rack city

Parsing “Rack City:” A Poetic Reading of Tyga’s Opus

   /       / |  ^    /  |    /        /  |   / ^ |   /

Rack cit-y bitch, rack, rack cit-y bitch

/      /   |  /       /   |  ^     / | ^    / |   ^    /

Ten ten ten twent-ies on ya titt-ies bitch

^      ^        /  |  ^ ^ / |  /      /   |   / 
Hun-dred deep V.I.P. no guest list

/     /  |   ^        ^       /  |   ^      ^      / | ^      ^
T-Raw you don’t know who you fucking with?

Tyga’s “Rack City” is a iambic tetrameter that makes heavy use of strophee, overtly to express express aggression and cause stress, and covertly to admit captivity and subtly cry out for help. Tyga opens his work immediately by setting the scene, and we are thrust into the realm of Rack City in media res.

The first line makes heavy use of stressed syllables, and directly addresses the reader as “bitch.” It’s easy to see that our narrator is not glad that we are in Rack City. But while the hard stresses blatantly display the narrator’s anger, as if he is spitting the words at you, they may also underlie that Rack City is something that he himself cannot escape. Much like the employment of strophee in Tennyson’s “The Lady Of Shalott,” who describes his subject as being trapped by “Four gray walls, and four gray towers,” an absurdly stophaic line, Tyga’s use of stressed syllables could also illustrate the unbudging firmness of Rack City’s “walls.” “The Lady Of Shalott” also happens to be written in iambic tetrameter. Perhaps the residents of Rack City and the Lady of Shalott have more in common than the reader first assumes.

We move on to our narrator (could it be Tyga himself?) describing pieces of currency that he is now raining onto our bosoms, which seems to imply that we, the reader, are female. Normally, the act of giving someone money is seen as a kindness, but as we’ve already established the aggression of this narrator towards us, we are instead meant to see this as a subversion of the usual act, and it becomes degrading instead. Once again, we are met with a heavily strophaic structure at the beginning of the line, but that quickly softens into an iambic structure. Although he is disrespecting us with his words, the change in structure seems to suggest a breaking down of the narrator’s emotional walls. This is the closest we’ve felt to him since the work has begun.

Tyga paints another layer of the scenery with his next line, which suggests that we are in the V.I.P. section of a nightclub within Rack City. When paired with the previous line, Tyga has also added a layer to our identity as the reader — we must be a stripper who works at the establishment. The line begins with two anapests and ends with a strophee, which makes the line read like a joke. Anapests are a rising, bouncing meter often employed in comic verse, and the strophee serves as the blunt punchline. The question becomes, who is the joke on? Is the narrator mocking us by flaunting his status at this nightclub (he is a V.I.P. who was allowed to enter a crowded establishment without the bouncer even having to check the guest list), or is he just giddy to be momentarily forgetting about the stress and worries that life in Rack City imposes upon him? Either way, the narrator’s treatment of the reader up to this point has been far from pleasant, and he still seems to be keeping us at a distance emotionally, leaving us to ask what has happened to him in Rack City and how this place has shaped him into the man we see now.

Finally, the narrator is given a name. T-Raw, which would seem to suggest that the work is at least somewhat autobiographical, if not that the narrator is Tyga himself. Similarly to the past lines, the words of this line display an anger towards the reader and elevate the narrator to a status of power, which is clearly important to him, as established in the last line. Importantly, although this line and the previous line both work to identify the narrator as a man of power, they are basically complete inverses metrically. The third line started with the bouncing anapests and ended hard on those strophees, but this line starts with the hard and constraining strophees and then softens to anapests and finally ends on the softest foot of meter: a pyrrhic. The pattern of this final line echoes the second line, when the structure softened from strophees into iambs, which makes the overall work a constant shifting between hardened aggression and a longing to let someone else in.

The opening strophee on T-Raw also underlines the point about Tyga using stressed syllables to depict captivity. Much like our narrator is trapped by Rack City, he is also confined by his very identity here. This question of identity is all-important in this final line, as T-Raw literally asks the reader if they know who he is. We can most likely assume that T-Raw is a nickname, and while his question is overtly meant to intimidate, it works covertly as a cry for help, which is also shown in the softening of the meter. Our narrator has been so shaped by his confinement in Rack City and his identity as T-Raw, that he no longer knows who he truly is.

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