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Literary Lesson

Howard Professor Uses HipHop as a Literary Lesson

Last October, Gilbert Perkins, 31, f ound himself on the coveted stage at TEDx’s Mid Atlantic Conference. During his 15-minute lecture, he gave a brief hip-hop 101 lesson on how 16 bars translate into a 1,000-word song. Thus, a 12-track hip-hop album renders a literary production of about 12,000 words. To Perkins—an adjunct professor and Ph.D. student at Howard University—this length of composition merits a literary feat.

In one of his f avorite caf és in Washington, D.C., sipping his customary black cof fee with honey, Perkins further validates this of ten-disapproving genre of music as true prose by explaining the piercing symmetry he has found between the lyrics of hip moguls like Jay-Z with the school-taught works of William Shakespeare.

“Jay-Z is really good at using extended metaphors. I can give at least three or four examples of how Jay-Z uses this technique, the same way Shakespeare uses the device,” Perkins says.

This skill of identifying recurring patterns of literary devices—double entendres, metaphors, onamonapeias—between varying texts started out as a hobby f or Perkins. He would listen to music and read poetry and be able to pinpoint the similarities.

Today, he uses these correlations as the basis of his program, Words Liive—a semester-long curriculum for high school students, which delves into more than a dozen examples that bring together traditional literature and philosophy with current, urban rhythm and rhyme.

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