The Professor of Hip-Hop: Adam Bradley’s Poetic Mission
What do Lauryn Hill and Emily Dickinson share? The Sound of Music and Juggaknots? For Professor Adam Bradley it’s all part of his mission to connect hip-hop to a poetic American tradition, Nick Romeo writes for The Daily Beast.
“This is one of the foremothers of hip hop,” Professor Adam Bradley said to a class of 70 undergraduates one morning at the University of Colorado. Projected on a screen behind him was a still shot of Julie Andrews smiling and snuggling with the Von Trapp children in the film version of The Sound of Music. Once his students’ laughter subsided, Bradley played three short clips: Julie Andrews beaming rendition of the 1959 Rogers and Hammerstein song “My Favorite Things,” John Coltrane’s moody riffs on the same melody in 1964, and an underground hip-hop group called the Juggaknots’ remix of Coltrane from the late 1990s. “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” had morphed into “Only preservation of the funk is why I kick this / As I give a simple diagnosis of the sickness” with a hip-hop beat, but the melodic lineage linking Julie and the Juggaknots was clear.
For students familiar only with mainstream images of hip-hop, Julie Andrews was one of many surprises in Bradley’s course. One day they heard beats from a group representing the homo-hop movement called Deep Dickollective, whose main rapper describes his aesthetic as “nigga-nerd shit-talk-swagger with a dictionary instead of a pistol.” Next they listened to the lesbian artist Medusa’s “This Pussy is a Gangsta.” While he also teaches mainstream artists like Jay-Z and A Tribe Called Quest, Bradley wants to show students hip-hop’s dimly lit corners: the MC known only in a Brooklyn neighborhood, or the shaky live concert footage captured on handheld camera. The underground and fringe groups help students realize that hip-hop is broader and more complex than any of the caricatures popular culture promotes.
Since publishing Book of Rhymes (2009), and The Anthology of Rap (2010), Bradley has become one of the most eloquent public champions of hip-hop poetics. While scholars such as Tricia Rose and Henry Louis Gates Jr. have argued for the cultural and intellectual significance of hip-hop, Bradley is one of the pioneers of a more aesthetic approach to the form. He wants to seduce new audiences and make current fans appreciate the depths of poetic craft in what he calls “the most widely disseminated poetry in the history of the world.”
Read the rest of the article at The Daily Beast.