“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 impossible.
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 that “there 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 across.