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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

Book Review: After Tupac & D Foster

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  D Foster, Neeka, and Neeka’s best friend are known as Three The Hard Way. Together, they have a strong bond of friendship and a passion for the music of the rapper Tupac Shakur. For two years, Tupac helps the girls through their personal struggles. As time passes and things change, each of the girls are guided toward their Big Purpose.

One of the best aspects of the book is how the author conveys the impact of Tupac’s music on the characters. During vulnerable moments, D Foster explains to the girls how she connects to the music. These moments are raw because they are only observed by the characters themselves. They do a great job of showing how close the three girls are, making their friendship more tangible.

Another good way the author shows the impact of Tupac’s music is by relating Tupac’s life to the lives of the three girls and those around them. She connects the book to realistic things such as prejudice and the overall plight of young people. Furthermore, she shows how people can misjudge the music and how some people can be badly influenced by it.

Besides conveying the impact of music well, the book also has some well-developed the characters are. An example is the girl who is Neeka’s best friend. She is the brain in the group because she reads biographies. A unique thing about her is that she serves as the book’s narrator, but is never addressed by name. This makes the narrator’s experience universal. Also, the author is skilled at switching between the narrator’s inner thoughts and outer observations.

In addition to the character development, the unity between them is heartwarming. This goes not only for the main characters, but for the supporting characters as well. The latter members vary from adults, to parents, to older siblings. Together, the main and supporting characters form a loyal community. When the author shows how one person’s life affects everyone else, the loyalty is demonstrated.

Overall, this book was a great read. I recommend this book to any young black middle schooler, especially if they are a reluctant reader. Also, anyone who appreciates the music of Tupac Shakur or music in general should give this book a try.

Written by Serena Zola

June 25, 2012 at 7:47 PM

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