Associate Professor of Literature Adam Bradley will discuss his upcoming book, Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop (Basic Civitas, March 2009), as well as how rap works as poetry, during his address at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum on Tuesday, Feb. 10. The public portion of the program begins at 6:45 p.m., with free seating on a first-come basis.
Bradley is extending his efforts to help define the emerging field of hip hop poetics with Book of Rhymes, which offers a guided-tour of rap's poetry, from the sing-song rhymes of the Sugar Hill Gang to the clever wordplay of Biggie and the dusted metaphors of Lil Wayne. Included in his talk will be "hip hop signpostsfrom rhythm, rhyme, and wordplay," he says, "to style, storytelling and signifying."
Bradley says he's been preparing his entire life to write Book of Rhymes. "Hip hop and I are just about the same age," he says, "so I've been a fan for as long as I can remember: watching Beat Street and memorizing the lines with my little brother, sitting in front of the TV for that first episode of Yo! MTV Raps.
"At the same time," he says, "my grandmother was introducing me to literary verse, particularly the poetry of the Romantics and Shakespeare's sonnets. Even at 11 or 12 years old, I recognized the continuitythe way that rap and literary poetry were doing similar things with words."
Fast forward a decade and Bradley, as a graduate student at Harvard, was studying literature. At the same time, artists like Jay-Z, Eminem, and Lauryn Hill were ruling hip hop. "Just like when I was a kid, I recognized the connection," he says. "The difference was that I now had the critical vocabulary to describe exactly what was going onthe rhythm, rhyme, and wordplay. For me, studying hip hop's poetry is not just an intellectual exercise; it's a completion of personality. It is my way of putting my scholarly training to work upon the culture I love."
Bradley says he's been working on Book of Rhymes since shortly after arriving in Claremont in 2004. "I'm excited to share the fruits of my work with the CMC community because so much of my inspiration for the book comes from our communityparticularly my students," he says. The book is scheduled for release on March 3, but through special arrangement with the publisher, the book will be available for purchase at the Athenaeum.
As such an erudite arbiter of hip hop, who is Bradley's choice as the leading figure in the rap pantheon?
"It has to be Jay-Z," he says. "He's one of the most compelling figures in Hip Hop poetics to me, and his influence on culture has been profound. There's no Lil Wayne without Jay-Z. There's no Kanye West. One of my teachers once said that you'll know you've been influenced by an artist when you realize they've taken up residence in your mind. Jay-Z's rhymes affect the way I see the world. I'll think, for instance, of that simile he used on his first album when he says, like short sleeves I bear arms.
"He helps me to see the complexity in language and in life."
Bradley also is the co-editor, with Andrew DuBois of the University of Toronto at Scarborough, of the highly-anticipated Yale Anthology of Rap, the first book to bring together the greatest rap lyrics of all time, giving them, he says, the respect they deserve as poetry. His commentary has also appeared in the Washington Post and the New York Times as well as on NPR and C-SPAN.
In addition, Bradley is the co-editor of Ralph Ellison's Three Days Before the Shooting, the forthcoming Modern Library edition of Ellison's unfinished second novel, along with Ellison's literary executor, John Callahan. At nearly 1,500 pages, this new edition goes beyond Juneteenth, the small portion published in 1999, by bringing together more than 40 years of Ellison's work on the novel.
Bradley's own critical study of Ellison's fiction, Ralph Ellison-in-Progress, will be published in the fall of 2009 by Yale University Press.
Bradley earned his B.A. at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, where he began working on Ellison's papers as a 19-year-old assistant to Ellison's literary executor. He earned his Ph.D. in English from Harvard University, studying with Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cornel West.