When Hip Hop Becomes Literature

RnB/Hip Hop | Monday 6th February 2017 | Idrees

William Shakespeare, George Orwell, Jane Austen...Nasir Jones? Yes, you read that right! Now, you may be asking, what does Nasty Nas have in common with all these authors of the literature you’ve read about in those boring English lessons that you were forced to endure. We first must understand the meaning of literature to being


Written works, especially those considered of superior and lasting artistic merits”.


We grew up with the perception that this only applies to Shakespearian plays where someone eventually dies or poetry which no one understands. Well what if I told you that whilst you were learning about why George shot Lennie in “Of Mice and Men” (Spoiler Alert!), you could have also had an opportunity to learn the intricate workings of all your favourite hip hop artists!


Okay so now you’re probably saying “Well, this sounds like it’s going to be in some bullshit college that offers this course”. Oh how wrong you are! In fact, you can find this dope course at none other than Harvard itself! Yep, now you are intrigued.



The Hip Hop Archive & Research Institute at Harvard University became official in 2002, which then found a permanent home in the Du Bois Institute in January 2008. The whole purpose of the institute is to encourage and help students in their pursuit of knowledge, art, culture and responsible leadership through hip hop. Students also have the chance to study pioneers such as 2pac, A Tribe Called Quest, Kendrick Lamar, Lauryn Hill, MC Lyte and Nas.


Speaking of Nas, in July 2013, the Illmatic artist himself was in the middle of a joint announcement by the Hip Hop Archive & Research Institute and the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard University, to create a Nasir Jones Hip Hop Fellowship. It says something about Hip Hop as an art form that a place like Harvard themselves can recognise the traditions and culture itself as well as allowing others to dive into the teachings of the craft.


Now, some of you may be saying that “Yes, hip hop may be great as an art form, but it is nothing like Shakespeare”. Well not according to UK legend Akala! Quite literally, the BAFTA and MOBO award winning artist founded a music theatre production company called “The Hip Hop Shakespeare Company” which primarily aims to explore the social, cultural and linguistic comparisons between modern hip hop artists that we listen to and William Shakespeare himself!


The company launched with the support of British actor Sir Ian McKellen (you know it’s sick when Magneto himself approves!) and from this, they provide live events, theatre productions and workshops to ideally help people gain a different view of arts and themselves (which ideally is the main goal of literature itself). The live events consist of up and coming artists and has already introduced artists such as Ed Sheeran, Bashy and George the Poet. The theatre productions and workshops are platforms to show young people different interpretations of Shakespeare works with hip hop itself.


We can see that we are now in a time where hip hop is being recognised as modern art form from many people, however, there still remains this burning stigma about hip hop and it’s influence on our culture. This issue ultimately stems from the over saturation of “radio” songs which are popular, and certain artists follow this same formula of songs about “money, sex and bitches”. However, here at Guestlist, we aim to look deeper than that. It’s clear to see that hip hop should be referred as modern day literature, but we now aim to look deeper into this art form and ask “why is hip hop now considered as literature”. Stay tuned onto Guestlist and we shall answer this question.

By Idrees Khan