Kanye may not like books, but hip-hop fosters a love of literature

When you – the Artist Formerly Known As Kanye West He mentioned during a recent podcast that Doesn’t read booksSome people wondered if it was Sending wrong message to children.

These questions have gained even more importance in light of the fact that Ye Recently launched Donda Academy, a private education project named after his late mother Donda West, who was herself English teacher.

K rap artistauthor and academicI would never claim that reading a lot of books is the only way to gain knowledge or show intelligence.

After all, you have created a file The first peer-reviewed hip-hop album published by a university press. I submitted for my PhD thesis in 2017 rap album Resist any calls to provide a formal written explanation of the action.

verbal intelligence

Even as a former high school literature teacher, I I did not believe The only – or even the most basic – way for people to prove a thought was by reading books. I think that free performance This means that writing and reciting rap lyrics that seem instantly spontaneous requires levels of intelligence that are often overlooked or racistly was introduced asnatural talent‘which does not require study or practice. For example, a file Brainstorming 10 free minutes That rapper Black Thought performed live on a radio station in New York hot 97 In 2017 it is a show of first-class brilliance as a result of years of study and practice.

Black Thought performs a 10-minute freestyle on radio station New York Hot 97 in 2017.

In some ways, you might say that Kanye West and I are on the same page. What I disagree with, however, is his utter refusal to read books, which he likened to “Eat Brussels sprouts. Rap is many things, but it involves a great deal of reverence for literature.

A direct response to Kanye West’s dismissive comments about not reading books 10 years ago: ART [The Motto],” by A.D. Carson.

Kanye as “Gatsby”

Books have a high place in hip hop music. As I mentioned in different book chapters I have composed around different aspects of rap music and – and in the classes I teach – a wealth of words that contain direct and indirect references to a rich body of literature. These works span thousands of years and originate from all over the world.

And long before the book-hate controversy, I once referred to Ye as a possible existence Jay Gatsby from hip hop, referring to the central character of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, because of the startling similarities I saw between their lives. The novel contains teachable comparisons to “graduation” in its use of the flickering lights metaphor of hope and the desire for wealth and class.

While Kanye West professes contempt for books, the same cannot be said of many of his predecessors and contemporaries.

For example, in 1996, Tupac Shakur released his 1996 album “The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory” under the pseudonym Makaveli – a variant of the author’s name Niccolò Machiavelli. Machiavelli’s works in the sixteenth centurythe prince” And the “Discussions on LeviIt can provide interesting insights into the album and the creative process that Tupac undertook during the latter period of his life. For example, Machiavelli is famous for detailing his observations about obtaining and retaining political power in The Prince. Similarly, Tupac ends his album by talking about his personal ascent. , shouts “soldiers with military minds” and details the predicted rules of war.

Below is a brief overview of other notable examples in which rap artists refer – directly or indirectly – to influential literary works by authors from around the world and throughout the ages.

The 1998 Black Star movie “Thieves in the Night”

The name of this song has been omitted and a quote from “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison. The link song Borrows and revises the quotation from the novel:

book cover decorated with words
Toni Morrison’s novel “The Blue Eye”.
Random penguin house

“…for we were not strong, but only aggressive; we were not free, only authorized; we were not sympathetic but polite. Not good, but well-behaved. We tried to court death to describe ourselves with courage, and hid from life like thieves ” .

Noname’s single “Rainforest” for 2021

This song is called the 1961 book “The Wretched of the Earth” by the psychiatrist and political philosopher Frantz Fanon. It is a lyrical nod to the enduring effects of colonialism.

“Rainforest” by Noname.

KXNG Crooked and Joell Ortiz’s 2022 song Heat Wave

Crooked makes a passing reference in this song to Plato’s philosophical text “Symposium,” in which characters, including the philosopher Socrates, compete in impromptu speeches. Plato doesn’t exactly write about rap battles, but there are similarities.

“Heat Wave” directed by KXNG Crooked and Joell Ortiz.

Kendrick Lamar 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly

There are interesting parallels to Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” throughout the album. The urgent reference to “yams” on the song “King Kunta” evokes a scene from the 1952 novel where the narrator encounters a vendor selling yams, which reminds him of home, and eats them until he falls ill.

“King Kunta” by Kendrick Lamar.

The Roots 2004 album The Tipping Point

This album takes its name from Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 book. Gladwell describes the tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, threshold, and boiling point.” The album cover features a portrait of a young Malcolm X, likely at a turning point, before he became a world-renowned Islamic minister and eventually co-authored the influential 1965 book The Autobiography of Malcolm X As Told by Alex Haley.

“The Tipping Point” by The Roots.

Common’s 2000 album “Like Water for Chocolate”

Book cover

“Assata: An Autobiography” by Assata Shakur.

This album takes its name from the 1989 novel by Mexican author Laura Esquivel. The book uses magical realism to convey the feelings of the main character, Tita, to the people who eat the food she makes while she is taking care of her mother, preventing her from fulfilling her true desires.

The album also contains a song called “Asata songWhich contains audio from an interview Common gave to exiled black freedom fighter Assata Shakur, author of the 1989 book Assata: An Autobiography.

Dead prez 2000 album “Let’s Get Free”

This album features many fantasies and literary influences. Notably, the lyrics to “We Want Freedom” begin with “I Ching”, the name of an ancient Chinese script. The group’s logo consists of a symbol, hexagram 46, used in the text that represents the word “army”. Group member stic.man Says The Code It is meant to represent “forward movement, progress and adaptation in our lives”.

“We Want Freedom” by Meet Breeze.

Rapsody’s 2019 album “Eve”

All song titles on this album are the names of notable women. “Eve” is the first woman named in a major literary work – the Bible – and many of the other women mentioned are authors, including “Oprah”, “Merly”, “Michelle” and “Maya”. The song titled Maya Angelou focuses on themes of Angelou’s work and quotes from her writing.

“Maya” by Rhapsody.

Kanye West’s recent remarks on reading may inspire some thoughtful conversations about how American society views reading and determines intelligence. If they do, the hip-hop archives—whether in book or music form—provide an abundance of ways to move those conversations to greater depths.

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