Sunday, December 4, 2011
Recent Rap as Poetry Debates, Conversations
The "rap as poetry" debate was one of the more visible conversations concerning African American verse last year. Notably, and unfortunately from my view, the conversations did not touch on the work of actual black poets enough. There was, for instance, inadequate attention given to links between rap artists and African American literary artists. There was also little talk about where spoken word poetry fit within the discussion.
In May 2011, the "rap as poetry" conversation got more attention when the rapper Common was invited to participate in a poetry reading at the White House. Most of the media coverage concerning Common's invitation to the White House event focused on whether it was a problem for the Obamas to invite a rapper who made previous harsh comments against a former president, George W. Bush. Less publicized though was the issue of how inviting a rapper to a poetry reading could be viewed as an endorsement of rap as poetry.
This semester, Michael Eric Dyson is teaching a sociology course at Georgetown University focused on Jay-Z. The course has received substantial news coverage and wide-ranging discussion. Although the course is not a literature course per se, much of the coverage concentrates on the idea that Dyson and his students spend time analyzing Jay-Z's lyrics in much the same way students might analyze works by poets. Even if the rapper isn't a poet, the Dyson course and the media attention the class is receiving suggests that Jay-Z's lyrics are worthy of serious analysis.
So, the rap as poetry discussion becomes, at some level, questions about the extents to which we should take rap seriously.