Hiphop Poetry Christmas List

Hiphop Music Poetry
I was recently arguing with a friend who called me a deluded fool for believing that hiphop lyricists are a significant force in today's poetry scene. I get in arguments like this a lot.

In this particular case, my friend asked me to name three examples of hiphop lyricists who can be taken seriously as poets.

I can name about eight, actually. I see that the intersections between the separate worlds of hiphop and poetry are multiplying fast, and I think anybody who cares about modern literature should get behind this trend. If your view of modern poetry does not include any part of the hiphop universe -- whether it be old school, new school, or just strange spoken word poet you caught on Def Poetry Jam on HBO -- then it's possible you are out of touch with the best stuff that's happening today. Here are three major hiphop writers who have new releases out this season:

Nas

'Street's Disciple' is the new double CD by Nas, one of the most serious and respected hiphop voices. Nas's words almost always express anger and defiance, and he explicitly urges a revolutionary agenda for the world.

Nas is often great but famously inconsistent, for which he was brutally flamed by Jay-Z: "That's a one hot album every ten year average". Even Nas's most classic album, "Illmatic", had a couple of lame songs. But Nas also turns out amazing gems on a fairly regular basis: "Hate Me Now", "Made You Look", "One Mic". I've only listened to about half of his new CD so far, and I'm happy to report that Nas is in the zone on this album, with the intensity turned up to eleven. In one track, he blasts the "coon picnic" of WB-TV style black comedy. In another, Nas's father provides the backing track by singing against a powerful Muddy Waters beat. Every cut on the album is an attempt at a serious spiritual message (okay, with a couple of party anthems thrown in).

Jay-Z

Jay-Z has been writing an autobiography since his first album, 'Reasonable Doubt'. Every CD is a new chapter. This highly driven overachiever best hit his stride with perhaps the best album in hiphop history, "Blueprint", which was released on the day four airplanes crashed in America. This album spelled out in brutally honest detail Jay-Z's own internal battles, as well as a few battles with others.

Every Jay-Z song talks about Jay-Z, aka H.O.V.A., aka Jigga, aka S. Carter, aka H to the Izzo, and every song tells the same story: a boy from the projects smartened up and conquered the world. After 'Blueprint', Jigga followed up with an almost equally strong 'Blueprint 2.x', and then suddenly announced his retirement with last year's 'Black Album'. This was a surprisingly bitter farewell statement, triumphant but largely joyless. Jay-Z was tired of winning the game, and he was taking his ball and going home.

Luckily, though, he had barely finished retiring when he started producing again. His collaboration with R. Kelly went nowhere, but his new film 'Fade to Black' is a classic. It's a concert film interspersed with scenes of Hova at work with various producers from Timbaland to Kanye West to Pharrell to Rick Rubin. Jay's songs are often about the burden of being a creative soul, and this movie shows us the vast existential void an A-List Genius faces when trying to create a new classic. We see him and his producers gazing helplessly at walls, playing one lifeless beat after another. Then suddenly something hits and Jay is at the mic. 'Fade to Black' is a great look at a creative process and a very thought-provoking film.

Eminem

Eminem is the most metafictional artist in music. His twists of character and identity would have made Luigi Pirandello and Italo Calvino proud. Is he rapping as Slim Shady, or Eminem, or Marshall Mathers, or maybe just the Lead Singer of the Band? These four identities provided the outlines for his first four albums. For his fifth, thankfully, he did not invent yet another kaleidoscopic angle on himself but instead seems to be interested in reconciling his several selves.

I haven't heard this full CD yet either, but I'm impressed with what I've heard. 'Encore' is as intense as a Nas CD, and as always Eminem does not shy away from controversy or psychological complexity.

