A guide to the poetic side of rap: the underappreciated lingua franca of music

Rap+has+many+of+its+roots+in+poetry.+The+Sidekick+staff+writer+Akif+Abidi+thinks+that+many+overlook+the+artistry+behind+the+writing+in+the+genre.+

Nicolas Reyes

Rap has many of its roots in poetry. The Sidekick staff writer Akif Abidi thinks that many overlook the artistry behind the writing in the genre.

By Akif Abidi, Coppell High School

“Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world…And makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.”

These are the words of Romantic era English poet Percy Blysshe Shelley.

Since the dawn of time, poetry and music have held a special space in society. One could argue the two are the same thing, and when used right, they can express emotions and thoughts in ways a simple conversation never could.

The last few decades have seen the music world being taken over by the rap genre. Rap has provided people from all backgrounds a platform to combine poetry and music to express their feelings, with its simplisticity and accessibility fueling its growth. It is a genre that has, over the years, traversed all cultures, ethnicities and boundaries, and given people the facilities to artistically express themselves.

“I consider rap to be my favorite genre as artists find amazing ways to conform their lyrics to the beat in creative ways,” Coppell High School junior Sameer Islam said. “I love how artists show their emotions in rap songs using creative lyricism and symbolism. Rap is very versatile as well, and I am sometimes baffled by the inventive ways artists make songs.”

As the rap scene globalized and evolved, the genre branched out into many diverse sub-genres. The type of rap that dominates the mainstream charts today is more often than not trap and SoundCloud rap. These songs normally focus on catchy lines and beats rather than lyrics of more substance, which some critics think to be shallow and materialistic.

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy many of these rappers and know these songs are mostly made with the goal of making it to the Billboard charts in mind. But other subgenres of rap, such as lyrical rap, are often underlooked while the public spotlight lands on trap and SoundCloud rap.

A poem or art piece is never fully understood in its first read or look, and is never meant to be. A reader has to analyze it and look past its surface to discover complicated metaphors and symbolism that the poet or artists have purposefully hidden. Similarly many rap records are impossible to fully understand on the first listen; it takes multiple listens to truly digest them.

In its simplest definition, poetry to me is any linguistic medium that is not meant to be interpreted literally,” CHS AP Literature teacher Alexander Holmes said. “So it’s not a story, it’s supposed to be something you have to make up a decision on your own for. That’s why so many people are attracted to [the] mediums poetry and hip-hop. It’s because they are visceral, it’s something you feel in your gut and your heart.”

Here are just some artists that strike me as poets. I strongly recommend using Genius lyrics to really understand the songs. Give it a chance – you might be surprised.

Kendrick Lamar

D*MN by Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar is regarded as one of the best rappers to ever grace the scene. His latest album, D*MN, traversed all corners of the music world, winning a Grammy as well as a Pulitzer Prize.

The album is through the eyes of a man going through a midlife crisis. The album traverses his emotions and philosophies on life, providing a jarring, yet insightful look into himself as he tries to discover himself in the eyes of God. I would highly recommend reading this guide.

“The album, D*MN, has been so easy to talk about in my class this year,” Holmes said. “One thing that we talked about this school year was how artists, writers and creators usually practice circularity in their writing. [Lamar’s] album does have a very circular nature as well. Each song title, which is one word, somehow gets integrated in another one of those songs… This circularity brings together a very cohesive artwork. And when you are talking about ‘LOVE.’, the song, we can also understand how love works with ‘GOD.’, ‘PRIDE.’, ‘LOVE.’ and ‘FEAR.’”

Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly is widely recognized as one of the best albums of the last decade. In fact, former President Barack Obama named “How Much a Dollar Cost” his favorite song in 2015. It is a must-listen, but I admit, it can be an acquired taste. But if you can push through, I promise you will be blown away.

J. Cole

4 Your Eyez Only

Cole is often seen as one of the most talented rappers in the game, as well as a great introductory rap artist thanks to his music being digestible and accessible for newcomers. His brilliant storytelling masterfully indulges listeners while his clever bars complement his smooth flow.

If J. Cole was an author, his 2016 album 4 Your Eyez Only would be his best novel, and I would highly recommend it to people of all musical tastes. He has many great singles, namely “FRIENDS” off KOD,  “Love Yourz” on 2014 Forest Hills Drive and “Crooked Smile” on Born Sinner. I would recommend his work on the album Revenge of the Dreamers III, especially his verse on “Sacrifices”.

Tyler, the Creator

Flower Boy by Tyler, the Creator

Tyler, the Creator is an artist that paved his own lane, from his distinct music to his presence in the fashion world. His 2017 Grammy nominated album, Flower Boy, was a masterpiece when it came to communicating the drudging feeling of loneliness and isolation. Tyler, the Creator sings and raps about feeling alone in the world despite being a social and cultural icon, and coming to terms with his sexuality. Some of my personal favorites off the album are “See You Again”, “911 / Mr. Lonely” and “Boredom”.

KIDS SEE GHOST (Kanye West and Kid Cudi)

KIDS SEE GHOST by KIDS SEE GHOST

West and Kid Cudi are greatly accomplished independent artists, often seen as some of the most influential artists in the past decades. Both have a great discography, but their collaborative, KIDS SEE GHOST, is a monumental piece of art that represents the mysterious and often taboo topic of mental health. Both artists have had a controversial past riddled with mental health issues, but the album focuses on moving on from their past mistakes and demons. The album is very heavy on symbolism and metaphors in everything from its lyricism to album cover to the song titles. A must-listen off the album is “Reborn”. Afterwards, I would also recommend listening to “Ghost Town” from ye, KIDS SEE GHOSTS’ almost complementary album.

Earl Sweatshirt

Doris by Earl Sweatshirt

Earl Sweatshirt is an artist that intends for his work to be treated like art and not something for the mainstream appeal. Taking heavy inspiration from his life trauma and depression and utilizing masterful lyricism and simplistic production,  Earl Sweatshirt weaves some of the most “poetic” works I have ever seen in rap. Earl’s discography is also a bit of an acquired taste, but a few starter songs I would highly recommend are “Chum”, “The Mint”, “Burgundy” and “Knight”.

This story was originally published on Coppell Student Media on April 22, 2020.