3 Ways Rap and Poetry are Unified

American society has made sweeping generalizations in regards to hip-hop culture, rap music and poetry. Historically, European elitism, intellectualism, literary piety, chastity and moral virtue have been preeminent facets of poetry in European folklore; whereas hip-hop and rap music have long been voyeuristically praised fortheir black nihilism, materialism, black male phallocentrism, masculinity and virility, anti-blackness, anti-femininity and misogyny.

Despite the fact that white supremacist capitalist patriarchal pop culture traditionally exploits and demonizes hip-hop culture and rap as “primitive,” “criminal,” “impure,” and “anti-intellectual,” hip-hop culture and rap music, nonetheless, continue to be a monolith of the most epoch-making creations within the black diaspora since the birth of 1939’s The Dozens.

Though many black artists have been compartmentalized into a subcategory of rap music known as “mumble-rap,” a preponderance of black hip-hop artists still address the racial issues of anti-blackness and black cultural appropriation. Hip-hop and rap should held to the same esteem as poetry, if not more. Unfortunately, poetr, has also been stigmatized as “weak,” “effeminate” and “sentimental.”

In an analysis of Plato’s View of Poetry, writer William Chase Greene expands on Plato’s assessment of poetry:

“Plato criticizes poetry because it is imitation, because the artist is ignorant of the things which he imitates, and because poetry addresses itself to the lower faculties of man, with which he cannot grasp truth.”

Consequently, both rap music and poetry have often differentiated as exclusive art forms, having no relation to each other.

You might be speaking with a friend and say that you are a writer. The friend will ask, “what type of art do you create?” You might say that you write poetry. They might respond with, “Poetry? Ugh, I like more forceful, aggressive stuff, like metal and rap.

You might refute, “aren’t metal and rap music the same thing as poetry?”

You can take away the instrumental and read metal or rap music as poetry in the same way you can apply the instrumental to poetry. As a result, the Western world has been conditioned to assign a masculine perspective to art. Despite those who believe poetry and rap music to be contrary to each other, here are three reasons why both the art forms are virtually indistinguishable.

1. Rhyme Pattern

Traditional English poetry is often written in fixed form, with varying rhyme schemes. Whether you are writing a sonnet or a ballad, both forms are written in a repetitious “ABAB” or “AABB” rhyme scheme. Like poetry, rap music is also written in a fixed form:

“When I have fears that I may cease to be

Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,

Before high piled books, in charact’ry,

Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;” — John Keats

“I was a fiend, before I became a teen

I melted microphone instead of cones of ice cream

Music-orientated so when hip-hop was originated

Fitted like pieces of puzzles, complicated” — Rakim

2. Utilization of the Human Body

The human body is the main asset of the vocalization of rap and poetry. Poets and rap musicians alike utilize their vocals to bring to life their personal experiences, thoughts, memories, feelings and dreams, while sleeping and awake, to the world to share. Though there are varying stylists in rap and poetry who have differing modes of how they vocalize their messages and their expression might be conveyed conventionally or unconventionally, expression in itself is to a degree, universal. A mode of expression from one art form is not alien to another art form.

3. Accent and Duration

Don’t worry about these mechanical terms. Once you weave your way through the concepts, you’ll understand how they are implemented in poetry and rap music. Accent refers to how words are enunciated, whereas duration refers to the timely manner in which the words are enunciated. In rap music, accent and duration are crucial to creating flow, which is a combination of both rhyme and rhythm. Unlike poetry, a rap song has to be precisely in time with the rhythm of the lyrics being spit. Keep in mind that the rapper’s elongation, pronunciation and enunciation of words, i.e. their delivery, is interpretative. Translation: the way I might interpret a rapper’s delivery, might be vastly differing from someone else who interprets it. Anyway, that fire, that beat, however you want to describe the instrumental of the song, is the rhythm of it, which is a determinant on how the poet or rapper is going to rap:

“There COMES a TIME in every man’s life

WHEN he’s gotta HANDLE shit up on his own

Can’t DEPEND on FRIENDS to help you in a SQUEEZE

PLEASE, they got problems of their own” — Slim Kid Tre of The Pharcyde

The words I have capitalized are the words that Slim has elongated when he pronounces them. Contrary to the rest of the lines, there is significantly more sonic presence to these words, giving us euphonious variety. If a rapper is flowing on an instrumental exceptionally well, but his delivery is too monotone, it comes off as unexciting, predictable and boring. In poetry, stanzas are often read mechanically and there is a pause at the end of each line. Sometimes, the reader will read the poem as though it were prose. Enjambment, end-stopped and caesura, are a few primary literary tools that determine the rhythmical and vocal reality of the poem:

“Then ask not wherefore, here, alone

Conversing as I may

I sit upon this old grey stone

And dream my time away” — William Wordsworth

If read aloud, Wordsworth is posthumously asking us to pause at where he says the words “wherefore,” “here” and “alone” as caesura, the commas in between the words are used. In this context, the syntactical order of the poem suggestively gives us the idea that he is tempestuously expressing a meditation on his existence.

So, before any of us follows up on the ignorant claims like poetry is “only for girls” and rap music is “barbaric, lexical nonsense,” let’s take a step back, look within our minds, and start unlearning what we’ve been taught, y’all.