So that's my top three. What do you think about the intersection of hiphop and literature? Do you take song lyrics of any type seriously as poetry?
35 Responses to "Hiphop Poetry Christmas List"

by coolazice on

Sure, It's PoetrySong lyrics are not poetry, they are simply song lyrics. they might be as deep and emotional as poetry, but they still need to be sung to deliver their meaning.Rap lyrics, on the other hand, are essentially spoken poetry. The only problem is, a vast amount of rap music is extremely light on musical creativity and almost as light when it comes to words.Eminem - Kill YouThey said I can't rap about bein broke no moreThey ain't say I can't rap about coke no more(AHHH!) Slut, you think I won't choke no whoretil the vocal cords don't work in her throat no more?!(AHHH!) These motherfuckers are thinkin I'm playinThinkin I'm sayin the shit cause I'm thinkin it just to be sayin itWhat's Mr. Mathers trying to say here, as a poet? Sure, you can take it as quite funny (I do), or you can be ridiculously offended, but where's the emotional, spiritual depth? What's he talking about other than himself and his irreverent fantasies? Sure, it's poetry, it's just not great poetry. It's a lot like much of the Beat poets' completely puerile crap that is supposed to grab you and offend you or something, but after a while it gets kind of boring and meaningless. I got not problem with calling rap music poetry. I just wouldn't buy it in book form. Rap/hip-hop music has yet to find its Robert Zimmerman.

by ARAHH on

Sorry: Do You..Do you take poetry of any type as seriously as song lyrics? Poetry started as song, is at its best when sung rhetorically, lies in the fevers of enthusiasm, an offering to life, to other minds and beings of matter and light.A celebration of sad insights and longings for the horizon. performance of life, dissolving the limits between us, giving meaning.I learnt my rotten broken English from song lyrics, Kinks, Animals, Doors, Airplanes ... from the messengers of my uneasy and desiring curious delirious youth.When school English was dull and the poems 'analyzed' were mirroring rules, and clever restrictions of society, or romantic dreams -- incompatible with what i saw and felt.Then Rock ruled, and Punk...I carry those lyrics with me, inside me, survival kits of mind and body, and listen to the new prophets on the streets of our time. Thanks for the recommendations! Eminem, yes! What about some Robbie Williams even? And the Beats (like all good poets / writers (the Rimbauds, Baudelaires, You name the hundreds)) only wrote song lyrics: invitations to the road, hymns to make us feel alive, in spite of it all.

by warrenweappa on

Coney Island of Mind set to jazz?Your correspondent had a copy of Coney Island of the Mind and it said you could buy it set to jazz.My Funny Valentine qualifies as poetry with its imagery and so does Message in a Bottle by The Police. The Dead Kennedys first LP is what all political commentary should be.

by panta rhei on

Singing PoemsSong lyrics may be not more than just another instrumental part of the song sometimes ("nah nah nah... uhuuuuu... yeah yeah, baby), but often, they're not only the main part of the song, but the song, itself.The song as a poem, instruments and voices being indispensable parts of its rhythm and flow, being part of the poem itself.

by brooklyn on

I think this is a reasonable balance. Yeah, there are some hiphop songs that are way too offensive. The sexism is often meant as humor, but I agree that it's usually not funny, and it bars a lot of smart people from giving the whole genre a chance. That's too bad.

by Billectric on

What Else Is NewMy son's tastes in music have influenced me much more than my tastes have influenced him. Not that I am deliberately trying to stay "young in my mind" - I just feel curoius and attracted to many of the newer artists, in Rap, Rock, and even Country. I very much appreciate the things Hip-Hop artists have to say and how they say it. In fact, I can't even think of another genre of spoken word that has added anything knew to way way they did it in the fifties & sixties. Some of the rappers I used to think went too far against authority, I identify more with them now than ever.

