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The Rhetoric and Poetics of Rap

Kermit E. Campbell
University of Texas, Austin
Before 2005

“Soul food,” “food for the brain” is what Atlanta based rappers Goodie Mob call writing rhymes and rapping. Critics, though–especially in light of the violent deaths recently of two of rap’s biggest stars—instead consider rap more like junk food, dog food, food unfit for human consumption. What do you say? What is rap and what kind of impact is it having on the consciousness of American youth?

In this course, we will take up these questions (and others) as we read and write about rap, arguably, one of today’s most compelling pop-cultural art forms. A substantial writing component, the course challenges the students to write critically on rap’s explosive lyrics and rhythmic style. We’ll look for instance, at the poignant messages of a Public Enemy, Fugees, or Ice Cube and the intricate styles of a Snoop, Method Man, or Bahamadia. We’ll also consider controversial issues like the alleged sexism and violence of “gangsta” rap. While critical essay writing will be a major focus of the course, students can also expect to do a substantial amount of reading. We’ll read and discuss texts on hip hop history, culture, politics, and general b-boy/b-girl attitude. Both the reading and writing assignments are designed to stimulate energetic and provocative thought on rap, its rhetoric and poetics.

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