To complement T’s recent feature on how the barrier between rap and poetry is becoming increasingly porous thanks to a new generation of practitioners in both art forms, we asked a number of poets mentioned in the piece about the hip-hop songs they return to again and again.
From Adrian Matejka
Run The Jewels, “JU$T (featuring Pharrell Williams & Zack de la Rocha)” (2020)
Run the Jewels feel like the Black Arts Movement poets in their earned righteousness and seriousness about repetition, wordplay and political metaphor. Killer Mike and El-P also craft bars like poets craft verses, thinking willfully about sound device, allusion and metaphor.
Young M.A, “PettyWap” (2019)
Everything about this song inspires me sonically. I borrowed her habit of mosaic rhyme that’s really epistrophe (“stash in it, racks in it, / … ass in it”) and tried to figure out ways to use those repetitive octaves in the middle of lines instead of at the end.
Rapsody, “Nina” (2019)
She includes Reyna Biddy’s poetry at the end of the song — I love to see poetic bars and poetic verses in direct conversation.
Gunna, “Wunna” (2020)
Rhythm in poetry is dictated by all kinds of things — diction, syntax, meter, etc. But “Wunna” made me think about the ways sounds in words — alliteration, assonance and consonance — can make unexpected rhythms.
From Kyle Dargan
Pusha T featuring Kendrick Lamar, “Nosetalgia” (2013)
Hip-hop, culturally, encourages a lot of allusion and broad sampling, but I think — and always impress upon my students — that there is something powerful about the ability to stay within and maximize one particular motif. And Push and Kendrick, in this song, really exhaust, creatively, their respective motifs of drug culture from their adolescence.
The Roots featuring Bahamadia, “Push Up Ya Lighter” (1996)
Listening to the Roots was formative for me, and one of the key features of a classic Roots track is the variance of lyrical flow. That’s also something to which I try to hold myself and my students: varying your rhythm and syntax. On this track, you hear a range, from Black Thought’s rapid and syllabically dense bars, to Malik B., with his stick-and-move lyrical phrasing, and then finally Bahamadia’s understated and wavy stressing and sound stitching.
From Khadijah Queen
Makaveli (2Pac), “Hail Mary” (2005)
Tupac’s whole Makaveli album got me through a very difficult time when it was first released, because I could relate to feeling like I was up against impossible odds trying to survive as my whole true self in a sea of haters/naysayers/sexists/racists. But “Hail Mary” is the song I return to most often; it’s featured in my verse play “Non-Sequitur” (2015) as a musical interlude played on the cello. I just love the beat, that church bell, the high stakes and sense of vulnerability to fear and danger, a kind of dark faith and persistence alongside bravado and self-awareness.
From Reginald Dwayne Betts
Makaveli (2Pac), “White Man’z World” (2005)
“Dear sister, got me twisted up in prison, I miss ya” — what else is there to say? And the ill thing about this joint is, when I think of my own craft, I recognize that Tupac Shakur is able to weave it all. There is the vulnerability here that Pac is known for. But, you know, I think about that other layer of social conscience, how we treat the people in our own community, how we treat Black women. That’s here, too.
From Nate Marshall
The Roots, “Star/Pointro” (2004)
Black Thought is a master of dense verse, and he has that one line in here that I think about all the time: “Ain’t it strange how the newspapers play with the language / I’m deprogrammin’ y’all with uncut slang.…” That’s basically the thesis of my last book.
From Morgan Parker
A Tribe Called Quest, “Can I Kick It?” (1990)
My favorite conversation between sample and anthem. That lil’ moment where it’s still sort of just the Lou Reed song (“Walk on the Wild Side”) and the bass sneaks in, that’s where I live. I think there’s an entire generation of us who learned line breaks from Tribe.
The post American Poets on the Hip-Hop Songs That Most Inspire Them appeared first on New York Times.