I just wanted to share two pieces of poetry–both titled Caged Bird, but one written, the other rap. That’s right: rap is poetry. And before you think otherwise or plan on reporting me for blasphemy, I’m currently reading Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop by Adam Bradley, and he’s a Harvard-educated professor (Merriam-Webster synonym for an Asian parent’s dream) who argues “Every rap song is a poem waiting to be performed.” Checkmate.
The first one is “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou, found in her 1983 volume of poetry Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? You can find it here. The second one is Caged Bird by J. Cole featuring Omen, released in 2015. (It’s getting late and my mind is unbridled: isn’t “second one” such a peculiar phrase? A numerical oxymoron if you ask me.) You can listen to it on Spotify or YouTube.
They’re naturally in dialogue with one another given that J. Cole’s piece and its title are inspired by Angelou’s poem. And Angelou’s poem is, of course, an allusion to her 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; both are a homage to Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy”–published in 1899. The phrase “I know why the caged bird sings” is a direct quote from Dunbar’s poem. Just thinking about all those links is pretty neat and wonderful.
It was Bradley’s Book of Rhymes that reminded me of the two pieces–both timeless forever and timely today. He had some rather impassioned and unexpectedly prophetic words that I’ll leave you with since my late-night mind cannot put together an ending right now:
The world needs rap’s voice. Youth movements need a soundtrack, need collaboration between rap celebrities and the everyday people who have always made social movements happen. Entertainers and athletes have long been the most visible Americans, even in invisible times. When these figures speak out on political and social issues, their voices carry far. We need hip hop’s voices now more than ever.