When we talk about rap music’s evolution and its influence on popular culture, we engage in endless debates over contrasting styles of rhyme, cadence, wordplay and symbolism. Often overshadowed by the beat and all the hype surrounding the music, are the lyrics at the heart of hip-hop’s pulse. Drop the beat and the baseline and the lyrics jump off the page with poetic stories of struggle and conquest that define the emcee. Looking at rap lyrics as poetry—and looking at the history of those lyrics as a chapter in the history of poetry—allows us to walk down a whole new path for appreciation of the rap genre. There is now a book that may help shine light on that path.
The Anthology of Rap, edited by English professors Adam Bradley and Andrew Dubois, attempts to pay tribute to hip-hop’s poetic form. It chronicles the entire poetic history of rap, rhythm and rhyme, presenting hundreds of transcribed verses from some of the most influential emcee’s to ever grace the microphone.
The book begins with a forward by American literary critic Henry Louis Gates Jr., in which he traces rap’s poetic origins back to the early 20th century tradition of “signifying,” which can be viewed as a precursor to contemporary battle rap. The 867-page anthology breaks down rap’s poetic evolution into four time periods: “Old School,” “Golden Age,” “Mainstream,” and “New Millennium.” Lyrics within each respective category are organized according to artist. Absorbing the lyrics from these generations in written form rather delivered over beats reveals the evolution of the emcee’s power of expression in its rawest form.
Representing nearly 10 years of collaborative effort, The Anthology of Rap includes powerful lyrics from over 300 noteworthy songs by 100 different artists, from AfrikaBambaataa to Outkast. To have the work of these artists acknowledged as poetry rather than just entertainment is a powerful step in the broader recognition of hip-hop as more than just a niche entertainment medium. The anthology’s division into four distinct periods of rap history lays out the evolution of varied rhyme styles, lyrical approaches and modes of metaphoric expression for the reader to study.
At the beginning of each artist’s section, Bradley and Dubois provide a brief summary of each artist’s most notable accomplishments and contributions. They address the content, rhyme style and poetic structure of specific songs or verses that have found their place in rap’s poetic evolution.
Through this book, we see how the creative competition that has always been engrained in hip-hop culture has led to an ongoing musical renaissance that continues to define what it means to be an emcee. Learn about the lyrics that defined a movement and the artists who transformed tales of struggle, conquest and oppression and turned it into poetic expression. Discover who were some of the first emcee’s to implore multi-syllabic rhyming tactics, who pioneered the use of similes and metaphors in rhyme schemes, who mastered the art of storytelling and who broke barriers to take pattern and form to new lengths.
This book allows readers to view the lyrics that we have come to know and love through an entirely different lens. It provides nearly 900-pages of irrefutable evidence that rappers are more than just entertainers, but also educators, revolutionaries, outspoken social critics, powerful political activists, and above all, master poets.
For hip-hop aficionados, historians and poetry-lovers alike, The Anthology of Rap helps open a new chapter on the perception of rap music as an influential art form. -Noah Steinberg-Di Stefano
The Northern Touch: The Rebirth of Canadian Rap – kalisto entertainment
Any hip-hop fan from Toronto can tell you where they were when the rap single “Northern Touch” dropped in ‘98.
I was in the eighth grade when the single, featuring Vancouver artists Rascalz and Thrust and Toronto emcees Kardinall Offishall, Choclair, and Checkmate, started getting major play on MuchMusic (think Canada’s version of MTV). Rocking the same B.T. Express sample that DMX used for “Get At Me Dog” the same year, the track knocked, and the emcees rapped like it was the only chance they had.
And in a way, it was.
Unlike neighbors to the south, where the ‘90s brought some of the genre’s best records – and for better or worse, a true adoption into mainstream culture – north of the border the scene was on life support.
It didn’t start like that though. Rap arrived in Canada not long after breaking out in New York City, with an Ottawa duo called the Singing Fools releasing the 1982 rap single “The Bum Rap.” Inspired by Furious Five’s “The Message,” “The Bum Rap” was a charged critique of the Canadian government and issues of unemployment and low wages. The single was a modest beginning, but it was the spark. The next year, the hip-hop program The Fantastic Voyage began on the radio station of Toronto’s Ryerson University, hosted by DJ Ron Nelson. The show was key in presenting the latest rap from the U.S., as well as launching the local scene in Toronto, and the show would remain on the air for the next 28 years.
By the late ‘80s, things were in motion. KRS-One blessed the scene with a shoutout to Ron Nelson and the “Toronto posse” on the liner notes of Criminal Minded. The first Canadian rap stars were emerging, getting play on MuchMusic, local radio, and some were even gaining notice in the US. Maestro Fresh-Wes had a huge hit with 1989’s “Let Your Backbone Slide.” Michee Mee, Canada’s first female emcee, signed with the American label, Atlantic. The Get Loose Crew released their debut record abroad. Rap started springing up in other major Canadian cities like Vancouver and Montreal. Canadian rap was poised to explode.
That’s when things came to a screeching halt.
In the early ‘90s, the push to establish a true urban music station in Toronto stumbled as the potential new radio station chose a different format. In fact, Torontonians had to tune in to 93.5 WBLK, a station based out of Buffalo, N.Y. to get their rap fix on the radio. Worse, America didn’t understand Canada’s unique, multicultural approach to rap, and records by top Canadian hip-hop artists, like Maestro Fresh-Wes, Dream Warriors, and Michee Mee, tanked. Canadian record labels stopped taking chances on rap music, and the scene retreated to the underground while American rap began to largely dominate the media for the next few years.
That was, until “Northern Touch” came.
It wasn’t an overnight revival, but “Northern Touch” was a rallying cry, and Canadian rap slowly worked its way back into the spotlight.
In 2001, Toronto finally got a rap station with Flow 93.5, and the scene exploded from there. Now, Canada is working to make itself known again to the rap world. Toronto’s own Drake is garnering mass acclaim and high-profile collaborations. Somali-Canadian K’Naan had a global anthem with “Wavin’ Flag.” Kardinal Offishall is partnered with Akon and together had a Billboard hit with “Dangerous.” Producers Boi-1da and Marco Polo have supplied beats to artists such as Eminem, Masta Ace, Lil’ Wayne, and Bun B., and K-OS is regarded highly for his eclectic blend of rap and rock. “O Canada,” indeed. – Jeffery Leon