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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 Serena Zola

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 Serena Zola

April 9, 2014 at 5:55 PM

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