Rap Vs Poetry


Rap Vs Poetry Essay, Research Paper

Rap Vs Poetry

Essay submitted by Vinal Styles

“When I first started rapping, me and a couple brothers would all sit around my place

freestyling while someone beat boxed. I even used to tell all the girls that I was a poet.

They seemed to find it a little more touching than a rapper” (Prince Paul, The Source

16) The lyrics of rappers are very similar to the words of Black poets. It is argued as to

wether or not rap is a viable form of poetry. Both discuss similar subjects, write in the

same style and use the same type of language in their writings. When looking at a

poem or reading rap lyrics, distinguishing between the two can be difficult, if not


Both Black rappers and Black poets write about the same subjects. For example the rap

group NWA, and the poet Alice Walker, both cover the topic of being from a minority

race. Alice Walker states in one of her poems thatthere is no planet stranger than the

one im from” (Walker, “Note Passed To Superman” 18-19). What Alice is saying is that

the world is strange because people judge others by their skin color. The approach

NWA takes is a more presumptuous one. In the song “Fuck Tha Police”, NWA says ”

Young nigga got it bad cuz im brown / And not the other color so police think / They

have the authority to kill a minority” (NWA “Fuck Tha Police” 3-5). Another common

subect between Black poets and rappers is “ghetto life”. Nikki Giovani’s poem called “For

Saundra” is about how she is going to write a poem about trees and blue skies. Then

she realized that she was living in a “concrete jungle”.

i wanted to write / a poem / that rhymes / but revolution doesnt lend / itself to

bebopping / then my neighbor / who thinks i hate / asked -do u ever write / tree

poems- i like trees / so i thought / i’ll write a beautiful geen tree poem / peeked from

my window / to check the image / noticed the school yard was covered / with asphalt

/ no green – no trees grow / in Manhattan / then, well, i thought the sky / ill do a big

blue sky poem / but all the clouds have winged / low since no-Dick was elected / so i

thought again / and it occurred to me / maybe i shouldn’t write / at all / but clean my

gun / and check my kerosene supply (Giovanni “For Saundra”)

What all this is about is simply the reality of the urban ghettos. Gangstarr also writes

lyrics pertaining to ghetto life. In the song “In Memory Of”, Gangstarr talks about life on

the streets and how it is always a hard time for a black man trying to get by in society.

“If we don’t build we’ll be destroyed / Thats the challenge we face in this race of poor

and unemployed” (Gangstarr “In Memory Of” 11-12). Love and even more specifically,

sex, are yet another subject shared by both rappers and Black poets. The lyrics in the

song “Brown Skin Woman” by KRS-1, are discussing the love for the “brown woman” and

also sex with the “brown woman”. Haki Madhubuti also writes his poems about love and

sex. In the poem “My Brothers”, Haki is sending a message to the other black males

about how they should start to love and respect the females of the black race. “My

brothers i will not tell you who to love or not love i will only say to you that Black

women have not been loved enough” (Madhubuti “My Brothers” 1-6). Wether it be

about sex, racism or life in the ghettos, Black poets and Black rappers share the same

views and write about the same subjects.

The language used by Black rappers and Black poets is a strong, short, to the point

language. Maya Angelou demonstrates this in her poem “Aint That Bad”. In the poem

Maya uses a lot of repetition to get her point across. “Now ain’t they bad? / Now ain’t

they black?” (Angelou “Aint That Bad?” 17-18). Theses lines are repeated several times

in a row during the poem and again at the end of the poem. “The lyrics of NWA banned

off most radio stations. The videos banned from MTV. And for what? Telling it like it is?”

(NWA “Live From Compton”). NWA has been criticized for having vulgar provocative

lyrics that simply tell the truth. In the song “Fuck Tha Police”, they discuss how white

police are always all over them for doing absolutely nothing. NWA then goes on to to

say that an even worse situation is the “black police showing off for the white cop”

(NWA “Fuck Tha Police” 20-21). What they mean by this is that when a black and a

white cop are working together, the black one has to try and show up the white cop by

going to extremes. This often results in the unnecessary death of black men. The

language used by most rappers and now even Black poets, is called ebonics. It is also

referred to as ghetto slang. “Little shorties sedated thinkin’ the way out is by sellin’

crack” (Grand Puba “Change Gonna Come” 11 ). This line by Grand Puba is written in

basic ebonics. Simply translated it says; kids are thinking that their only way off the

streets is to deal drugs. The language used by Black rappers and Black poets is a

language that has a lot of power, strength and emotion behind it.

What rap artists and poets have most in common are their messages. Their messages

are of love, hate, racism, violence and of what our world is going to become unless

things are changed. A rap artist by the name of Grand Puba talks in his song, Change

Gonna Come”, about how we need to change the way we live and the way we treat

each other. “Now lets deal on the real don’t you get sick of this? / The way we hate

each other this shits ridiculous / Its time we move on to the next phase / Cause theres

too many shorties gettin’ boxed in a grave” (Grand Puba “Change Gonna Come” 26-29).

Translated, these lyrics are saying that we have to change the way we hate each

other because it is ending up hurting the children in the long run. Sania Sanchez, a

black poet, takes a different approach at getting her message across. She uses a

layout in her poems that separate words so that the more important ones get noticed.

“Give us your — hungry/ — illiterates/ — criminals/ — dropouts/ — (in other words) –

your blacks — and we will let them fight — in Vietnam” (Sanchez “the final solution/ the

leaders speak” 12-18). The message she is sending is about discrimination and racism.

The actual poem is about how many Black men were sent to Vietnam to fight for a

country that they were not even accepted in. Gangstarr’s “In Memory Of” and Nikki

Giovanni’s “For Saundra” have a strong message about what is happening in urban

cities. As discussed before Nikki Giovanni tells of how what was once a nice place to

live is now becoming a “concrete jungle”.

To all my brothers in the streets / I know u feel you have to hustle cause your peeps

gotta eat / Makin moves right and exact; don’t wanna see you layin’ flat / Don’t wanna

see ya catch a bullet black / If we don’t build we’ll be destroyed / Thats a challenge we

face in the race of poor and unemployed (Gangstarr “In Memory Of”)

This song by Gangstarr is about life on the streets and what one must do to survive on

the streets. The messages found in theses rap songs and poems are important

messages that must be listened to. They speak about what is happening in society and

what we have to do to change it or in some cases stop it.

In conclusion, the lyrics of rappers are very comparable to the spoken words of Black

poets. There can be comparisons made in the style of writing, the subjects, language

and the messages behind the writings. All of these similarities make rap a viable form of

poetry that is enjoyed and understood by young people in today’s society. Today’s

teenagers, in many cases, would, not read poetry and comprehend the message, but,

they would listen to rap and be able to understand the idea the artist is trying to get


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