August Book Review: Hip Hop Poetry and the Classics by Alan Sitomer & Michael Cirelli

Hip Hop Poetry and the Classics by Alan Sitomer & Michael Cirelli

This book is what I believe to be the blueprint to textbooks that are more suitable for our culture. This book does side by side comparisons of various American writers such as William Blake and Langston Hughes to legendary emcees like Common, Mos Def, Roxanne Shante, and KRS-One. This book teaches line for line bar for bar the type of language used to convey each lyric. It teaches students how to better understand and comprehend advanced readings. It teaches students how to become better writers. The book begins with a very detailed table of contents that include literary elements the same as any high school or secondary education classroom would study. Each section contains a writing exercise for the students to complete. I don’t want to jump ahead however it is with pleasure I note that the text contains various leisurely worksheets i.e. word search and/or word scramble. This book showcases the contributions emcees have made to American literature. 

In the section discussing tone they utilize Rakim’s ‘Paid In Full’ and I thought back to the song and I know exactly why they choose this song for this particular lesson. These authors did their research. They studied and listened and probably ran through hundreds of songs and picked songs that fit appropriately. Using ‘Datskat’ by The Roots was nothing short of pure genius or an obvious choice. Even their own ‘Additional Poetic Resources’ that break down Public Enemy’s ‘Fight The Power’ and Pharcyde’s ‘ Otha Fish’. This book wouldn’t be complete without lyrics from Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. If there is a controversial lyric that is examined a little closer to provoke critical thought. De La Soul v Sage Francis. This book covers mood, personification, sonnets, imagery, and other elements that can lead to a great emcee. There’s a glossary at the end of the book as well.

Each piece contains a ‘homework’ lesson that could be done at home in about twenty to forty-five minutes depending on the student. There are answer keys in the book throughout the various pages. My favorite part of the book is the long-term project included in the book. The students have to compile various works they’ve written throughout the school year and present them at the end of the academic year. I highly HIGHLY recommend that you use it even if you are doing the activities for fun. The book includes advanced level testing questions alongside a grading scale. There are also review portions for the students after every lesson. The authors were very thorough when they decided to put together this type of text. The book may say ninth through twelfth grade but if you have a middle school student who can handle it, teach it.

This book is great for adults in a language arts class or even someone trying to become a better lyricist. I recommend this book to educators, students, writers, and anyone in between. It will help Hip Hop listeners to better analyze the rhymes of particular artists increasing their ability to understand complex ideas. This way when mainstream Rappers claim they always deliver hard hitting metaphors the listener will know what they’re talking about. This will allow listeners to better differentiate between styles and to see who’s stealing whose style. 

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