In my last Whoop Jenny! newsletter, I extol the creativity of today’s poets and rappers like Amanda Gorman, Eminem, and Nicki Minaj.
I haven’t read his book, nor am I very familiar with Jay-Z’s body of work. But I found his explanation of “rap as poetry” stunning. It’s as articulate and alive as anything I’ve ever read about the why and how of words.
“A poet’s mission is to make words do more work than they normally do, to make them work on more than one level.”
“Turning something as common as language into a puzzle makes the familiar feel strange; it makes the language we take for granted feel fresh and exciting again, like an old friend who just revealed a long-held secret.”
You can listen to Jay-Z’s 99 Problems here.
If you’re like me and need subtitles, here are the lyrics.
Don’t be run off by the explicit language.
“Sometimes the words we use….. and the violence of the images overwhelms some listeners. It’s all white noise to them till they hear a bitch or a nigga and then they run off yelling ‘See!’ and feel vindicated in their narrow conception of what the music is about. But that would be like listening to Maya Angelou and ignoring everything until you heard her drop a line about drinking or sleeping with someone’s husband and then dismissing her as an alcoholic adulterer.”
This 2014 article from The Financial Times helps explain the impact of this song on the American psyche–cultural and political.
Jay-Z is now on my Spotify feed, and Decoded is on my TBR list.