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National Poetry Month Spotlight: The Connection Between Poetry and Rap

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Warning: Some of the content mentioned in this post contains strong language.

If you told me ten years ago that I would find rap music that I actually related to and learn to appreciate it, I would have said, “Yeah right, rap music sucks!”

The truth is, rap and poetry are more connected than I ever thought possible. It is not because rap and poetry can rhyme. It is because that with the right person, both of these mediums can have powerful and beautiful words.

Let me clarify something. I do NOT consider rap and poetry the same thing. I’m in my early twenties and I’ve been a poet for a decade and have read and written a lot of poetry.

Although I couldn’t tell you the lyrics to a Tupac song, I’ve listened to more than a dozen rap songs. To me, rap and poetry are two different things that can be connected.

My definition of rap is words spoken to a beat that rhyme. My definition of poetry is not only rhyme, but also metaphor, imagery, and other elements. Sometimes, these definitions can come together.

For instance, take the songs “Breathe”  (lyrics here) and “A New Star Is Born” (lyrics here) by the late Lisa Lopes.

To most people, she was known as Left Eye of the R&B hip-hop girl group TLC. I believe that she could have been a great solo rapper if she had been able to release this album in the United States and do more solo work.

If you listen to the songs and follow along with the lyrics, you’ll see why I consider Lopes a poet and rapper. On “Breathe”, she raps to the beat and her words rhyme, but her wordplay is very clever.

One of my favorite lyrics from this goes,” This here wand has a magic stick/Throat-wise called the Larynx/Helps me spill it, my utter of a mind/I milk it/So that it hits your back with spiritual parmalat/I farm the black/Spirit staff, Spirit staff, Spirit staff.”

On “A New Star Is Born”, there is only a little clever wordplay. However, the way Lopes speaks makes the song more like a spoken word poem than a rap song.

At the moment, the only living rapper I am a fan of is Angel Haze. She is unique because she has done spoken word poems and rap songs as well as some singing. One of my favorite spoken word pieces by her is called “Smile” (lines here).

Besides the fact that I can relate to some of her lyrics and love her singing voice, I enjoy that she mixes spoken word and rap in some of her songs. By speaking without a beat or not speaking to the beat, she turns the lyrics into spoken word.

One of the  best examples of this from Haze’s past work  is “Smiles N Hearts” (lyrics here). If you follow along with the lyrics, then you’ll eventually come to a lovely interlude with raw and beautiful imagery.

Sometimes, rap and poetry can be related because the person has done both separately. Late rapper Tupac Shakur wrote a book of poetry called The Rose That Grew From Concrete.

These poems are completely different from Shakur’s music because they are more introspective and thoughtful, especially if you know a little bit about Tupac himself.

A poem from the book, “Can You See The Pride In The Panther?” is about Shakur’s Black Panther Party roots. His mother was a member of the Black Panther Party before Shakur was born.

Besides music, the connection between rap and poetry can be found elsewhere. Recently, I had the immense pleasure of viewing the poetry film Slam.

There is a point in the film when a member of a police unit says, “That doggone rap music they got is driving em crazy.” I found it ironic because sometimes rap can be the key to survival.

A perfect example of this fact is a scene called “Serving Time” (turn your volume up). This is one of my favorite scenes from the film because it shows the contrast between the main character Raymond (the one on the left) and his cellmate on the right.

While Raymond’s verses are filled with hope, his cellmate’s verses are filled with anger. With a simple beat, poetry and rap have collided and shown two completely different mindsets.

So far, I have written four poems while listening to Angel Haze’s music, spoken word, and covers. Unlike most of the poems I have written, these have rhyme and wordplay.

Also, listening to her spoken word pieces have inspired me to record some of my poems with my laptop, a mike, and a sound recorder. While I have only done a few of them, doing this is making me more comfortable with reading my poetry aloud.

Even if you don’t enjoy rap music, you should keep an open mind, especially if you enjoy poetry. You never know what you’ll like and you’ll never know how it can impact you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by yawriterinthemaking

April 14, 2014 at 11:04 AM

Movie Review: Slam (1998)- Rated R

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slam, movie, saul williams

Source: Wikipedia Rating: R

Plot Summary : Street pharmacist and aspiring rapper Raymond Joshua lives in Dodge City, a drug-infested war zone in Washington D.C.  One day, he is at the wrong place at the wrong time and gets caught up in the criminal justice system. Using his talent for poetic rap, Ray learns  to survive and rise above the pain of his lost generation.