by kkizer on

My Top Three-Rakim-Chuck D.-BiggieDefinitely take it seriously as a form of poetry. There are many poetic rappers out there. Sure, there are some silly/shallow ones too, but that shouldn't take away from the overall art form.Oh yeah, I would be remiss to leave out Jimmy Pop Ali from Bloodhound Gang:My name ain't QuasimodoBut I still got a hunchLike that Jim Jones fellaI'll take you out with one punchYou're Spiro AgnewAnd I'm the Dick you answer toSweatin' like a watermelonAt a Baptist barbecue

by brooklyn on

Thanks Kkizer. I haven't listened to Bloodhound Gang, but I'll look for this one. Definitely can't talk about hiphop poetry without talking about Biggie, but I didn't mention him just because I thought I'd focus on people who aren't dead. Rakim, yeah, agreed on that one ...

by kkizer on

Hey Levi! Yeah, I could go on and on (I'm sure you could too!)...Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick, Del the Funky Homosapien, 2Pac, Kool Moe Dee, Beasties ("Bodhisattva Vow" comes to mind)...can't leave out KRS One.A relatively new "group" is called The Streets. Actually the "group" is just one guy. I think his name is Mike Skinner. He's a brit that does these incredible stream-of-conscious raps over modern beats/rhythm. Really good. Kind of a Bukowski meets "Jimmy" from the movie "Quadrophenia" meets Falco. Okay, just kidding about Falco, but sometimes I just like thinking about Falco.

by brooklyn on

I will look for the Streets, sounds interesting. Yeah, I left Biggie off my list because I thought I'd concentrate on living people, but he's probably at the top of my list overall. Other stuff I almost mentioned: Jadakiss and Styles P and the whole D-Block crew, and Cam'ron's new CD which comes out tomorrow (I've been waiting for this a long time). I guess I can't stop enjoying that commercial NY stuff, but if it wasn't so good I wouldn't like it so much.

by Arcadia on

Songs lyricsSome songs lyrics are incredible poetry with or without music, but with music are better.Some favourite song-lyrics authors: Garc

by anniefay on

RepresentYeah, I'm not into hiphop and am one of those that finds the lyrics often offensive. But, the fact that I don't connect with this genre does not invalidate it as poetry. I think it is. I do not think everything they do is negative although I am offended by some lyrics and feel it should never have been verbalized. I especially hate those that depicts violent acts and negatively portrays women. I think that the voice they raised needed to be raised and that the anger which fostered this genre in the beginning was justifed. I don't care for the "dance moves" and somehow can't help but wonder why they must constantly be checking to see if by some strange occurrence they haven't been totally emasculated in the last minute since they checked to see if all their parts were intact. I am even more fascinated by the women rappers who also use this groin groping move. It must have some meaning of which, I in my old years, haven't learned yet.I admit to being fascinated by the artists themselves. They seem overdone characatures of some nonexistent persona. Their*bling*bling* and pimpdaddy attitudes are almost clownish. Their swagger totally exaggerated. If Snoop Dogg is on a show I enjoy him. He makes me laugh just by putting in an appearance.I'm sure that as in any genre there are great poets in the crowd and god-awful ones as well. They have an energy and a passion that pours out of them. They have earned a spot in music and I expect they will be around a while. Who knows I may become a fan at some point in time then I can drive down the street with a bass line blaring so loud I shall rattle the windows of every house I pass. It could happen. Stranger things have.

by Andeh on

My TakeI used to think that I didn't like most rap music, but as I got older, I've realised how important it is. When I first enjoyed some rap music, I was a kid, and there wasn't much "gangster" rap around, most of it was set to a good beat and had to do with dancing and getting the party started. But Public Enemy came out, and they were important. I was still a kid, but I listen to some of their lyrics now, and the political message is so important.As with any other music, on a lot of rap albums artists will put out a "fun" hit, have some songs "you can dance to" but then there are the important songs, the ones that have to do with poverty and what's going on in the streets and certain neighborhoods. This is the important stuff, and I don't think many other types of artists talk about this.When Eminem came out, I was walking down a main street in England and I heard him blaring from a fruit vendor's stereo. Everyone knew this new guy was interesting -- he had a captivating sound. Mixed in with his fun songs and personas he writes about poverty and what's really going on and what he thinks of the war. I think that's respectful.I also always liked Tribe Called Quest and the Beastie Boys, in between instrumental songs and party songs, you can hear some poetry.I don't know ... I like hearing music that talks about the neighborhoods I go through that others act afraid of, places where people actually live. Joy occurs there too, but sometimes the poverty and despair can be at its greatest at times. These neighborhoods should not be forgotten. Rap music won't let us forget.

