By Daniel Kohn
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The conventional “wisdom” of hip-hop-haters is that the lyricism of its MCs is so devoid of artistic integrity that “anyone can rap.” Literary scholar/rap aficionado Adam Bradley rejects such notions in his work, Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop, in which he argues that rap has become the most revolutionary innovation in contemporary poetry.
Bradley’s book offers an in-depth analysis of the rhymes that drive hip-hop’s poetic pulse, breaking down what an MC says and how he says it from yesteryear’s Sugar Hill Gang to today’s most polished wordsmiths such as Immortal Technique.
The fundamental concept Bradley sets forth is the “dual rhythmic relationship” of rap that allows for creative variations in an MC’s delivery. In this, the consistency of hip-hop’s 4/4 beats allows for a rapper’s verbalizing to become a dynamic instrument. At times obscured in the lexicon of academia, Bradley nevertheless conveys how an MC uses slant rhymes, enjambments and stressed syllables in a manner akin to how a guitarist employs bends and amplifier feedback.
Book of Rhymes also succeeds in conceptualizing rap’s art of storytelling. Similes, metaphors and wordplay are key components of hip-hop. The genre offers more stories than any other form of music; however, as Bradley notes, the message is subservient to the poetic skill with which it is delivered.
Coming at a time when the commercialization of hip-hop has led to the monotony of auto-tune atrocities and the thematic usurpation of clubbing over the street’s sociology, Book of Rhymes helps cultivate an understanding of hip-hop’s rightful place as an art form. As Bradley succinctly writes, “For those who care to look, rap rewards the effort with the beats and rhymes of new life.”