So I’ve been working on a book of poems, From the Hip, which traces the history of hip hop in a series of 56 sonnets. And the thing is very nearly done. The manuscript begins with DJ Kool Herc in the mid-70s and follows rap up to the Beastie Boys’ Hot Sauce Committee Part Two in 2011. Here are three poems from each of the three main decades:
Parents Just Don’t Understand (DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh
Prince, 1988) A Lesser Known Rapper Speaks:
He’s the DJ & I’m the Rapper? Come on,
man, this record’s obviously aimed toward folks
who need to be told which of the black pawns
on stage is which. I mean, just take a look
at the video: it’s all sanitized
& cartoon-like, the streets scrubbed down to
a sheen. This is the world on Lysol. & the guy’s
not rapping about swiping a few
bucks or his dad’s last smokes. He’s talking about
stealing his parents’ Porsche for Chrissakes. Look: his rhymes
are good, & the guy’s funny, no doubt
about that, but shoot… It’s not like I’m
jealous of his mass, suburban appeal.
I just wish my parents had a Porsche to steal.
Ice Ice Baby (Vanilla Ice, 1990)
On Arsenio, Vanilla’s frosted
pompadour is a miniature skate park
of bleach, his hair about as fluid
as the frozen sea of sequins sparkling
on his suit. It makes sense: Robert Van Winkle
was born on Halloween, so he loves costumes.
(Even the yup yups & yeah boyees he sprinkles
his speech with are a kind of mask.) The room
is quiet. The crowd just wants to woof woof
& pump their fists. But Ice needs to give proof
that he’s legit. Yup yup, he answers
with a grin. If others doubt, at least he’s the best
in his own head. & people said I’d never
amount to S-H-I- You know the rest.
99 Problems (Jay-Z, 2004)
The room full of chanting volunteers
at the end of an election cycle
shimmy & bounce to bass & better years
ahead: Jay-Z is playing to the full
house of Obama’s staff, changing the lyrics
to 99 problems but a Bush ain’t one.
At last, they say, the country’s done
with those eight years (the sequel to Reaganomics).
Now they can party to the rhythmic
pulse of bass designed to break the Richter scale,
the rhymes just loud enough to drown the wail
of the past month’s attack ads. If you don’t like
what they say, then you can add your word.
If you don’t like the past you can press fast forward.