by c.w. williams on

First off . . .Let me just say that I think Eminem gives good hip-hop a bad name because as creative and lyrical as he can be at times, it's often overshadowed by his immature toilet humor. In short, I'd classify him as "pop-hop" along with other no-talent rappers like Nelly, Ja Rule, Lil' John - the list goes on and on unfortunately. As for true poets in the hip-hop sense, just some of the names that come to mind are M.F. Doom (Madvillany is a remarkable album), Mos Def (too bad his latest album is a disappointment - check out Black on Both Sides), of course Chuck D., and who can forget Digable Planets. Kkizer also mentioned a few of mine in his post (most notably Del). There are others that I'll think of later but that's a good start.

by contractphoto on

Try the Roots"Phrenology" and "Things Fall Apart" by The Roots are both excellent hip-hop albums which I believe illustrate the literary abilities of rap/hip-hop that more mainstream artists like Eminem have yet to fully comprehend.

by Steve Plonk on

Lyrics as Poetry and Vice VersaYes, song lyrics can be poetry and vice versa. The poet Dante has examples of that as well as the modern Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Richard Shindell, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and LL Cool J or Run DMC.(It's a long list). Let's not forget James Brown and Jim Morrison. Hey, even Snoop Dogg has some redeeming poetic value. (I am a lyrical poet and have also written more than two dozen song lyrics and set them to music. So I know whereof I speak.) Robert Johnson's blues lyrics have a cadence for poetry as do BB King, Bessie Smith, The Byrds, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and many more singers and musicians. I think that the Hip-Hop artists are more redeeming than Rap. Rap is poetic crap. Hip-Hop has more music to it.More of Plonk's pontifications for y'all... The guy, Trent Reznor, from Nine Inch Nails, who wrote "Hurt", which was later recorded by Johnny Cash, is also a poet in his own write. Look at John Lennon and Paul McCartney or George Harrison and Ringo Starr. All these folks had the ability to write lyrics which were also poetry.

by Knip on

I have to say yesI'm not much of a poetry guy. If a poem doesn't catch me right away I don't generally read on. I write poems sometimes, but less now than previously. But when a poem captures me, I don't normally know why, other than it puts me in a mood, or a comfortable place.Some rap does that for me, but I generally need beat, some melody, and something to which I can relate. For me, it is not always about the words themselves, but the overall effect. Some Outkast has done this for me, and I like Missy Elliot quite a bit. I never get tired of Rapper's Delight.But by far, I have the closest connection to a band that had some short-lived success a bunch of years ago, Arrested Development. Excerpts from some of my favourites:Africa's Inside MeI don't like it, I just don't like it.Papa may say buy my soul is a boilin'and sooner or later Africa's glory and toilwill teach an old dog new tricksWhy and the world can't everybodyrecognize that Africa's in everybody?we all ask why can't we be sista's and brothersbut first we gotta accept who is our motherEase My MindI need some time to ease my mindThrusted in a world that I don't knowfrom my mamas lips between my mamas hipsI'm cuddled by her hands because she understandsit's that bond that keeps the movement movin' on.Life is surrounded with so many insecuritiesback stabbin' is like breathing when in poverty.Mr. WendalMr.Wendal has freedom,a free that you and I think is dumbFree to be without the worries of a quick to diss societyfor Mr.Wendal's a bumHis only worries are sicknessand an occasional harassment by the police and their chaseUncivilized we call him,but I just saw him eat off the food we wasteCivilization, are we really civilized, yes or no ?and their best, Washed AwayAll of us must swim the seascoz our path's been washed awayAll of us must swim the seascoz our path's been washed awayMy only purpose is to swim the seasFind the truth and spread it aroundGive it to the children that know how to listenso they can pass it after I drownWe can stop being washed awaySand grain by sand grain, pebble by pebblewe can stop this, we can stopCan you help us ?Will you help us ?I call that poetry.

