Come Friday night, most college students put down their books and put on their favorite jeans before heading out to parties where hip-hop music blares in crowded clubs and living rooms—Kanye or Lil Wayne’s rhymes making it necessary to shout in order to be heard. The next day, the more diligent of these students will head back to the library, and the English majors among them will turn back to Pope and Keats, counting out meters and labeling rhetorical tropes, the events of the previous night faded to nothing more than a dull headache or a series of text messages. These hours spent in silent library study rooms could not be more different from the previous night’s bumping and grinding on the dance floor—or could it?
When Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois were graduate students at Harvard, they began to wonder. Although in their English classes they talked about Shelley, on their own time, they spent hour listening to the rappers of the mid- to late-1990s, and found some of the same poetic tropes they analyzed in essays represented in Snoop Dogg’s lyrics. Fast-forward over a decade and Bradley and DuBois are editors of The Anthology of Rap, a groundbreaking presentation of rap lyrics which presents more than thirty years worth of material for scholarly study. According to Bradley, the Anthology has been controversial among those who challenge the artistic value of lyrics that are often known for their crude language and themes; however, he asserts, there is no doubt that the book has served its purpose: to get people talking about the relationship between rap and literature.
Last year, PBS Newshour ran a segment featuring both editors of the Anthology along with rappers Common and Kurtis Blow. A reposting of the video in the college poetry section of the youth-oriented site Insure Success has become quite popular—so maybe there’s hope that this Friday, a few students will stop shouting over the music and start listening to the lyrics when they’ve aside their more traditional poetry books for a night out.