For the final major paper of the semester in one of my literature courses, I gave my students the option of writing about any of the artists we covered. None of the students chose the poets. Instead, everyone wrote about rappers.
Maybe the literary scholar in me should have been annoyed and disappointed that no one felt compelled to write about any of the poets. Perhaps if the essays were uninteresting, I would have been. However, I was fairly impressed with what I read.
It stands out to me that students at my university have had so few formal opportunities to study rap music. Out there in the world, people have heated discussions about whether rap is poetry, but I'm not sure much changes with respect to the course offerings of English departments and course syllabi. Rap is something many students engage in their personal lives; poetry is what they do for a class.
The folks in my class still adhered to the instructions of incorporating key concepts related to our course into their papers. They just chose subject matter that appealed to them, and apparently poetry was not at the top of their lists.
The students did more than choose only their favorite musicians. One student, for instance, initially planned to write about Beyonce, but she chose instead to write about Nicki Minaj, because "I wanted to challenge myself to write about someone I didn't know as well." The student noted that she already knew "too much" about Beyonce.
In addition to Nicki Minaj, students wrote about Biggie, Lil Wayne, Jay Electronica, Erykah Badu, Beyoncé, Lauryn Hill, Drake, Jay Z, and Christian hip hop artist Lecrae. What stood out to me was the high level of excitement the students brought to their subjects. Several of them wrote as if they wanted to teach me something; they wanted to convince me of the value of artists they felt had not been given adequate attention.
In future courses, I plan to apply the lessons and ideas I gained from their papers and their energy writing about their subjects.
• The year in African American poetry, 2014
• Collegiate Students