by Knip on

My son and I are helping each other out. When he was about 14 and getting into punk through Green Day and Blink 182, I enjoyed it, and reciprocated by buying him Never Mind the Bollocks It's the Sex Pistols, the first Clash album, and a live Ramones album. Recently he has been playing Beck for me, and this new band he just found, called The Beatles. Hehe - he's almost 17 now. Last weekend I taught him the bass lines for Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side and Van Morrison's Wild Night and Brown-Eyed Girl. He's never heard the songs before but he plays acoustic bass, and I play rhythm and sing, and my wife sits there and drinks it in like syrup.I'm working him up to Astral Weeks.

by intre-alude on

MetallicaJust wondering if anyone noticed "the black album" and "fade to black" and thought of Metallica.Jay Z annoys me. The music is so bad I don't take the time to listen to what he has to say.

by brooklyn on

I would recommend something like Black Eyed Peas or A Tribe Called Quest or Goodie Mob or De La Soul for you, Annie. There are a lot of good hiphop bands that aren't (too) offensive. That's funny that you enjoy Snoop Dogg, though. He gets pretty raunchy. It really is just humor, and that's the best way to take it.

by brooklyn on

I think your last paragraph states it well. For me, living in Queens, I am surrounded by hiphop and this is probably why I've gotten to like it so much. I like it that almost all hiphop represents neighborhoods, whether Atlanta, LA, St. Louis, Chicago, NY, Oakland and this is one thing that keeps the songwriters bounded in reality instead of escapism.

by brooklyn on

I do know that Eminem gives hiphop a bad name in many ways, but on the other hand I think you've got to respect his originality and his refusal to be controlled by the industry. He really is an "independent artist" in the best sense. I do know what you mean about the dumb stuff though. And I agree that Nelly, Ja Rule etc. are not up to the level of "poet" -- not every hiphop songwriter is a poet, but a few are.

by brooklyn on

I saw the Roots open for the Beastie Boys once. I also saw a Prince show produced by their drummer. They're definitely good.

by shamatha on

My takeMy take is that to compare this two, while not quite apples and oranges, is at least oranges and tangerines. They're two different art forms. Like novels and poetry. Or maybe more accurately, novels and short stories. Both share some common qualities but both are very different forms of writing. You don't expect the same kind of character development in a short story as you would in a novel because they are both different forms of storytelling.I am not slighting rap by doing this. I like rap. I just think it's a pointless debate, and it's not fair to either form to lump them together. I'd rather take each on its own terms. Why should rap be lumped together with poetry any more than it should with heavy metal or pop music? Different art forms, different merits. Songs, rap or otherwise, I think are somewhat inseperable from their music. There may be some lyrics that can stand on their own, but I think you are doing the artist a disservice by doing so, since they were composed as a whole. It'd be like playing with the line breaks of a poem. It was composed a certain way by the author and that is how s/he meant you to take it.Sure, rap and poetry may influence one another, but there's cross-polination in all art forms. Movies and tv have influenced novel writing. Photography, when invented, influenced painting. Now, one might argue that photography is superior to painting, or vice versa, but that's a different debate. No one would argue that they are the same art form.Actually, I think my main issue with this debate is that it sometimes feels like the "Rap is equivalent to poetry" side is using the poetry connection to try to legitimize rap in the eyes of the traditionalists, the Keepers of the Canon. Rap, to use a bad pun, has a bad rap. Whereas poetry is considered a classical art form. And in the attempt at analogy is the unspoken implication that rap needs poetry for legitimacy. But rap doesn't need poetry for legitimacy any more than jazz needed classical music. It just feels like an attempt to force rap into the classical canon, which really is a disservice to the rappers, as if it can only be considered a genuine art form if we can fit it into a box we already have.Rappers are not poets, rappers are rappers.Rap can, and will, stand on it's own, and I say, let it!

