Generally, hip hop is not a genre that I'm disposed to in practice. Personally, I blame my middle-class whiteness. In theory, the concept of urban poetry delivered atop a bed of meticulously crafted drum and bass rhythm is one I can never really discount (though that may be related to my white guilt).
These things being the case, the majority of hip hop contains nothing that I would describe as technically poetry, unless there is a missing draft of Aristotle's Poetics that includes references to ass cranking and dope running or whatever the kids are doing these days. Of course, it's worth noting that this isn't simply a hip hop phenomenon, but it doesn't help me to bridge the gap, here.
Saul Williams, however, is a different story. He may not be the best rapper in the world, but his lyrics are s
uperb–they are indeed poetry, and he is without doubt a poet first, specializing in performance and spoken word poetry. (Think Slam–he was in it!) Dealing with real issues apart from simply driving fast and having sex and killing people and what have you, his mastery of meter and rhyme can almost rival some of the stuff you've read in English class (which is the only place, I'm sure, that most of you have actually encountered poetry), though with a decidedly more urban and edgy approach (alternative hip hop is still hip hop, after all).
Additionally, it's worth mentioning that Williams has been collaborating with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, and so the scrupulous industrialized beats provide a much better than average vector for the deliver of Saul's well written (if occasionally idealistic) hip hop jams.
Nine Inch Nails - Gunshots by Computer (Saul Williams)
Why yes, that is Saul Williams tearing it up atop “Hyperpower!” from NIN's Year Zero. Yes indeed.
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