The Audience Learns Part 4 supplement — Removal

Hip-hop poets par excellence, the Digable Planets.

Hip-hop poets par excellence, the Digable Planets.


Removal is a particularly effective form of surprise.  When an element has been removed, an audience suddenly learns about its importance and its interaction with everything around it.


Hip-hop thrives on removal.  “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” by the Digable Planets removes the bass and drum groove at strategic points to achieve several ends:

  • Removal punctuates the ends of the first two verses.  (1:25-1:27 and 2:14-2:16).  The vocals are briefly exposed against a backdrop of silence.  This creates the sense that the ground has disappeared and that we are suspended in mid-air with the rappers.  We are somehow more acutely aware of the song's forward motion.   Note how this calls attention to the absent parts.  Our ears suddenly miss what we might have taken for granted.  The returning elements give extra emphasis to the downbeats of the choruses.
  • These removals set up our expectation that the removal at 2:53-2:55 will also be followed by a chorus, but the verse keeps going until the removal at 3:13-3:15.
  • The extended removal at 3:43-3:54 (“We out, we out, we out . . . ”) gives emphasis to the end of the rapping and helps us hear that the track is now in its outro.

In all cases, the removals surprise us and also illuminate our understanding of what is happening in the track.

Thank you for reading.