by beatvibe on

Opus # 9"Singing is a trick to get people to listen to music for longer than they would ordinarily." ~David ByrneByrne's observation is a special case of a general phenomenon in art: Abstraction alienates certain would-be patrons.Rendering familiar objects is a trick to get people to look at painting for longer than they would ordinarily. Emulating identifiable forms is a trick to get people to look at sculpture for longer than they would ordinarily. Stories are a trick to get people to read prose for longer than they would ordinarily. Singing is a trick to get people to listen to music for longer than they would ordinarily...It's convenient when art bears obvious (if unintentional) labels for categorization: Oh, that's a landscape. I recognize the trees and the shrubbery. Oh, that's a human figure. I recognize the comparatively evolved biped form. Oh, that's a song about a relationship. I was almost in one once.And so we're prone to making assessments based on how "accurate" these labels appear. Yes, this fits rather well with my own experience of what a relationship feels like. Very good, indeed.When it's this easy, everyone can play.But if the trick becomes the focal point, then what becomes of the art? If the music is only a vehicle for the words, and the lyrics do not constitute poetry, then what is the song? In a word, "popular" (meaning accessible to the populous). That's not to say it's "dismissible," because there's often a curious synergy between otherwise banal music and the smattering of time-tested cliches woven through it. But it is disposable. Pop art, generally unenduring.When art is reduced (or elevated) to abstractions, general criteria for evaluation become less certain; and the seemingly dismissive label of "inaccessible" demonstrates more insight than most. Music dependant on no words, and lyrics dependant on no music (save, perhaps, their own intrinsic rhythms)... This is an art beyond pop, even if it somehow enjoys a degree of popularity."I have seen angels wrestling with lovers, all of them crying salty tears of regret for the passion never felt by goddesses seeking satisfaction from the hands of beggars." ~from "Phophus Song, Opus #9" by Broun Fellinis (Aphrokubist Improvisations, Vol. 9)

by Brushtongue on

Live Mic CoverageHip-hop has down falls just as any other music has had in the past. I prefer live MC/hip-hop. I have extensive experience in modern party scenes, from house parties to 10,000 populated raves. I would definitely only consider a few main stream hip-hop artist actual poets from what I have heard. Referring to the backbone of words used throughout each individual song in there own respect. The true test is to hand the artist a mic. On the spot free styles have shown me much about my own use in spoken word, like doing a open mic night for example. The life that is brought through certain emphasize on syllables even sentences in the early to recent hip hop/rap world has directly influenced many writers and poets. Not to mention the movie industry and clothing lines, which a grandeur impact has occurred due to the filling use of hip hop artist. In conclusion, of my personal life and a world view, hip hop/rap has had an extraordinary influence on any, if not all, literature and the way spoken word is delivered. Word is bond and bond is word.

by WIREMAN on

this is a very wise observation, I agree with you 100%, great post my friend........wired

by Billectric on

I'm wondering if Rage Against the Machine could be considered Rap. Before they broke up, they said some really important things about injustice and the misuse of authority.

by feed_yr_head on

Spoken Word ExampleSage Francis - hopeless

Make me a victim of your two stepMake me an apprentice of your body partsTeach me to dance to your beauty marksI'm stepping on toes here and I don't careIt's hopeless, it's hopelessIt's hopelessness holding this openess to blow a kissSo close your lips but don't get pissedand throw a fist at this vocalistI'm not emotionless, in fact I broke my wristwhen I wrote the list of all those I missThis is my poker face, Mister Feel Nothing

and of course as words it's beautiful but when you hear it -- the way he lets it out with such force til he's really gasping for breath and he puts a choking emphasis on every single goddamn word... THAT ladies and gentlemen, is hip hop.

