In the Heart of the Beat: The Poetry of Rap

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Despite its extraordinary popularity and worldwide influence, the world of rap and hip hop is under constant attack. Impressions and interpretations of its meaning and power are perpetually being challenged. Somewhere someone is bemoaning the negative impact of rap music on contemporary culture. In In the Heart of the Beat: The Poetry of Rap, bestselling author and scholar Alexs Pate argues for a fresh understanding of rap as an example of powerful and effective poetry, rather than a negative cultural phenomenon.

Pate articulates a way of "reading" rap that makes visible both its contemporary and historical literary values. He encourages the reader to step beyond the dominance of the beat and the raw language and come to an appreciation of rap's literary and poetic dimensions. What emerges is a vision of rap as an exemplary form of literary expression, rather than a profane and trendy musical genre. Pate focuses on works by several well-known artists to reveal in rap music, despite its penchant for vulgarity, a power and beauty that is the heart of great literature.

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Editorial Reviews

Pop Culture Books
The best parts of the book are those where Pate lists the words from popular rap music and opens the readers' minds to the imagery, the meaning, the structure, form, rhythm, and flow of the words . . . Pate does an excellent job of providing the reader with a new light and better perspective on rap music and its significant role in all of society but especially the African American culture.
Sacramento News and Review
What Pate has accomplished here is nothing less than an aesthetic standard for rap as poetry, which he tests against various examples of the rap genre….This is a groundbreaking work, necessary for connoisseurs of both poetry and rap music.
Amiri Baraka
My son [Ahi Baraka] put the book in my hand and said, 'This is one of the best books I've read.'
Publishers Weekly
According to African American and African studies scholar Pate, rap is not just the emergent African American literary form of the postmodern age, but is responsible for scores of young people improbably embracing all the traditional and nontraditional poetic conventions of the English language (through a mix of cultural osmosis, miming, and instinct). Though he isn't quite able to justify a comparison between the phenomenon of rap and Gutenberg's invention of moveable type, Pate presents a strong case for the artistic and cultural importance of rap, analyzing lyrics and artists from multiple angles. Sizing up classic literary works from stalwarts like Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and others alongside stanzas from rap songs, Pate finds eerie similarities in tone, message and style. He also contrasts the work of contemporaries within the genre, such as the straightforward pop of Young MC against the politically strident work of Public Enemy, examining rap's ability to offer a visceral, vital take on society-and to dive headfirst into society's most extreme indulgences. More than willing to admit the paucity of garbage mixed among the real art (as in any creative endeavor), Pate is also upfront about the role of profanity and misogyny in many compositions. Though he may court snoozing when he delves into more academic concerns like rhyme structure, this warts-and-all study of one of the preeminent art forms of today is vital and compelling, especially for dedicated listeners.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Alexs Pate is Associate Professor of African American and African studies at the University of Minnesota. Pate is the best-selling author of Amistad: A Novel Based on the Screenplay and Losing Absalom, which received a Minnesota Book Award and was named Best First Novel by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.

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Table of Contents

1 Say What?

2 A Matter of Life: A Brief Discussion

3 From the Streets: Coloring the Multicultural Black

4 Defining Rap/Poetry

5 Where You From? Local, Young, and Uncensored

6 Toward a Critical Reading of Rap/Poetry

7 The Elements of Rap/Poetry

8 The Aesthetics: A Summary

Dutro: The Professor Revisited

Appendix The Thematic Categories of Rap/Poetry


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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2010

    Great Advanced Reading

    This book is great for those who already like hip-hop/rap and want to delve into the topic more.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 6, 2011


    u no how wierd this sounds rap aint no poetry

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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