Department of English

UAlbany Literary Scholars, Derik Smith and Victorio Reyes, Discuss Hip Hop and Literature

This past February, professor Derik Smith and PhD Student Victorio Reyes participated on a panel entitled “The Written Orality of Hip Hop Lyricism.” The panel, which was part of AWP Conference in Washington DC, was conceived of by Reyes and Smith and served as an opportunity to engage in a national conversation on Hip Hop’s relationship to literature. Keying on the fact that “Hip Hop artists and audiences have always engaged the written as well as the oral textuality of rap lyrics,” Reyes, Smith, and the other panelists presented a wide array of arguments, all beginning with the premise that Hip Hop lyricism ought to be regarded as literary texts.

In his presentation, Reyes spoke about the role that Hip Hop lyrics, found on lyrics databases, impact the audience: “These verses that we experience as listeners to a poetic, musical performance are also verses that we seek out as text, text that we read, share, and annotate. When we read these texts, we honor the lyrical skills of Hip Hop’s craftspeople.” By highlighting Hip Hop’s function as a textual medium, Reyes, along with the other panelists, made the case for viewing Hip Hop as a form of literature. Expanding on this idea, Smith went on to highlight Hip Hop’s literary roots: “The germ of hip-hop lyricism is found in poetic innovations of the late 1960s and early 1970s; it is this medley of social, cultural and aesthetic processes that form the womb which gave life to the MC.” Their panel was so well received that, among the hundreds of panels at AWP, it was one of two featured on the NPR podcast Code Switch i  on the episode “Ten Thousand Writers... and Two Intrepid Podcast Hosts.” Additionally, Smith and Reyes’ presentation was also featured in the Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies ii AWP report back series.

Reyes and Smith do not only write and present about Hip Hop and literature, but they also bring the subject into the classroom here at UAlbany. Reyes, a PhD student in the English department as well as lecturer with EOP, taught a course this past fall: AENG 240z Rewriting America and chose to focus his version of this course on the poetics of Hip Hop. Smith is offering a course this fall: AENG 465Y Ethnic Lit in Cultural Context—The Rise of Hip Hop.

Building on this trend of sharing Hip Hop scholarship with the UAlbany community, on April 25 in the Humanities building room 354, Smith and Reyes will host: “A Discussion of Lyricism in Poetry and Hip Hop,” sponsored by the English Department. This event aims to “bring home” the type of conference-oriented scholarship that is often produced at UAlbany but is not typically shared with the wider campus community. Reyes and Smith will offer samples of their papers from AWP and engage the audience in a discussion on Hip Hop, poetry, and lyricism. Drinks and snacks will be provided.


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