My Review: One of the most amazing things about this film is the spoken word poetry and raps. Despite the description of the main character Raymond, he is more poet than rapper. His spoken word poems are intelligent, vivid,  and raw in a way that stuns you and makes you think.

It helps that those poems were written by the same person playing Ray, Saul Williams. One of his best poems and scenes is called Amethyst Rocks.

Also, Raymond isn’t the only character who does spoken word in the film. There is a writing teacher named Lauren Bell (played by Sonja Sohn) and several supporting characters that do spoken word. Bell’s pieces are just as notable as Raymond’s and the same can be said for some of the others.

Furthermore, some of the dialogue in the film is just as poetic as the actual poems. A particular scene that has striking dialogue is known as “New World”.

Besides the poetry, the realism of the setting and the storyline is thought-provoking.  Some minorities can become angry enough to destroy each other for drugs, revenge, and other things whether inside or outside of jail.  It is a vicious cycle that is a prison physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Raymond and Lauren show that it takes courage, honesty, and the realization of self-worth to break it. Despite being more than a decade old, the issues in this film are still relevant today.

In addition to the poetry and the realism, the cinematography of the film is great. There are certain scenes that are shot well enough to give you Raymond’s view and others that give you a bystander’s view. Also, the music is mostly ambient and makes the surroundings and certain scenes more palpable.

Overall, this film was fantastic. As this film has strong language, violence, and sexual content, I recommend for teaching purposes that this film only be shown to high school and college students. Of course, poetry fans will love this film, especially if they enjoyed Poetic Justice. 

 

Written by yawriterinthemaking

April 9, 2014 at 5:55 PM

Music Video Spotlight: “Battle Cry” by Angel Haze feat. Sia

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I’ve been following the work of rapper-singer Angel Haze since I checked out a few of her mixtapes in 2011. If you aren’t familiar with her, check out this Buzzfeed post I did about her using my real name.

The main thing I enjoy about the “Battle Cry” music video is that it shows how far she has come as a person.  In interviews and songs like “Cleanin Out My Closet”, she has spoken about a personal history that has included a religious “cult” and being sexually abused. Yet, this video and song shows that she has survived this and then some to become a strong person.

By giving this video an extremely personal touch, she has shown how humble she can be as a musician and a person. Before I saw this video and listened to this song many times, I worried she would pull the same superficial stunt she did for “Echelon (It’s My Way”). Instead,  she used  her personal history to create a music video that strengthens the song’s empowering message.

Written by yawriterinthemaking

March 24, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Movie Review: Grave of The Fireflies (1988)

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Grave of The Fireflies

Source: Wikipedia

Plot Summary: Two siblings named Seita and Setsuko struggle to survive during the final months of World War II.

My Review: One of the best things about this film is the main characters Seita and Setsuko. Seita’s character is heartbreaking to watch as he is forced to grow up too soon to care for his younger sister Setsuko. Besides being very brave, he is the kindest brother toward Setsuko when he creates happy moments.

Setsuko is the sweetest little sister whose innocence is marred by the cost of war. Both characters loving nature toward each other is wonderful and sad to watch.

Another great aspect of the film is how the firefly is used as a metaphor for innocence. It is woven throughout the film in beautiful scenes as well as sad ones. It makes the film memorable and haunting for the viewer.

In addition, the soundtrack provides a poignant atmosphere for the film. It touches the viewer’s heart and lets you feel what Seita and Setsuko are feeling. Like the firefly metaphor, it is the most noticeable during certain moments.

Overall, this was a lovely and sad film to watch. If you enjoyed films like Schindler’s List, then see this film with some tissues.

Written by yawriterinthemaking

March 17, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Book Review: Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928)

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Orlando Virginia WoolfPlot Summary: The book’s protagonist Orlando lives for three centuries as a man and then a woman. Throughout Orlando’s lifetime, Orlando tries to discover what it truly means to live.

My Review: One of the best things about this book is the character Orlando. Orlando is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever encountered in classic literature. As a man and a woman, Orlando is flighty, creative, thoughtful, and more.

Although a fictional character, Orlando could be someone you know or end up knowing.  Overall, Orlando is very insightful and relatable  to just about anyone.

Another thing that was somewhat enjoyable is Woolf’s writing style. It is just as complicated as Orlando.  It is beautiful, rambling, thoughtful, and tedious. There are only six chapters in this book, but each chapter is very long. It almost felt like reading a prose version of a Walt Whitman poem.

