FEAR: A Media Translation

FEAR: A Media Translation


Rap is a unique form—blending lyrical poetry, steady beat and repetition, and manipulation of the voice. However, it in many ways reflects an age-old cornerstone of the arts, a genre met with academic study and respect: poetry. Both make use of rhythm and rhyme, often surprising the reader/listener with the clever ways words can be paired together as if they were meant to be. Even so, rap music, the exclusively auditory form, conveys meaning in an entirely different way than poetry, because it is not bound to or structured by the page and instead exists within the indefinite (wavering, unstable) properties of sound.

Sound is fleeting and impermanent. It is also intangible and cannot be disentangled or dwelt upon in the same way that written word can. The listener simply cannot hold onto each sound, each second, as it slips by beyond their grasp. It is impalpable and uncontrollable. In contrast, when examining poems on the page, it is impossible not to acknowledge their spatial existence. They are bound by shape (e.g. concrete poems), line and word spacing, and white space. In fact, both poets and rappers use neutral, blank space as a tool in their work to create gaps and holes (for poets, the white space on the page, and for rappers, the silence between words and phrases).

The similarities and differences between the two forms, especially the visual versus auditory aspects of each media, calls into question how translation of one form into the other would affect its meaning. I believe that by transferring rap lyrics into poetry, there is the potential of revealing, altering, or illustrating meaning in the text.

Kendrick Lamar’s rap song “FEAR” is about the fear that inevitably accompanies the human experienceincluding the fear and confusion of death and the struggles of life. This directly relates to its media, sound, which itself is incalculable, ephemeral, and impalpable, exactly like both fear and death. In this song, the very properties of sound reflect the subjects that the song is exploring.

If the ideas presented within a song relate to the form of the song itself, how would the meaning or interpretation of the song change if it was recycled into a new media?

I decided to conduct a media-specific translation of “FEAR” from a rap song into a poem in order to explore these ideas. In repurposing the song lyrics into a poem, I changed capitalization, line breaks, stanzas, white space, deletion of passages, rearranging lines, font size, spacing between lines and between words, and more in order to try to inform or emphasize my own critical interpretation of the lyrics.


A drawing of Kendrick Lamar.



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