Speculations on Rap and Poetry

by F. Timothy Mountain, Writer

As somebody who is deeply passionate about literature, as broad a topic as that may be, I am an advocate of poetry in all forms. However, nowadays, there seems to be a considerable amount of controversy regarding what exactly qualifies as poetry.

Seeing as “What identifies as poetry” is an enormous topic to write about, I will focus on one aspect in particular: Hip-Hop and Rap.

First things first, let’s get something out of the way: One of my biggest pet peeves is when people consider “rap” to be a genre of music. The genre of music that they’re probably referring to is hip-hop. Rapping is simply a form of vocal instrumentation commonly found in hop-hop music. Singing is considered to be rapping’s analog in rock music, and you don’t call rock music “sing.”

Rapping is a very modern medium of conveying poetry. This is something that I believe in strongly. Poetry, while previous to the late 20th-century was typically only read to an audience, is more commonly found being rapped to the audience. This is something that is invariable and undeniable. We hear it all over the radio— there is no escaping the angst-ridden rhymes of Eminem, the laid back lines of Jay-Z, or any of Kanye’s killer verses.

Fans of hip-hop have heard the ignorant complaining a thousand times before. “That hip-hop stuff is just about junk. It’s not genuine: it’s just about drugs, sex, and money.”

My philosophy is that poetic skill is something that is intrinsic to oneself. (It can be fostered and eventually blossom into something more bounteous than it once was, but I don’t believe that you can take a person who has no artistic ability whatsoever and teach them to write as well as anybody who does.)

Because of the fact that the ability to compose poetry is innate, poets wholly depend on their multifarious experiences and journeys in youth and life to cultivate the type of poet that they will become.

For example, Jack Kerouac, a favorite poet of mine, grew up in a French middle-class family in Massachusetts in the nineteen-forties. Being both exceptionally intelligent and a talented football player, he was accepted to and subsequently studied at Columbia University, one of the most prestigious institutions in the world. These facets figure prominently in his works.

Another favorite poet of mine, Danny Brown, a hip-hop artist who was raised in a gang-occupied neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan, is somebody that I consider to be no less of a poet than Kerouac.

Both were born with similar natural talents but were cultivated in entirely opposite cultures.