J. Cole. Drake. Rick Ross. Jay-Z and Kanye's Watch The Throne. Weezy. All of that is just the tip of the iceberg. The young black men that I work with at my university expect me to be conversant in the happenings of rap music. They are far more knowledgeable on the day-to-day details of rap scenes than I am, but they still push me to keep up, sometimes even assigning homework.
"Professor, you need to check out this mixtape and then tell me what you think?" more than one has said to me, referencing a major artist's "underground" productions.
Back in late September when J. Cole's album Cole World was released, that's all we were talking about. How good is it? How does it compare to J. Cole's various mixtapes? Where do we put J. Cole among all the other rappers out there? We addressed similar issues concerning Drake as his album Take Care was recently released.
A large number of my guys are from Chicago, and thus some of them have a Kanye-bias. I'm from the South, and I might, probably, possibly have some slight soft spots for aspects of my down South folks. Maybe. I also probably have some biases for strands of East Coast "conscious" rap. Whatever the case, you can imagine the kind of friendly debates that ensue when we start trying to rank the top rappers.
In October, I organized a session with 20 of the guys about the top 10 rappers. That was October and the session was supposed to take one hour. But, we kept going on and on for over a month. We couldn't agree, so we decided to put things on hold until next semester.
There are areas where these guys school me quite a bit on rap music. But I end up doing most of the talking and teaching when we turn our attention to African American poetry. They've had little experience on and exposure to noted poets. For instance, I have to hip them to work by contemporary folks like Kevin Young, Jessica Care Moore, Elizabeth Alexander, Patricia Smith, Tyehimba Jess, and various others.
I've been enjoying the processes of introducing the guys to recent developments in this literary world of verbal art, and I've certainly benefited from the extended conversations that we've had about rap.