Rap music and what not…

“I gots to talk.  I gotta tell what I feel. I gotta talk about my life as I see it.” (Sample of a Martin Lawrence stand-up comedy routine used in the Notorious BIG’s “Kick In The Door”.)

I’ve been listening to and studying Rap music since the 80’s (long before the days when I believed interpreters were “translators” and the courts used “translators” when they encountered folks who did not speak English).  In 2003, when I was going to meet the court “translator” guy with hopes of getting a job “translating” in court, I had already
studied raps for about 20 years. Little did I know my love for Rap music and my love for the interpreting profession would share any connection.

There are many forms of skills building. Realistically, you can draw from just about any experience and develop a method to improve a skill which relates directly or indirectly to memory, linguistics, vocabulary, consecutive, simultaneous, sight translation, translation, etc…  I’ll explain in more detail how my love for music, Rap music in particular, helped me develop a mind and foundation for my work in the interpreting profession.

Many people grow up learning nursery rhymes; simple lyrics, along with a melody, in a certain cadence, designed to help humans pass language through generations.  It’s probably safe to say nursery rhymes play a significant role in how children begin to develop communication.  Growing up in Brooklyn (New York City), Rap music seemed to me the next step in communication development, a natural evolution if you will. Here you had codified street messages, placed in a lyrical and rhythmic scheme, delivered over a melodic loop.

Amazing!  I had to learn every word to every new track I heard.  I had to deliver every line in the same cadence and mimic the same delivery as the rapper.  This was my first encounter with the interpreting exercise known as shadowing, minus the decalage.  Decades later, as a professional interpreter, I learned about “shadowing” the various times I participated in Agustin S. de la Mora’s “Weightlifting for Court Interpreters” (http://www.interpreter-training.com/).

Not only did I learn the words and delivery, I also processed these metaphoric, slang riddled tongue twisters while listening intently for meaning.  Take for example:

“Dead in the middle of Little Italy, little did we know that we riddled two middlemen who didn’t do diddly” (Big Pun in “Deep Cover 98”.)

Little Italy conveys a specific feeling if you’re a New Yorker who regularly strolls down Mulberry Street or just dropped in during the yearly Feast of San Genaro, another if you are from a big city which has its own neighborhood known as Little Italy, or yet another if you don’t understand the reference.   Obviously, we can get into the definitions of
specific words or lines and their meaning within a specific context; however the intended receiver generally gets the message while the average listener may just hear the music.

Listening for content, distinguishing among accents, paying attention to cadence, recognizing slang, understanding the message, reproducing an utterance,  learning lines and spitting them on time, remaining conscious of your surroundings, this list can just as easily describe the average Rap music fanatic as it does a professional interpreter.  It seems all the loot spent compiling my music library was a sound investment.

No Comments
  • Gio Lester
    Posted at 13:14h, 17 January Reply

    Kevin, that’s a unique way of interpreter training. You trace an interesting parallel that I can appreciate.

    – Gio

    • Kevin Mercado
      Posted at 13:56h, 17 January Reply

      Thanks Gio. I know it contributed to my strengths in the field. Studying criminal justice got me ready for some of the legalese and system knowhow , and my parents insisting I speak Spanish at home (and constantly correcting my grammar) helped quite a bit as well.

  • Rosemary Dann
    Posted at 13:59h, 17 January Reply

    A “sound” investment, indeed! It’s interesting to note (sorry, didn’t mean to pun on that one) that interpreters are frequently very musically-inclined people. But I’ve never herd it explained so well.

  • Rosemary Dann
    Posted at 14:00h, 17 January Reply

    That’s “heard” it explained so well.

    • Kevin Meracdo
      Posted at 22:19h, 18 January Reply

      Thanks Rosemary; I had some great editors/ghostwriters.

  • Randy Rodriguez
    Posted at 19:20h, 17 January Reply

    Kev, this is by far one of the best ways I have ever heard the process behind Interpreting/translating explained. Great read and the analogy is spot on.

    • Kevin Meracdo
      Posted at 22:32h, 18 January Reply

      Thanks Randy. I’ve been blessed in Ohio, with a Supreme Court who’s brought in trainers from Florida, Cali, Arizona and Colorado over the years. Not to mention Ohio’s got some great mentors and trainers as well.

  • David Mintz
    Posted at 21:26h, 18 January Reply

    Listening closely to hip-hop provides another important benefit that is worth pointing out, especially for those of us who come from relatively privileged social layers: it brings you in contact with the street. Once you get it — when you feel a visceral response to something like the Notorious BIG — you at least begin to approach a better understanding of the world as experienced by some of the people for whom you are interpreting. Language skills and good technique are of course essential, but there is no way that having a broader view of the world can do anything but improve your interpreting.

    I think it’s also wonderfully educational to get arrested at least once in your life, but maybe that’s not for everybody (-:

    • Kevin Meracdo
      Posted at 22:44h, 18 January Reply

      Absolutely, and good humor.

      I’d also point out the level of detachment between the rapper/speaker and listener/interpreter. In both cases as we are dealing with someone else’s reality.

  • Maria Cristina de la Vega
    Posted at 14:22h, 22 January Reply

    Great contribution! Very original and insightful. I’m looking forward to more.

    • Kevin Mercado
      Posted at 13:48h, 24 January Reply

      Thanks MC. More in the works.

  • Isaiah Jay
    Posted at 12:10h, 22 March Reply

    Informative for me as an artist. Thank you! God bless!

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