The most interesting thing about the book is the plot. It is clever and powerful.  It felt very real because of how it discussed gender identity and expression, conformity,  and how men and women are valued and perceived.

Overall, this book wasn’t always enjoyable, but it was very thought-provoking. The issues discussed in this book still apply today. I recommend this to everyone.

Written by yawriterinthemaking

March 13, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Thoughts on Music and Music Movie Recommendations

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Since I last blogged on here a month ago, I’ve discovered a lot of new music and have enjoyed many music films. Since I am happy and lazy (I’m on Spring Break), I’m going to talk about how much I love music in general and give several brief music movie recommendations.

When I say I love music, I mean music in general. In three years, I’ve gone from just listening to alt. rock and soundtracks to having an eclectic music taste. I have my likes and dislikes, but I understand that every genre is connected.

On a post similar to this one, I said that my discovery of indie-rock was me coming full-circle with my music taste. I was wrong. Afro-punk is the genre that has brought me full-circle, not only with my music taste but also with my own life.

If had I known about this genre when I was feeling like an outsider in high school, then I would have found the perfect genre to listen to. Then again, I might not have the eclectic music taste I have now.

Afro-punk is a music genre and contemporary movement filled with black punk bands and black alternative music acts. As much as I’ve enjoyed finding music in this genre, I’ve also found more classic blues and jazz music that I like.

For instance, Billie Holiday before the 1950s.  During those years, her voice wasn’t marred by drugs yet. I love it because it sounded youthful, sad, and sweet. I love her slower songs the most because the way she stretched out the words made you want to savor her voice. One of my favorite songs is “Am I Blue?”

Another voice I’ve found I enjoy a lot is Sarah Vaughan. Her voice is soothing and sweet and it warms you up like a fire. Like with Holiday, I like her slower songs that were done when she was young.  One of my favorite songs is “Autumn in New York”.

Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday are now my favorite classic female blues and jazz singers.  I wish more young people could appreciate old music in any genre.

Without blues and jazz, we wouldn’t have rock music. Without classical music, none of my favorite soundtracks would exist.  Without old music, we wouldn’t have new music.

One of the most enjoyable things about appreciating music is watching music films. Here are the films that I’ve watched this past month that I recommend:

The Billie Holiday Story (BBC Documentary)-  I loved Billie Holiday even more after I saw this. This film shows her not as a victim to drugs and a sad childhood, but as a talented woman who had strengths and weaknesses.  Watch it here.

New Orleans (1947)- This film features Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. The plot is corny, but the jazz music makes the film worth watching. It’s on DVD, but I also found it on YouTube here (ignore the Portuguese subtitles).

Hail, Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll! (1987)- Part rock concert and part biography, this film honored the life and 50th birthday of rock musician Chuck Berry. Features appearances from Little Richard, Etta James, Keith Richards, and more. Watch it on Hulu here.

A Band Called Death (2013)- This film tells the story and new-found popularity of Death, the first black punk band. It is available to watch on Netflix. If you enjoy the film, their 1976 album Death For The Whole World To See is worth listening to as well.

Yellow Submarine (1968)- I watched this for the first time in February in honor of The Beatles 50th anniversary. It stars The Beatles in an animated film where they go to Pepperland to free it from the evil Blue Meanies. The animation and the music are great. This is a good film to watch as a family. Watch it on DailyMotion here.

Live Performance Spotlight: “Can’t Rely on You” (Acoustic) by Paloma Faith

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In case you haven’t heard of Paloma Faith, she is a soulful singer from the UK who is going to release her third album ‘A Perfect Contradiction’ on March 10th. The song “Can’t Rely On You” will be featured on the new album. For more on her past work, check out this Paloma Faith Buzzfeed post I made last month using my real name.

One of the things I love about this performance is that it is in an actual kitchen! With pots, pans, and no audience! When I saw the link, I thought the performance was going to be on a cooking show. I also love how Faith’s pianist comes on-screen and creates funky beats with a saucepan and wooden spoon.

In addition, the performance is classy (as usual) and low-key. The matching plaid everyone is wearing is so cool and the kitchen setting makes the performance more intimate with viewers.

Lastly, the energy is awesome. You can see and hear it in Faith’s voice and backing band.  The little dancing that they are doing makes you want to get up and join them!

Written by yawriterinthemaking

February 17, 2014 at 10:00 AM

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