2006-06-08 / Letters to the Editor

Rap is all about the words

In his June 1 column, Bari states, "I believe in the traditional definitions of the words poetry and tune. A 'tune' has a melody. If that is true, then how can a "rap tune" exist, if rap is indeed, spoken?"

Please spare me one geeky, academic moment to respond to semantics . . .

While I am no big fan by far of contemporary rap music (although I'll admit I'm quite fond of "old school" Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, etc.), the overly academic side of me must point out that musicality of the English language is as important as the melodies of played instruments.

Poetry is a spoken tradition. The oral tradition, of course, brought forth poetry.

English is not one of the accented, "romantic languages." Its pronunciation is on stressed and unstressed syllables (so akin to our German brethren).

Classically, there are multiple forms of poetry. Within these classical forms (lyric, ballad, sonnet, etc.) are prescribed measurements, or "meters" of syllabic structure. One need only look at Gerard Manley Hopkins' skilled use of rhyme, alliteration, assonance and syllables to create a symphony of music within a single poem.

In the beatnik era, there was LeRoi Jones (now known as Amiri Baraka, the de-throned poet laureate of New Jersey), who to this day will use jazz music methods in his poetry: an improvised yet rhythmic "spoken"style.

His affinity with jazz, of course, should also remind us of the African roots of the music, which rely on that tribal drum beat.

This style of poetry then extended into the late '70s with the birth of rap-style lyrics.

Jumping ahead to contemporary times, famous rap artists like Eminem, while questionable in word content, at times will rap in iambic pentameter (stressed/unstressed syllables) to create a rhythmic and lyrical essence even before we hear the actual music.

Slam poetry is a not-so-new contemporary form that takes political and social issues into a free-style (yet extremely controlled once really listening to the pauses in oration) that is emerging in the evolution of poetry.

Thumping backbeat or not, sometimes the words - not the background melody accompanying it - can resonate beautifully.

S.A. Beaulieu Schooner Avenue

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