Can Rappers Be Considered Poets?

Rappers and Poets belong to the same family. Both include rhythm and sharing stories with words and feelings. Do you think Rappers can be considered poets?

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Before I can even continue… let’s just answer the question. Yes. Rappers can be considered poets, and I’m going to tell you why. There are hundreds, thousands, (maybe even millions) of rappers around the world, and some are better than others… but before we get ahead of ourselves, we should get to know a little bit about rap. Where did it come from? How and who started it? Don’t worry, we got you covered here!

The History of Rap

Rap is relatively new in America. In West Africa and parts of Caribbean, Griots (historians) told rhythmic stories of the past with a simple beat drum as a background. This laid the foundation for the birth of rap music as we know it today.

In New York during the early 1970s, DJs began to isolate the percussion breaks of funk, soul, and disco songs and began extending them.

Masters of Ceremonies, more popularly known as MCs, job was to keep the audience hyped and to introduce the upcoming DJ. They would usually talk and joke with the audience. Over time, these MCs began to rhyme over the tune with the music that was playing in the background. At first, people thought this trend would die out, but in 1979, Kurtis Blow was turning heads as he began releasing new hits.

Men around a DJ percussion area
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More precisely, in the Bronx, Kool Herc began to spin rap. At Block parties, he would play at two turntables and began to create a new sound, and he would speak lyrics from the song he was playing. The music he played on the turntable was replayed over and over as background music.

The competition was arising as Grandmaster Flash thought he could do it better and began manipulating his own tune– for a longer break. Though he was good as a DJ, he wasn’t a rapper, so he created a group called the Furious Five to rap over his beats.

By the early 1980s, many different rap groups began to break out, but one of the more well-known and that elevated rap music was Public Enemy as they created unique sampling, and often used very unusual beats for samples. In their verses, they decided to introduce social and political issues.

Who Will be Our Test Subject?

Anyone who knows any knows the names of Tupac Shakur (2pac) and Biggie Smalls (Notorious BIG). They were rap legends, and depending on the day they were considered friends or enemies. We’re not here to debate who was better. But what we do know is out of the two, Tupac actually partook in poetry.

But I digress! We are here to talk about rap songs, and I thought who would be the best subject? It could be either of these two men, but I thought who is considered one of the greats in 2023? Drake. NO. Jay Z? Eminem… (he is a legend, but no, not today.)

Our Test Subject: Kendrick Lamar

Maybe I’m a little biased, but at this point, I don’t really care.

While taking a poetry lecture class, my professor said, “Rappers can’t be poets because it lacks a typographical structure.” Though they rely on rhythm, and so do poets, poets rely on line breaks as a way to create emphasis—to create movement, while rap omits the stress on line breaks. You can’t really stop in songs midway to create emphasis, that’s the background music’s job.

Kendrick Lamar
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This one aspect of rap makes it unpoetic? I disagree, obviously. You can consider rappers poets as long as what they are rapping or preaching about is made to mean something. Not all rappers can be poets. Sorry 2 Chainz, and 50 Cent… because what they rap might not be poetry worthy. Stay with me now! This might be controversial, but there are some people that write poetry, but I or you would not consider them poets. Gabbie Hanna for instance and her poetry collections… not poetry worthy.

Here’s how I see it. In order to be considered a poet, you have to consecutively write something rhythmically pleasing and a deeper consensus. It has to be meaningful — personal. Most poems fall into this category anyway. We can’t talk about money, fame, or fortune unless it’s given to us deliciously—like Kendrick. Let’s stop talking, and look at our good friend, Kendrick Lamar’s work:

Poe’s Man Dream (His Vice)

Section .80 album cover-- bullets section 80 papers-- bible-- clutter
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Every minute, hour, and second, ministers tried to save me

How I’m gon’ listen when I don’t even hear God?

Heaven or hell, base it all on my instincts

My hands dirty, you worried ’bout mud in your sink

Section .80, Kendrick Lamar

Poetic Justice

good kid, m.A.A.d city album cover-- van in a parking lot
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Every time I write these words they become a taboo

Makin’ sure my punctuation curve, every letter here’s true

Livin’ my life in the margin and that metaphor was proof

, I’m talkin’

Poetic justice, poetic justice

If I told you that a flower bloomed in a dark room, would you trust it?

