Urban Shakespeares

December 1st, 2010 by Emily

Listen to most rap songs and your ears may be assaulted by a cacophony of grammatical errors, dropped consonants and unfamiliar, not to mention uncouth, words.

However, a new exhibition at the British Library, London, entitled Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices, includes a section on rap music and its positive influence on the English language. What's more, one rapper, Akala, claims that rappers are modern-day Shakespeares.

With standards of English apparently slipping amongst rap-loving young people, can this really be true? Or are they in need of tuition?

Street commentary

Akala is founder of the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company and says that rappers and the Bard himself have two things in common: their focus on social commentary and their mastery of the English language.

Akala says: "Contrary to popular belief, the best rappers use a huge range of the English language.

"They're inventive with words and, of course, the themes: politics, sex, murder, betrayal, love - the full gauntlet of the reality of human society."

Those themes are certainly present in Shakespeare's works. Macbeth combines all of them to dark and startling effect, whilst Antony and Cleopatra puts a steamy relationship at the heart of a political battle. As for the world of rap, well, murder and sex are constant themes, which explains why many parents don't like their children to listen to the music!

Language alive

Shakespeare is famed for his massive influence on the English language. Without him, many popular words and phrases would not exist. Words like 'accommodation', 'amazement' and 'freezing' (very apt at the moment) all sprung from the Bard's mind, as did phrases such as 'foregone conclusion' and 'all's well that end's well'.

According to one hip-hop expert, rappers have a similar influence. Professor MK Asante, a hip hop author and filmmaker, says: "You hear President Obama describing an opponent 'dissing' him and we see 'wassup', 'yo' and 'chillin' in all these advertisements."

Princess Camilla even described the recent royal engagement as "wicked" - another rap word.

Whether we'll see rap songs on English A-level papers remains to be seen - but then even Shakespeare could not have predicted that students would be analysing his work 400 years after his death.

Categories: English, A-Level, GCSE