Wednesday, February 09, 2005


You been throwin wack rhymes at me

In the Poetry for the People ("P4P") program I direct at Berkeley, we include hip hop lyrics in our study of poetry.

This year's reader includes Aceyalone's "The Balance," Talib Kweli's "The Proud," and 2Pac's "Dear Mama," which reflects the choices of numerous student teacher poets in the P4P program.

But as for myself, I've yet to conclude which artists' entire lyrical oeuvre, on paper, best stands out as a collection of "poems."

In your opinion, which MCs' writing consistently distinguishes them as "poets," best evidenced by their careful and thoughtful choice of words? Indeed, is there any rapper worth putting along side the Nikki Giovannis, Martin Espadas, and Naomi Shihab Nyes of the world?

Keep in mind that in asking this question, I'm asking you to ignore any artist's (a) voice, (b) flow, (c) beats, (d) production, (e) dance moves, (f) videos, (g) style, (h) attitude, (i) street credibility, (j) wheels, etc.

For example, consider Notorious B.I.G. I love Biggie. I appreciate his baritone voice, his flow and command of breath, his stage presence, and his personality contrasted with Puffy's radio-friendly production. But in my opinion, rarely has Big Poppa ever written lyrics that stand out on their own as poetry.

I probably wouldn't put this in my course reader:
When the la-la hits ya
Lyrics just split ya head so hard
That ya hat can't fit ya
Either I'm witcha or against ya
Format venture
Back through that maze I sent ya
Talkin to the rap inventor

Langston Hughes, he ain't.

Now, don't get me wrong: there's a grip of reasons to study and pay homage to what Biggie does. But I'm not sure that his words work as well on paper as do others' lyrics.

Ultimately, I would defend all MCs as poets.

But some are just better writers/lyricists than others. That, then, begs the question: which MC do you consider the greatest poet?