I mean, you need to hear this, love is not just a verb

It’s you lookin’ in the mirror, love is not just a verb

It’s you lookin’ for it, maybe

, call me crazy, we can both be insane

A fatal attraction is common, and what we have common is pain

I mean, you need to hear this, love is not just a verb

And I can see power steerin’, sex drive when you swerve

I want that interference, it’s coherent, I can hear it, mhmm

That’s your heartbeat, it either caught me or it called me, mhmm

Read slow and you’ll find gold mines in these lines

Sincerely, yours truly, and right before you go blind, PS

good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar

These Walls

Black people infant of the White House with a white dead person in the front
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If your walls could talk, they’d tell you it’s too late

Your destiny accepted your fate

Burn accessories and stash them on the yard

Take the recipe, the Bible and God

Wall telling you that commissary is low

Race wars happening, no calling CO

No calling your mother to save you

Homies to say you’re irrepetible, not acceptable

Your behavior is Sammy the Bull like

A killer that turned snitch

Walls is telling me you a bitch

You pray for appeals hoping the warden would afford them

That sentence so important

Walls telling you to listen to “Sing About Me”

Retaliation is strong, you even dream ’bout me

Killed my homeboy and God spared your life

Dumb criminal got indicted same night

So when you play this song, rewind the first verse

About me abusing my power so you can hurt

About me and her in the shower whenever she horny

About me and her in the after hours of the morning

About her baby daddy currently serving life

And how she think about you until we meet up at night

About the only girl that cared about you when you asked her

And how she fuckin’ on a famous rapper

Walls can talk (Talk)

[Poem: Kendrick Lamar]

I remember you was conflicted

Misusing your influence

Sometimes I did the same

Abusing my power, full of resentment

Resentment that turned into a deep depression

Found myself screaming in a hotel room

To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar

u

I place blame on you still, place shame on you still

Feel like you ain’t shit, feel like you don’t feel

Confidence in yourself, breakin’ on marble floors

Watchin’ anonymous strangers, tellin’ me that I’m yours

But you ain’t shit, I’m convinced your tolerance nothin’ special

What can I blame you for? Nigga, I can name several

Situations, I’ll start with your little sister bakin’

A baby inside, just a teenager, where your patience?

Where was your antennas?

Where was the influence you speak of?

You preached in front of one-hunnid-thousand but never reached her

I fuckin’ tell you fuckin’ failure—you ain’t no leader!

I never liked you, forever despise you—I don’t need ya!

The world don’t need ya, don’t let them deceive ya

Numbers lie too, fuck your pride too, that’s for dedication

Thought money would change you, made you more complacent

Fuckin’ hate you, I hope you embrace it, I swear—

To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar

Fear

DAMN. Album cover. Rappers
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I’ll prolly die anonymous

I’ll prolly die with promises

I’ll prolly die walkin’ back home from the candy house

I’ll prolly die ’cause these colors are standin’ out

I’ll prolly die because I ain’t know Demarcus was snitchin’

I’ll prolly die at these house parties, fuckin’ with bitches

I’ll prolly die from witnesses leavin’ me false accused

I’ll prolly die from thinkin’ that me and your hood was cool

Or maybe die from pressin’ the line, actin’ too extra

Or maybe die because these smokers

Are more than desperate

I’ll prolly die from one of these bats and blue badges

Body slammed on black and white paint, my bones snappin’

Or maybe die from panic or die from bein’ too lax

Or die from waitin’ on it, die ’cause I’m movin’ too fast

I’ll prolly die tryna buy weed at the apartments

I’ll prolly die tryna diffuse two homies arguin’

I’ll prolly die ’cause that’s what you do when you’re 17

All worries in a hurry, I wish I controlled things

DAMN., Kendrick Lamar

Mother I Sober 

Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers album cover Kendrick with his fiancé and his two kids.
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I’m sensitive, I feel everything, I feel everybody

One man standing on two words, heal everybody

Transformation, then reciprocation, karma must return

Heal myself, secrets that I hide, buried in these words

Death threats, ego must die, but I let it purge

Pacify broken, pieces of me, it was all a blur

Mother cried, put they hands on her, it was family ties

I heard it all, I should’ve grabbed a gun, but I was only five

Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar

Connection to Poetry

Obscenities, sexual content, sensitive topics dealing with depression, death, and hating oneself – sounds like a typical poet ranging out in their work if you ask me. Like any and every poetry collection, you have to look at the big picture — a common theme that resonates with the reader/listener, and he did that in the form of music. Kendrick has the ability to talk about his grief, pain, love, lust, addiction, and narratives that drive us forward and reflect who we are.

Like anything, there are different forms in poetry. Free-verse, prose, Shakespearean… why can’t rap be one? Every form has a structure, and within rap it includes lack of line breaks and a beat in the background.


I will continue to preach that Kendrick Lamar is the greatest rapper of all time and that he is a POET. His lyrical attest should be credited enough. For more articles like this, click here or here!

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