Author Date

2020-07-31

Degree Name

BA

Department

English

College

Humanities

Defense Date

2020-07-20

Publication Date

2020-07-31

First Faculty Advisor

Greg Clark

First Faculty Reader

Kristen Matthews

Honors Coordinator

John Talbot

Keywords

Rap, Hip-hop, Kendrick Lamar, Langston Hughes, Gil Scott-Heron

Abstract

Langston Hughes wrote in “Jazz as Communication that: “Jazz is a great big sea. It washes up all kinds of fish and shells and spume and waves with a steady old beat, or off-beat.” In this paper I assert that the rap music of Kendrick Lamar contains the steady off-beat of jazz and carries out the rhetorical legacy of Hughes’ jazz poetry. By marking the key elements of jazz poetry and tracing their presence in rap music, I will show how these elements create a powerful aesthetic experience for audiences that primes them for the rhetorical messages of the artist. That sort of experience is a rhetorical link that persists in the permutations of jazz poetry from Harlem to present day. The persistent message is the continuation of the concept of “the dream deferred” (Langston Hughes’ term for the unfulfilled hope of racial equity for generations to come), and the ability jazz poetry has to communicate pain and sorrow in ways that provide a sense of catharsis to individuals through building an awareness of a shared community identity that can become a vehicle for social and political change.

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