Hip-Hop and Poetry

AH: But what is the difference between hip-hop and poetry? Is there a difference? When there is a distinction to be made it is most likely due to this “competition.”


AH: Emceeing is a competitive art form. No one wants to listen to a rapper unless they claim to be “the best rapper alive.” The competitive stance that the rapper takes forces him/her to embody that old hip-hop saying, “act like you know.” It is a matter of projecting confidence. The poet, on the other hand, acknowledges that she is a student trying to figure it out—it is not that she is less confident—rather she is confident enough to openly acknowledge the power of vulnerability.

Aura Purple, a student, raises her hand and speaks.

AURA: Aren’t there exceptions to that rule?

AH: Well, that’s why we’re here, Ms. Purple. For you to become the exceptions to these rules. These rules are not set in stone. They are the simple by-products of society, products of observation. And what is more important than the distinction between hip-hop and poetry is what they have in common, which is through the command of language they tend to effect the experience of the writer and possibly of the person who reads or sings along. They’re forms of invocation. Tupac said, “I never had a [criminal] record until I said that I did on record.” John Keats said, “Poets are midwives of reality.”

Saul Williams, US (a.), pages 108-110.

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