by fingurz on

Significant RappersRap can sometimes get a bad rap, pun intended. I think it's mainly because the most popular rap happens to be the crappiest. Ludacris and 50 Cent and such are not poets, they are rappers...barely. But on the other end of the spectrum, people have been fantastically entwining poetry with hip-hop for years. Here's some artists to look up if you've a moment:Sage Francis, Aesop Rock, Eyedea, Illogic, Blueprint, El-P, Slug (of Atmosphere fame)I'll leave you with a little Aesop:"Glass-bottom Gotham, fragile castle and master passage where even the innocent captives bleed. Appleseed, appleseed, leave me where the breeding hassle factors feed..."

by beatvibe on

Broun FellinisBroun Fellinis - (n.) 1. "a sound and color redirection, from the old plantation to a new nation on the rise..." (See brounsity.) (Lyrics, "Dreamstate")brounsity - (n.) : "a konceptual attempt to absorb and reflect the aesthetik, social, politikal his/ herstorikal legacies and realities of Broun peoples the world over so as to begin to understand the splendidness of humanity..." (Liner notes, Aphrokubist Improvisations, Vol. 9)Additional Resources:

  • BrounFellinis.com
  • WireOnFire.comSee also:
  • Nobody
  • Roots Manuva
  • The Herbaliser
  • Blackalicious
  • Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy
  • Beatnigs
  • Saul Williams (Or is he "already" a poet? Well, there you are...)
  • by brooklyn on

    I will really have to think about this one.

    by brooklyn on

    I agree that nobody sits there deeply analyzing Ludacris's lyrics. But, I do think 50 Cent has an extremely unique voice and a classic sense of humor, and he definitely has a way with words. I think of him as somebody who takes his lyrics very seriously.

    by Steve Plonk on

    "Hip-Hop and Rap are different"Like I said in an earlier post, the musical terms must not be used interchangably. Hip-Hop has a beat or a tune, whereas Rap depends mostly on doggeral (sic) flow of consciousness which may or may not make sense. Let's not get the neophyte Eminem mixed up with real hip-hop folks like Snoop Dogg or Ice T.

    by beatvibe on

    What is "hip-hop"? Specifically, what might distinguish hip-hop from poetry set to music?In the beginning, there was the b-boy -- the breakdancer. In the early disco era, the b-boy would have to wait for the song's "break" (typically a drum bridge) to showcase his stuff. Then came the hip-hop DJ, who learned to "quick mix" disco breaks to provide b-boys with a continuous backdrop.Now add a bit of Jamaican "sound system" culture called a "clash," in which DJ's -- using separate PA's set up within earshot of one another -- would compete for audience attention. This one-upmanship provided the basis for hip-hop's emcee, who originally took a back seat to the DJ (literally sitting on a stool behind the DJ), covering record changes with single-line banter along the lines of, "Keep it going," "Put your hands in the air," etc.Eventually, the DJ party-mix style of hip-hop was marketed to the mainstream, and this is when the emcee took center stage with the rhyming style of "Rapper's Delight" -- which most hip-hop artists of the time regarded as rather silly. (So when today's gangstas talk about keepin' it real and the roots of hip-hop, I imagine they're advocating a return to upbeat disco instrumentals.)Driven by market trends, the emcee gradually overshadowed the DJ, and digital sampling allowed the hip-hop "producer" to eventually replace the DJ entirely. Then came "live" hip-hop, which shunned samplers and turntables alike. (The art of turntablism would survive its lean years with an underground emphasis on "abstract" hip-hop, which was basically a return to the DJ mix without the emcee).So considering all of hip-hop's mutations over the years, how might we distinguish a hip-hop emcee's poetry from a spoken word artist putting a contemporary spin on a beatnik jazz excursion?Or maybe we should just ask, "What is poetry?"