Thursday, March 27, 2014

Jay Z, Jay Electronica, and a notable practice among black poets

In their remix, "We Made It," Jay Electronica and Jay Z make extensive references to slavery and struggles for freedom and thus connect to one of the most prominent themes in African American poetry.  Lucille Clifton, Kevin Young, Amiri Baraka, Frank X. Walker, Robert Hayden, Natasha Trehtewey, and many, many others have all produced memorable pieces about slavery.

Perhaps we can add Jay Electronica and Jay Z to that mix. Actually, rappers have made slavery references for quite some time in their music. In "Follow the Leader" (1988) Rakim informs his audience: "remember - you're not a slave / cause we was put here to be much more than that / but we couldn't see because our mind was trapped." Years later in "Clones," MARS goes "I hate gettin locked up / cause that upstate bus reminds me of the slave ships." There's Black Thought on "No Alibi" going "On a lyrical Nat Turner mission, reacting off of intuition." Then...well, there are many more.

Poems about slavery are one of the distinguishing features of African American poetry in fact. The topic is one of the subjects that U.S. black poets treat  more than any other demographic of poets, and they've done so since way, way back. I mean, you recall Langston Hughes's "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" (1921), and further back, Dunbar wrote poems about Frederick Douglass, and Frances Harper wrote movingly about "The Slave Mother." 

During the contemporary era alone, we've had large numbers of black poets writing about slavery. Although there are occurrences of rappers referencing slavery, it is somewhat rare, so this tune by Jay and Jay caught my attention.  

Poems about slavery & struggles for liberation  

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