An Insight into poetry and rap from Zoka
I was recently surprised, and subsequently not surprised, to discover a theory concerning the etymology of the word “rap” from my recent collaborator on Words with Friends 3, Piers Harrison-Reid. He heard the theory from a Poet called Anthony Anaxogorou, who claimed that “rap” actually stands for “Rhythm And Poetry” or “Rhythm Assisted Poetry”. This seemed fitting to me, as my attempts to inject more rhythm into my poetry is what unwittingly transformed me into a rapper roughly a year ago.
Since then, I have been fascinated by the relationship between the two art forms, at times indistinguishable, at others starkly contrasting. After all, calling Lil’ Pump a poet is just as hard to swallow as calling Carol Anne Duffy a rapper. Yet, as the fusion of hip-hop and poetry within every ‘Words with Friends’ project clearly demonstrates, both genres are married in their exploration of the musicality of language.
This is something that Piers, a poet by preference, also realised during his collaboration with me on the song ‘Flo’, on Words with Friends 3. ‘It’s definitely a different way of using words and takes me back to when I used to write poems more to classical forms in school,’ he said, when asked about how he found the writing process of rap compared to poetry. Yet he never let the constraints of the form ‘come at the expense of telling a story or sticking to a theme.’
For Piers, rap was more “rhythm constrained poetry” than “rhythm assisted poetry”. However, this constraint functions similarly to those in any other poetic form, providing a framework for poetic expression. What differentiates rap from these forms, excluding the way in which it is consumed, is its capacity for flexibility and reinvention. More traditional poetic forms often grow stagnant over time, yet rap seems to continually find ways to radically reinvent itself, as clearly evidenced by its innumerable styles ranging from boom bap to grime to trap. The stylistic range of this poetic form stretches the very parameters of poetry, justifying the creation of another word to define itself against it. Yet “Rhythm And Poetry” still subtly holds on to its identity as poetry the same way a child retains the traits of its parent, running towards and away from them simultaneously.
As for my own practice, you will see by clicking the following link: Growing Pains – Zoka that in my debut EP entitled ‘Growing Pains’ I treat each song as a poem. This means that each word I use, each image I evoke, is not wasted in the expression of the emotion or theme or story I am trying to explore. Where many rappers ignore thematic cohesiveness in favour of satisfying punchlines, and many poets ignore rhythmic and oratory intonations in favour of intricate images, I am committed to creating a hybrid between the two mediums. This is a process I believe to be happening already within rap, pioneered by artists such as Kojey Radical and Samsa. I believe Words with Friends 3 to be another step in this direction, with the Heartsease Kid’s production enforcing a musical delivery from the poets that makes it almost indistinguishable from “Rhythm Assisted Poetry”.