When Hip Hop Becomes Literature: Word Play

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

If you have not read the first feature on When Hip Hop Becomes Literature, check it out now because we are about to cover hip hop’s rise to recognition as a form of modern day literature!


Now to a non-fan, hip hop being a form of literature is Ludacris (see what I did there, Ludacris...the hip hop whereas an avid fan would understand what I mean.

If you noticed, my poor attempt of a joke was actually just a simple word play between the term ludicrous and the hip hop artist Ludacris. This here is an effective technique for which artists use to convey their techniques and when used effectively, it is a very clever way of rhyming.

The definition of the term word play is “the witty exploitation of the meanings and ambiguities of words, especially in puns”. So in other words, an effective use of word play is using a word or a term, and changing the way it is used. Just like how I used Ludacris and ludicrous.Get it?

But instead of using my example, we should take a look at an artist who mastered this technique, Lupe Fiasco. The best example would be the song Mural from the 2015 album Tetsou and Youth. Let’s take a look :

The unfettered veteran, the eagle feathered man of medicine

That hovers above cities like weather men

And maybe weather woman

Whatever better to tell ya weather comin'

I prefer girls to reign all over the world

And not rain like, rain man or rain like rain dance

Or rain like a slight chance of rain when it's raining

Or rein like deer slaves to Santa Claus sleigh man

But reign like Queens that reign over made man

And not Queen like Queen killer, rhapsody bohemian Queen

But Queen, like white glove wave hand, and not wave hand, like it's a heat wave

So you make a fan by waving your hand, I'm talking wave, like you saying, "Hey man!"

And not hay for horses, and hoarse is like you almost voiceless

You gotta treat your vocal chords, like it's a fortress

And treat every single one of your words, like reinforcements


Now, I don’t know about you but I find this amazing!


In 15 lines, Lupe introduces the topic of “weather” which sparks the word plays for rain, queen, wave, hey and horse. Lupe is a word play genius and to fully experience Lupe’s talent on hand, I thoroughly encourage you to listen to the full 9 minute song, this whole song is just an art form of word play and creativity.


Now we can see evidence of hip hop being a modern day reinvention of literature, since Shakespeare himself was famous for his word play.

One clever example of this is in 'Romeo & Juliet' where Mercutio (who eventually dies in the play) states “ shall find me a grave man” where grave not only means serious but references his imminent death. So if you’re in the same bracket as Shakespeare when it comes to your artistic talent, then you must be doing something right.