Adam Bradley on Why Academics Should Consider Luther Campbell a Poet
You may not immediately recognize hip-hop as something to be
deconstructed using classical poetic analysis, but Adam Bradley, editor of Yale Anthology of Rap alongside Andrew DuBois, argues that you may want to
start counting meter next time the new Nicki Minaj single comes on the radio.
The Anthology is a collection of notable lyrics from throughout rap's history,
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arguing that even stripped of musical accompaniment hip-hop is worthy of
serious academic discussion. Adam is coming down to the New World Center this Thursday for O, Miami. He'll be joined by rapper Jean Grae and poet Adrian Castro to discuss
Anthology. We talked with Bradley about rap's evolution as well as Miami Bass's own
particular poetic style.
New Times: You are coming down at the end of the month as a part of the O, Miami poetry celebration at the New World Symphony. It's refreshing to see academia embrace hip-hop. How did you originally get into rap?
Adam Bradley: Hip-hop is apart of my whole story in a lot of ways, as it is for a lot of people. I'm about the same age as hip-hop, which is to say I was born in the '70s, came of age in the '80s, started my slow and steady decline in the '90s, and maybe reborn in the '00s. I feel the connection to the music. I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, not exactly the most hip-hop of places. I think my personal story testifies to the power of the music, the fact that it does reach from New York to L.A. to Miami to Salt Lake.
At what point did you realize there might be academic merit in delving into the poetics of hip-hop?
There's always been debate in the hip-hop community on complexity of lyrics or 'flow', it's inherent in the genre. What we're saying is 'we can give this a structure', a critical vocabulary. We can apply some principles that have been used to look at poetry for millennia and we can adjust them and reinvent them for the purpose of rap lyrics. To take if from the cipher rap was born into and bring it into the class room.
The Anthology is broken up into eras of hip-hop. Did you notice anything particular in poetic development as rap matured?
Sure. One of the exciting things is having such a new art form is that you can see development. For example, in an isolated element like rhyme, when rap was born it was pretty straight forward, perfect rhymes, often in couplets. As rap develops, it allows for a much more nuanced arrangement of internal rhymes, pentambic rhymes, slant rhymes and sometimes no rhyme at all.
If you look at someone like Andre 3000, the layers of his verses with all of these internal rhymes allows him to not rhyme at the end of lines. Someone like Eminem rhymes strings of lines one after the other. Those of just some examples of the change in tradition. It doesn't necessarily get better, it just expands because of the individual innovation of rap's artists.
Often hip-hop fandom winds up splintering off due to regionalism. You eschew that, having a fair representation of East and West coasts as well as Southern hip-hop that often gets overlooked on a national level such as UGK and Devin the Dude. Did you notice any poetic flourishes unique to any given region of hip-hop?
Definitely. You look at something like hip-hop from Miami, think about 2 Live Crew for example. The Bass sound that came out of Miami, that was totally independent of what was going on in New York. New York may have been the epicenter of hip-hop, but hip-hop evolved in radically different and vital ways in other areas.
Down South, particularly the Luke Campbell style, focused a lot on Bass, on hooks and the chorus, as opposed to just the verse. It was a whole different attitude as well. People weren't spinning on their heads, they were trying to talk to girls. A whole different sensibility emerged.
The Anthology has both forwards and afterwards by Chuck D, Common, and Henry Louis Gates. What was it like working with them?
These are all people I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for. Skip Gates was my mentor and advisor in graduate school. He always talked about this connection between rap and earlier African American oral tradition. So I thought it would be great to get him to make those points and draw out those comparisons.
Chuck D, I've admired for a while, Public Enemy helped define my childhood in the eighties, and was just such an influential group on me personally. His continuing work not only as an artist but as a spokesperson for hip-hop, for young people, for a lot of important issues that face the black community and beyond. He's somebody who can give a certain kind of historical perspective on the art form.
Finally, Common is someone who has a reputation as a conscious artist, a well-deserved reputation. I connected with him to help him with his memoir. He's a voice from a different generation of hip-hop than Chuck D and can reflect upon what the music and the culture means to him. The idea was to get a range of perspectives to make this book. This isn't the kind of book where you read it and get one person's perspective or the editor's perspective.
Could you go into detail with what we can expect at the O, Miami event at the New World Symphony?
I'm really excited to have the anthology partner with O, Miami because the vision, not only for this event but for the whole month, is to bring poetry to the people. Hip-hop, at its best, has always done that. The event on the 28th will be about celebrating the voice above all else and drawing comparisons through different kinds of poetry. We'll have more convention poets who write for the page primarily alongside MCs, poets who write for the ear. We'll have surprise guests we're working on securing for the event and I couldn't be more pleased debuting the event in such a wonderful space.
What hip-hop are you listening to currently?
There's so much out there. I've been playing the new Pusha T mixtape and the new Lupe Fiasco. I'm really excited about Common's forthcoming album. I had the privilege to be in the studio with him while he was making that and it's just a different level from what we've already seen from him. The exciting thing about hip-hop in 2011 is that it's possible to listen with global ears. To listen to artists from all over the world and have them easily accessible.
Go to O, Miami Poetry Fesival Presents Yale Anthology of Rap reading moderated by Adam Bradley featuring Jean Grae and Adrian Castro Thursday, April 28th at 7 p.m. at New World Symphony's SunTrust Pavilion (500 17th Street, Miami Beach). Tickets are $20. Call 305-673-3331 or visit nws.edu.
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