Phone Rhymes With Phone, Mud Rhymes With Mud

Aaron Burch


The morning of the panel to celebrate and discuss Peter Markus, I got a slightly frenzied text, and then also an email, from Matt Bell. He was supposed to be on the panel, but wasn't going to make it. He was snowed in. But he had his presentation prepared, and wondering and hoping if I couldn't fill in, read what he'd written. A few emails later, he joked, "Peter's already seen the talk, so he'll know that all the Kanye and Jay-Z references were added later..." And I went ha ha, and just replied that I was honored to fill in. But then I got thinking about Kanye and Jay Z, and Peter, and rap in general, and next thing I knew, I'd written an intro to Matt's intro, not about the Watch the Throne duo, it turned out, but close…


In Rick Ross's song, "9 Piece," the first two line of the chorus go,

I'm smoking dope, I'm on my cell phone
I'm selling dope, straight off the iPhone

It's possible Rick Ross is the most popular worst rapper. Although maybe he's the greatest? It's easy to make fun of him for any number of reasons, but specifically for his tendency to not so much follow rap's tradition of rhyming as to just repeat himself. He "rhymes" dope with dope, phone with iPhone. Rappers do this all the time, of course, at times as clever homophones, and at other times merely for emphasis (or even out of what some may argue is laziness). Ross, however, takes it to the next level. He does what he pretty much does to everything: supersizes it; he does it bigger, better, more. I could fill this document with examples. He does it with homophones, and for emphasis, and laziness, and for all the reasons in between, and he does it because he can, because the words beg for it, because he's building a world and giving his words power.

Here's where I want to emphasize that I intend this comparison as highest compliment. I love Rick Ross. One of the reasons rhyming phone with phone works for me is Ross's confidence, the authority with which he barks those lines.

And here's where I get back to Peter. If you look at the kind of numbers Matt Bell has calculated as proof of Markus's repetition, but were not familiar with Markus's writing, (same as if someone were to list examples of Ross's lyrics to someone unfamiliar with the songs), I want to say the effect would not only not be the same but might even be too easily assumed to be too simple or basic. That old cliché of something seeming so simple, created or done by someone so good at what they're doing, to almost makes it look easy. Too easy, even. 

Before my mind started drawing connections to hip hop, one of the first things I remembered when thinking about Peter and his mud river brothers, was seeing him read. This had to have been four or five years ago (and if it feels like that, I'm betting it was actually closer to six or seven). A specific line stood out to me at the time, so much so that it has stuck with me all these years later. The kind of line, to tie these two threads together, in fact, that worms its way into your mind and won't let go, like a line from a favorite or perfect (rap, if we want to really draw the parallel) song.

The line was something about the brothers going "out back to the back of the backyard." Using "back" three times in no more than half a sentence is the kind of repetition most writers or editors wouldn't allow themselves. The kind of repetition that feels almost over-purposeful, that takes a real authority to pull off. Searching through Peter's collection, We Make Mud, I found not only had I not misremembered the line all these years, wanting to give him credit for even more repetition than had been there, but this phrase itself, or some close variation, is in the book, by rough count, over forty times.

It is not just repetition of words, but images, ideas, whole phrases—and that same repetition, when applied to reading Peter's words, phrases, stories, books, makes them feel even stronger and more powerful with each additional reading. So much of Peter's writing exhibits the kind of simplicity that makes it so readable, but then it also won't let you go once you've started. The more you dig in, the more it opens, the more that power and authority grabs hold of you, the more undeniable the confidence of the prose, and the more and more complex you realize that simplicity is.