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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bard InThe House?

Where my journey began: Shakespearepost.com--a great resource site. "Rap vs.The Bard" by Anna http://www.shakespearepost.com/2009/10/11/rap-vs-the-bard/

The Word on the Street?: Rapper/Hip-hop artist Jay-Z is the Contemporary Shakespeare of the Rap World. Quoted in an article on Unkut.com, Assoc. Prof.Adam Bradley of the Claremont McKenna College (CA) Literature Dept. says the title is "...a heavy burden to bear, but I think the one who could probably do it the best would be Jay-Z – and I say that both for the longevity of his career but [sic] [and] also the range of his subject matter." In the Unkut.com article by Robbie, Professor Bradley, author of the Book of Rhymes, lists some of the reasons for his opinion:

-- Jay-Z's musical evolution reflects personal change as an individual. Before, topics of his work centered around dealing drugs, the street, and other unnamed "nefarious" activities. This vs. the subject matter on his latest album: His wife Beyonce and his life as a visionary business entrepreneur. Bradley cites Jay-Z's similarity to Shakespeare in his ability to expand and shift the focus of his topics and his audience,thereby discovering new ways in which to appeal to a new sector of the public; Says Bradley, according to the article "...precisely what Shakespeare did..." . http://www.unkut.com/2009/10/is-jay-z-the-shakespeare-of-hip-hop/

"English 101 Meets Hip-Hop Studies 101"
(from Baz Dreisinger's NY Times Review)

Baz Dreisinger's Sept. 8, 2009 New York Times review Def Poetry opens with "Are you a hip-hop fan who can't tell assonance from alliteration.?" In my opinion, his immediate attempt at balance--asking English Majors if they know the difference between Biggie and Tupac--is unnecessary. After all, by Dreisinger's own admission, his ultimate analysis is that Bradley's book is all about giving hip-hop's biggies the poetical recognition and legitimacy he seems to be seeking to earn for them, not an exploration into how much an English lit major's legitimacy might be proven by mock-testing them on how much they know--or even care--about rap stars. Political correctness has its place, but in this case it seems a little like overkill.

From there, Dreisinger goes on in some detail, noting some of Bradley's recognition of poetical technique embedded in rap: e.g. onomatopoeia, its rhyme/beat "dual rhythmic relationship", as well as the preference of simile to metaphor in its more directly targeted focus, and etc. Dreisinger finishes with a description of Bradley's efforts as wanting "...to legitimize rap by setting it in a canonical context, [then asks] but aren't we past the point of justifying it?"
My question? Aren't we also then, past the point of needing to justify any legitimate criticism of rap?

But even without "pointing it up", Dreisinger has already zeroed in on a salient point very early on, in his first paragraph, by quoting Bradley: 'rap "is poetry, but its popularity relies in part on people not recognizing it as such." ' And he records another very telling statement by Bradley on Rhyme: " [it] provides the necessary formal restraints on their [the rapper's] poetical freedom."
Dreisinger doesn't mention Shakespeare here. (Another version of his article appeared in the NY edition on 9/13/09.) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/books/review/Dreisinger-t.html?_r=2&scp=7&sq=&st=nyt

Perhaps references to the Bard and statements like "...precisely what Shakespeare did.", given the evidence offered by Bradley, seem somewhat out of place. Maybe someone else thinks, as I do, that Shakespeare's poetical expertise--one might argue, his intentionally applied knowledge of a structured poetic technique--makes no sense as a focus of comparison to hip-hop's free-wheeling poetical construction; particularly when analyzed by Bradley after the fact. Given Hip-hop's apparent need to somehow intentionally disguise itself ? as something those "not in the know" would think is "poetry" is one thing. To somehow continue to infer, subsequent to raw poetical analysis,("unspoken" "related" assertions sometimes more powerful conclusion makers than ones actually stated out loud) that Hip-hop, in conjunction, might miraculously and simultaneously represent something remotely resembling Shakespeare seems to be grasping at a conclusion. (A conclusion arrived at with the help of only generalized reasons of personal choice and/or business habits, or public relations considerations--attributes common to many successful artists, whether they be poets, painters, or pottery makers.) Any potential undue profit garnered from invoking Shakespeare's name would seem to have been logically eliminated--or has it been?

As to any ultimate conclusion on Professor Bradley's theoretical assertions pertaining to Jay-Z, Shakespeare, poetry, and Hip-Hop, as well as what might be the ultimate impact of some of his more popular ideas about Shakespeare, in my view, the jury is still out. First, I'm interested in the answers to what I believe are more important image-related questions. How much "poetical expertise" there might be in the construction of rap, by whatever means it might exist (accidental or incognito) is, by itself, a question that has likely been answered by Bradley. However, he complicates his answer with his later references to Shakespeare. After all, it's evident in the mere reading, on the surface and without very much deep-mining or hindsight analyzing, how much the expert hand of the poet resides in Shakespeare's work. So, to me, the honest answers to the following questions might (or might not)be much more relevant as to how Shakespeare might (or might not) "fit in" here:

--What kind of an influence might any of this--in Dreisinger's terminology--canonization of rap have on the impression made by Jay-Z's poetry---in-disguise?
--And, what kind of ultimate influence might Bradley's research and consequent opinions have on someone's impression of Shakespeare?

With all due respect to Prof. Bradley, even more accurate and pertinent information, possibly more important than some of that which has been outlined by him, might come from an assessment of opinion gathered from the members of a checkout line in a popular CD store. JM

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