133: The Raven
Title text: Yes, Eminem is wearing a sleeveless hoodie. What of it?
The comic's title is a reference to the well-known poem The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe, one of the most popular pieces of poetry in the English language. The comic quotes the first eight lines of the work, in which the poetic persona perceives a strange knocking on his door in the middle of the night. Unlike the original, the comic reveals the nocturnal visitor to be the rapper Eminem.
This unexpected turn reflects the ambiguity of the verb "to rap" in English. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word was used in the original sense of "to strike" as early as the 14th century. The meaning of the word was later extended to "talking freely and frankly". In this purport, it was especially employed by the Black rights movement during the 1960s (cp. for example the nom de guerre of H. Rap Brown). The hip-hop subculture, which had its roots in the aforementioned movement, finally adopted the term in the sense of "rhythmic speaking or chanting". Today, the word is almost exclusively used with the latter meaning.
It is thus implied that the poetic persona in the comic hears Eminem performing a rap song, rather than someone knocking on the door as in the original. Note also that rap music is usually considered fairly aggressive, which seems to contradict the poem's description of a "gentle" sound.
Beyond a linguistic interpretation of the comic, it may be added that rap music and poetry bear a lot of similarities: Some of the more advanced rap lyrics feature classical stylistic devices like alliterations or inline rhymes as well as a more or less complex metrical structure. The meter of a classical poem, on the other hand, gives the piece a distinct, almost musical rhythm, albeit it is not accompanied by any instruments. Nerdcore rapper MC Lars has recorded a rap version of the poem (with some additional lyrics and modern references added) called 'Mr. Raven', which can be heard here. (For a comparison between the verbal capabilities of Edgar Allan Poe and Eminem, see this article.)
"The Raven" is heavily referenced in popular culture. Interestingly enough, the webcomic Dinosaur Comics had a reference to Edgar Allan Poe three weeks before the xkcd comic was published. There is also a Penny Arcade version of the "Raven" trope.
The title text, besides defending the graphic style of the drawing, also lampshades at the somewhat peculiar taste of fashion found in the hip-hop subculture. In the picture, Eminem wears a sleeveless hoodie. While the aesthetic value of such garment might be disputed, it certainly defeats the purpose of keeping its bearer warm.
- Once upon a midnight dreary
- While I pondered, weak and weary,
- Over many a quaint and curious
- Volume of forgotten lore
- While i nodded, nearly napping,
- Suddenly there came a tapping
- As if someone gently rapping
- Rapping at my chamber door...
- [A door opens, revealing Eminem wearing a hoodie.]
- Eminem: Yo.