Bridging the gap between poetry and rap with @lailahpoetry
I stumbled across @lailahpoetry’s insta page the same way I find most of my cultural suggestions at the moment: an IG story shoutout, posted by @incoherent articulations (a friend whilst I worked at an amazing charity @globalone, and a budding artist who is also well worth your time). In my pre-bedtime scroll, I often follow or bookmark pages which I believe my future self will find interesting – save it for a later date – kind of vibe. I probably end up looking only at a fraction of those accounts, but @lailahpoetry’s Insta stories cut through the noise as I saw her non-chalantly breaking down famous rap pieces using literary devices. Although her stories focus predominantly on rap, she also translates and deconstructs Indian and Arabic songs – works which due to my linguistic inability are closed off to me. And so, before I had even read one of her poems, I was engaged with her desire to educate. Her bitesize lectures/stories make accessible literary terms but are also her attempt at bridging the “conceived gap” between rap and poetry. She is responding to a cultural debate that has long been questioned, recalling the publication of Jay Z’s book ‘Decoded’ in 2011 where Jay Z said that ‘his new book will show that rap is poetry’.
In many ways, Lailah’s positioning on the cultural debate, specifically, her desire for society to start viewing ‘modern day rappers…as poetic literary works’ sits in the same space that the decolonising the curriculum movement lives in. To explain – I studied an English Literature BA at Leeds uni, and I remember having lectures that mentioned Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Paul Mc Cartney, and there was even an optional module that focussed solely on David Bowie’s works. Jazz artists also made an appearance and how they influenced literary conventions – Jackie Kay’s ‘Trumpet’ springs to mind, but rap didn’t quite fit the bill. That is not to say that the lecturers definitively believed that rap isn’t poetry. But, it highlighted a mentality in which rap artists were not equated to historic greatness, or, didn’t reach a cultural apotheosis that deserved a mention. That, or they just didn’t listen to rap (also plausible). The question should be asked – why weren’t rap lyrics used as poetic examples in my course? Why, as Lailah addresses, is rap not valued in the high-brow literary sphere?
Lailah’s bitesize lectures are an artery to the decolonising the curriculum heart as she underscores the literary value in the rap’s craft and also chooses non-English pieces – beyond the coloniser’s language. It may not first seem apparent how the decolonising the curriculum movement reaches out towards your Insta feed, but it does, as an educational and systemic movement – it should live everywhere. How you personally educate yourself is your responsibility, and if your bookshelf is filled with the “classics”-aka lot’s of old white dudes, the you should think about how your online content reflects that.
Lailah’s insta page, like most millennial or gen Z poets, is her personal poetry collection: from standard to visual poems to spoken word and rap performances. In a “how I wrote” video of her rap “24 years”, she distinguishes rap from her use of the aforementioned forms by the sense of ‘bravado’ the form provides her with. This feeling acts as an enabler – it frees her from a constraining self-consciousness that is washed away by a leading beat. Lailah’s reasoning made me self-reflect: in the absence of a beat, are our authorial choices preyed upon by our linguistic and artistic insecurities? In silence, how can we drown out the noise?
Although her rap may exude more bravado, all her words are filled with character and, more often than not, political meditation. In “Times like these” (November 2020), Lailah destabilizes the reality of freedom in our current democracy, as she delineates acts of political violence the state performs. She admonishes the state’s use of terminology and classification to exert legislative power and she personally laments over the “terrorist” and “barbaric” profiles. Like many poets before her, she draws upon the strength of putting pen to paper and contrasts the freedom to create, rhyme and punctuate in her poetic space against a policed and surveillance state.
Another favourite is ‘disconnect: a lockdown inspired diary entry’ (October 2020). Lailah captures the painful longing of life before - of the insignificant made significant details of our life we can’t help but miss.
And if you can take away anything from Lailah’s page is that words matter, because she writes in “biro – not pencil”.
Link to Lailah's instagram page - https://www.instagram.com/lailahpoetry/