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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by Serena Zola

April 14, 2014 at 11:04 AM

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