future and how their past is definitive of their futures. This is exemplified in Wu-Tang Clan’s song, “Born Again”:
I don’t think I will see it for real dogg for real man, that shit ain’t
I don’t think my luck is that good, I hope it is but if it ain’t, so be it, I’m
In these ways rap music has itself created an archive while also allowing external factors to participate in the archivisation of their content. However, the songs themselves are archives of the rapper, or indeed, the author of these songs.
Derrida explains that there is a nostalgic desire for one to return to the most fundamental origins of archival material. Julie R Ezsner refers to this as the, “archaic place of absolute commencement”. If you listen to the lyrics of these songs, there is a tendency of rap culture to restore past memories and experiences in a form that is reflective and demonstrative of an inherent desire to attach importance and longevity to them. Tyler makes ample reference to his father in songs such as Bastard, saying: “My father’s dead well I don’t know, we’ll never fuckin’ meet”, and in Jamba, “Papa ain’t call me even though he saw me on TV“. In the same way Wu-Tang Clan tells stories of their upbringing in songs like “Bronx War Stories” , in which an entire song is devoted to preserving these stories that they deemed relevant to their lives. In order to cement them into the memories of others and of themselves, they have to use a system of archiving, which comes in the form of lyrics.
If we’re to think that these archives will give us an accurate overview of the lives of the people creating them, we are wrong, because, as Matthew Ogle states, “real-time is narrow”; anything overlooked or deemed irrelevant is subject to potential displacement. However, like the vast archive of rap lyrics out there, all archives remain open to the certainty of added content and an infinitely expanding inventory.