Oxymoron and Paradox

Disclaimer: I am going to intentionally break the rules of this assignment in order to give (what I believe to be) a better example and explanation of these literary devices than I would have encountered in my ordinary reading during the week. Put aside your prejudices and preconceptions about rap music for a few minutes, please.

In artist ScHoolboy Q’s latest album, “Oxymoron”, Q discusses his complex life circumstances. Born and raised in a poor region of South Los Angeles, Q found himself trapped in a cycle of poverty and crime. Q became a single father as a teenager, and started selling prescription drugs soon thereafter in order to survive, since his criminal record significantly limited his access to decent, well-paying jobs. However, caught up in the rush of the drug trade, Q developed an addiction to some of the painkillers and psychiatric medicines he was selling for off-label use to others. In his song “Blind Threats”, which delves into the difficulty of having faith in a higher power when surrounded by poverty and suffering, Q repeatedly mentions “living to die”. This is an example of an oxymoron: Q is describing the perils of living a dangerous lifestyle, teetering on the brink of death with dangerous drugs in order to obtain a sensation of “feeling alive” while high.

On a larger scale, “Oxymoron”explores the difficult relationship between crime-ridden South LA and the opulent areas of the city just a few miles away, such as Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood. Though he does not state it in such blunt terms, ScHoolboy Q asks how people can live in abject poverty and receive little help or sympathy while others bask in luxury practically next-door. The United States absolutely has the power and resources to lift its poorest individuals out of squalor and into safer, more comfortable lives, yet the complication of allocating these resources and smoothing out the politics behind it make this next to impossible. This paradox of poverty is apparent to Q, who admits he is still somewhat hesitant, deep down, to give more of his earnings from his music career to his community back home in South LA. He fears that you cannot “throw more money” at a problem like poverty and make it disappear. Defeating poverty requires structural changes in the access poor communities have to education, financial advising and planning, and safety from crime. Paradoxically, with this understanding, simply giving money to someone in poverty may not make them any less poor.

Rap often gets a bad rap in the public’s eyes, and for good reason: many of the most popular songs celebrate violence, crime, the objectification of women, homophobia, dangerous images of masculinity, sexuality, and drug use, and, of course, foul language. However, it is a genre capable of producing inspiring, thought-provoking art, and should not be dismissed simply because it is rap. More often than not, the lyrics of these songs contain valuable insights into the life of young people in (often) poor, (often) black communities, and, on occasion, can stand alone as works of literature themselves, such as Kendrick Lamar’s recent album “To Pimp A Butterfly”.

Yes, I understand what oxymorons and paradoxes are. I understand that this assignment is intended to encourage me to read more and find these devices in literature. However, most of my reading is of nonfiction and/or news articles, which makes finding literary devices difficult. I feel that searching for these devices in areas I encounter on a more regular basis, such as news media and music, will help me deepen my understanding of them equally well.

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One thought on “Oxymoron and Paradox

  1. I certianly encourage you to look for these elements in any form they may be encountered. The real goal is to not only recognize these elements, but to recognize the manner in which they contribute to our understanding of a larger message. I read your post with a smile because you are doing just that.

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