Why Slam Rap? It’s Poetry.

Eve Kidd

‘Rap’ is an abbreviation of ‘rhythm and poetry’. Yet, this definition doesn’t do much to convince conservatives.

If we think about Rap as the words it is abbreviated from, ‘rhythm and poetry’, we can see that poetry is a base aspect of its make-up. Meaning, Rap has to be at least poetry. In effect, it is slam poetry (poetry spoken out loud) with a musical backing. So who’s to say that without the music the words cannot stand on their own as good poetry? 

Probably a Conservative who believes they can define  good poetry, unfortunately. As even with this definition existing the right wing press still slam rap. 

According to The American Conservative, asking if rap is poetry is a ‘useless question’. And, stating that rap is not poetry is ‘to state the obvious’. Their reason? Rap is made to go with music, so when stripping away the music the words cannot stand on their own as pieces of ‘great artistry’. 

In contrast, let’s look closely at some lyrics to prove that this argument itself suffers from  great inaccuracies.

Consider the work of Chicago born Rapper Fatimah Nyeema Warner, known professionally as ‘Noname’. Unsurprisingly, Noname ventured into becoming a rapper because she originally competed in slam poetry competitions, and the transition was a natural process. When listening to her critically acclaimed albums ‘Telefone’ and ‘Room 25’ the poetic artistry is present in all aspects, from lyrics to delivery. For instance, the 7th track on her debut album ‘telefone’ titled ‘Casket Pretty’ provides us with a conscious, political and poetic commentary of police brutality in America. She writes:

Dark before the dawn, ricochet the pawn

Bullet in the chest, you ain’t mean no harm

Collecting your checkmate, I know you in love with the power

Its flowers at every occasion

Here, Noname is highlighting a common narrative found in instances of police brutality. The ‘ricochet’ Noname writes of is not meant to be read literally. It represents the ‘fear defence’ case which many police officers put forward as an excuse for their actions. An excuse which should not be believed. She then, through the extended metaphor of the game of chess, alludes to the benefits that police can achieve if they put forward this excuse. This is because officers are often placed on paid leave after police brutality investigations, and are still afforded the luxury of collecting their cheques. 

It is clear that without the music behind these words, they still have a deep and poetic meaning, and therefore can certainly stand alone as ‘great artistry’. So, when spoken out loud with a beat it transforms seamlessly into slam poetry with music. 

Thus, artists such as Noname prove that ‘Rap’ is at least poetry, (with rhythm). 

Categories: Music