Norton Anthology of Urban Poetry (Da Norton Book of Dope-ass Rhymes)

Out of the post-modern gloom of 20th-century America arose the constructed angst of a group of young urban lyricists. Hailing from the East Coast communities of Crooklyn, Mo’ Money Manhattan, the Boogie-Down Bronx and Illidelphia, or from across the wheated plains in the West Coast’s LBC, Compton and El Barrio, these poets raged with urban fury against “the man,” “the money,” “playa hatas” and “baby mamas.” The martyred poet Biggie Smalls, a victim of the rap game himself, once wrote, “If I wasn’t in the rap game/ I’d probably have a key, knee deep in the crack game/ ‘cause the streets are a short stop/ either you’re slinging crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot,” but these young men forged a third profitable enterprise. They flashed their blings and their shiny things across our TV screens to make the fine ladies scream. Their early years as gang members, drug runners and fly thugs lent them the legitimacy to drop wicked rhymes about their street life origins. However, as they entered the mainstream culture and prosperity of the mid-1990s, much of these poems’ hard edge was lost.

These men turned in their 40’s for Cristal, their hoopties for drop Bentleys and their “ghetto girls” for “six model chicks”. As faithful bards to their ’hood of origin, these poets admittedly changed their rhymes as they sold out to that which they had raged against, though they promised, in the words of Jay-Z, “Make my money now / and then back to the streets.” Eminem, despite his Caucasian ethnicity and his mid-West origins, was able to assimilate into the West Coast contingency through his alignment with the legendary Dr. Dre. This young rapper epitomized both the acknowledgement of pop culture with such epic verses as, “Sit me here next to Brittany Spears, shit, Christina Aguillera better switch me chairs, so I can sit next to Carson Daly and Fred Durst and hear them argue over who she gave head to first,” and yet at the same time reject this culture, as he does in the poem annotated below. Despite being an outsider in the rap game, this poem hearkens back to the days of yore, the 1980s, with multiple references to ’80s pop culture and an era of violence and drunk driving. This work represents a true evolutionary leap in urban poetry and is thus beloved by all.

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