Hip Hop Literature

This course serves two purposes: to examine hip-hop as literature and to consider contemporary multi-ethnic literature through the cultural and aesthetic lens of hip-hop. To the four classic elements (breaking, turntablism, rap music, and graffiti) we add a fifth: writing. This class surveys literary topes and musical forms in rap by paying close attention to emcees’ lyrics, producers’ samples, and the many styles and subgenres of hip-hop—mapping its evolution and considering new directions for the music and culture.

To illustrate the reciprocity between hip-hop and African American literary expression, readings and discussions trace current debates, movements, collectives, and institutions historically to locate the influence and continued relevance of writers from the Black Arts Movement. Coursework especially highlights writers like Amiri Baraka, Sarah Webster Fabio, Sonia Sanchez, Gil Scott-Heron, and Jayne Cortez, who collaborated with musicians and visual artists. Contemporary social and political issues play an important role in our examination of rappers’ and writers’ critiques of American racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia. Across the semester, we explore a variety of multimedia genres and hybrid texts, including poetry, film and television, visual arts (comic books, paintings, street art) and recordings, to challenge and deepen students’ awareness of how language and media inform their everyday lives. 

Our coursework situates hip-hop’s innovation within specific social, political, cultural, geographical, and historical contexts, but also explores hip-hop as an ongoing, participatory culture–as a global constellation. In addition to individual written work, students will complete a structured, semester-long group project involving a series of presentations and multimedia projects. Students will form “crews” to write poetry together, work on group iconography, create artistic manifestoes, and make “audio collages” from a student-generated archive of musical samples. Students will gain practical skills and technological literacy while combining critical and creative thinking.

Paul Beatty, Slumberland
Kevin Coval, Quraysh Ali Lansana, and Nate Marshall (eds.), The BreakBeat Poets
Terrence Hayes, How to be Drawn
Claudia Rankine, Citizen

Hip Hop Lit 2