Hip hop is a performative art. Even when listening it can be participatory. A great artist can use their deep intuition when writing to create music that puts you in a flow state to perform, and pushes the limits of the people.
So when I rap along to Nas’ Memory Lane, i’m in connection with it as a listener but also someone who has enough experience to enjoy rapping it. i get to partake in the design Nas put together, which is really the deepest part of his genius. And then once you start to deeply understand how rhythms and patterns work, that part of your brain gets lit up when you listen to it, and discover new ways of being creative with it. It’s something like a mental sport at the same time as listening to music.
I feel that a good hip hop artist can get about as close to revealing their truth with music as any other art form permits. And a huge part of that self exposure is coming from tone of voice and delivery. So when I rap along with Nas I’m getting to actually feel the emotions of what he’s saying, as well as the breath and movement patterns hes putting together that are specifically chosen to make him feel good and confident when he raps them. Internally, to me it has the same qualities of listening to my friend tell me their life story, I’m invested in it.
I’m sure he would love to know how many of his lyrics I have memorized, I suspect most rap artists want that. But after a while you keep wanting to dive deeper into the art, so instead of being a listener you start to write your own music, and chase after that same active self expression.