Central Cee, Lil Pump, & Tupac: Is Rap Actually Poetry?
Rap is one of the most, if not the most, popular genre of music of our time. It is everywhere the youth turns to, all over our TikTok for you pages and always at the top of worldwide music charts. While this is all true, rap is still looked down upon by many individuals, often from older generations, who state that the lyrics are crass,have no meaning, and tend to glamorize dangerous behaviors. Listening to rap, one can tell that to a certain extent these opinions are valid, but simultaneously a person cannot deny the utter brilliance and tongue-and-cheek of certain rap lyrics such as Central Cee and Dave’s 2023 hit song Sprinter: “With bae through thick and thin; She already thick, so I'm halfway there”. A genre so frowned upon regularly, rap, somehow seamlessly weaves emotion (some emotions more than others) into words and onto a beat, turning it into something spectacular: musical poetry.
Poetry is defined by Merriam-Webster as “writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm”. Using this as our guideline, all rap automatically falls into this category simply by definition. Take the chorus of Gucci Gang by Lil Pump (the rest of the song is far too explicit) for example:
Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang (Gucci gang)
Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang
Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang (Gucci gang)
The words Gucci and Gang are put in a certain order to elicit Lil Pump’s love for Gucci and his gang through consonance, joining them together to create his aforementioned Gucci Gang. It possesses imaginative awareness of experience (him and his gang loving Gucci), rhythm (all of the words rhyme as they are the same), and an emotional response (he loves both so much that he wrote a song about it), perfectly falling into Merriam-Webster’s definition of poetry. If this counts as rap (and subsequently poetry), there is no wonder why it is looked down upon in the eyes of the general public.
Songs like Gucci Gang give rap a bad reputation, underlining the superficiality of the genre and lazy songwriting that has become somewhat commonplace within rap. Despite this, there are rap songs that truly are beautiful poetry instead of lyrics that qualify as poetry based on a flippant definition. Kendrick Lamar, longtime topcharter, is not only decorated with numerous Grammys but also has a Pulitzer Prize, for his album “DAMN.”, one of the world’s most prestigious awards traditionally destined to writers. His lyricism consistently shows brilliance in syntax and storytelling as he is able to achieve introspection and draw from his real life experiences, adding them onto a musical composition. Lamar’s lyrics have had real life impact; his 2015 song Alright is one of the main chants of the Black Lives Matter movement. Tupac Shakur, a Rap legend and cultural icon who spoke out about the systemic racism that Black people in the US face, has courses taught specifically on him at top universities like Harvard and UC-Berkeley (Modern Protest Literature: From Thomas Paine to Tupac at Harvard and History 98, the Poetry and History of Tupac Shakur at Berkeley) that cement him as a poet. Furthermore, these artists are simply the most celebrated within a sea of talent. They just simply get drowned out by the less than exceptional songs such as Gucci Gang.
While fans of the genre do see more than the superficial lyrics of earworm songs that seem to plague the Top 50 nowadays, individuals still have a tendency to look down upon Rap, seeing it as inferior. However, an exponentially growing number of people are opening their minds to Rap as its influence becomes undeniable on the music and prose landscape alike. Rap is undeniably poetry but just like poetry, some of it is excellent and some is, for lack of a better word, bad.