Once again we see publicly funded higher education in the USA fostering cutting-edge matriculation. This time it is the University of Missouri plumbing the importance of the relationship between rappers Jay-Z and Kanye West.
This course debuted last fall and continues into 2014. According to the course description, the study, “looks at the career and work of Jay-Z and Kanye West from three perspectives: (1) Where do they fit within, and how do they change, the history of hip-hop music? (2) How is what they do similar to and different from what poets do?, and (3) How does their rise to both celebrity and corporate power alter what we understand as the American dream?”
This Mizzou English class is predicated on the idea that rap music is legitimate poetry and should be fit into the American cannon of poetic forms.
In a recent interview, class instructor Andrew Hoberek explained how important Jay Z and West’s “poetry” is to the world of art.
I really do think that these guys are warming up to the level of major poets, and not many people think of it in those terms. Because it’s not just on a page, but it’s video art, too. So, we looked at how those complicated the questions, and how do books about poetry help us to understand rap with Jay and Kanye at the forefront. We looked at the larger history of rap as an art form. Specifically, how, especially with Blueprint 3 and Yeezus, there’s an identifiable push to get beyond what’s happening in the art form. They’re very much like painters and novelists in the 20th century, moving beyond the confines of the art form’s boundaries.
So, gangster rap’s advocating of anti-social behavior, violence, and misogyny is an “art form” that is “very much like painters and novelists in the 20th century.”
As Chris Coplan of the website Consequence of Sound notes, this is not the only example of Rap being treated as important poetry in academe.
“In 2011,” Coplan writes, “Georgetown University offered a sociology class examining all things Hov [a course on rapper Jay Z], while hip-hop academic Julius Bailey will publish his 300-page ‘examination of the zeitgeist known as Yeezy’ later this spring.”
In his hit tune “Big Pimpin,'” Jay Z gave us such poetic words as, “You know I, thug em, f**k em, love em, leave em, Cause I don’t f**king need em.”
Jay Z, whose real name is Shawn Corey Carter, later tried to disavow the song lyrics.
Several other universities have looked to rap music as a source of study. Such universities as Rice, Yale, Stanford, and USC’s Annenberg School of Communication also sponsored courses in rap some bringing in the actual rappers as teachers for related courses.