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Rap: Poetry’s Child: The importance of poetry in UK Rap

“You write…short pause…poetry?”

There was hesitation.

It occurred to me that it felt almost unbelievable and I wondered why? Was it because I do not look like a damsel in distress writing achingly beautiful poems on unrequited love, or a 17th century male wandering lonely as a cloud, or was it that I was just not in fact Shakespeare?

Either way, it got me thinking.

I stumbled in response. Why did the word ‘poetry’ create a distance here?

The distance or hesitation wasn’t really in the unbelievability of it all. It was, in fact, nothing to do with me. SHOCK! The hesitation came from an ingrained societal belief in an already decided narrative of what poetry is and was; something that was restricted to the 17th Century romantics, or the epic poems of elites. It was something ‘untouchable’. That is wrong. We listen to poetry every day, it’s the simplest and purest form of storytelling. By design, poetry was told to be remembered, repeated, adapted and shared. Its lyricism was that of shared experience, the history of communities that was told over and over, the cultural fabric of society; the stories of why, how and who? Poetry was and is for everyone. Before the ‘great writers’, poetry was an oral tradition, one that is also found in rap. So let’s take it back.

What is poetry, really? Well, the dictionary definition of poetry is a form of literature that evokes a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience or a specific emotional response through language chosen and arranged for its meaning, sound and rhythm.

The word ‘arranged’ here hits hard. It’s the arrangement of words, of lyrics, the way in which the story is told that stays with us. It’s the beating pulse of storytelling. And it’s what makes us remember and repeat the stories told by poets, whether they be from Wordsworth or Klashnekoff. The evocation of emotional response is the connector, and it always has been so.

We no longer need to close our fists for the revolution.

The open palm may show you, our separation

is man made. Made in aid of cementing

thoughts that turn John Doe to Adolf.

Where they see we weeds, we see seeds see

We no longer need to close our fists for the revolution.

I’ve seen

flowers grow and petals fall from mountains

surrounded by estates and suburban terrace housing.

Heard notions of positivity discarded like pieces

of puzzles.

Muzzled echoes of greatness in fear

Society may not feel the same elations.

We no longer need to close our fists for the revolution

We must be heard.

From the depths of our bellies

From the lump in our throats

When questioned on our perceptions

But fail to mention.

We must continue to be and be in unison.

When the written text is in front of us we accept it as poetry, before we come to understand that it was part of Kojey Radical’s track Open Hand. The point is as simple as this - whether rapped or written, it is still poetry. Jay Z argued that if you were to see the lyrics of Biggie Smalls emblazoned upon a wall we would believe it to be the word of a poet.He’s right. The hesitation in calling it poetry comes from the same place we had questioned above, the place where we were told that poetry was siloed for a set group of people. That it did not necessarily belong amidst the world of music.

My argument is that the collectiveness of poetry, the inclusivity of it and the arrangement of words, rhythmically provides the foundation of UK rap. The way in which the music we listen to brings us together through storytellers who share their experiences, collectively and personal, is poetry. The two are inextricably linked. The best of UK rap right now are the modern-day poets; Kojey Radical, Lex Amor, Dave, to name but a few. Poetry is the vessel in which those stories are carried and it is present in our Apple music playlists, our Spotify ‘most listened to’... it’s just got a different alias.

Name: Sophie Leseberg Smith

Insta: @thenastypoet

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