At my mom’s encouragement, I started writing rhymes from age 5 or 6 (“I have ants in my pants and they’re singing strange chants”). A few years later, I started the tradition of writing my mom a yearly birthday poem (which my kids now help to compose).
In my early teens, I wooed all of my love interests with sappy, super-rhyme-y, make-you-gag poetry. Around that time, I also fell in love with rap music — which has always felt like poetry that makes me want to dance. I would play, rewind, and replay segments of tapes to memorize my favorite songs.
In late high school, my best friend Joe and I would sit around in dark corners of our little downtown, flailing our way through the freestyling learning curve, consuming liquid inspiration (sparkling water, of course) in 40-oz portions.
As an early undergrad, I started freestyling regularly and writing raps to perform on open mics. I participated in a few freestyle battles on campus and occasionally did not embarrass myself too badly.
I also began taking poetry classes and eventually minored in creative writing/poetry. The poems that came out of those classes were angst-y and exaggerated — full of tendrils and tentacles and tempered testosterone. My dear professor for many of those classes, Gaby Calvocoressi, did her best with me, amongst other things showing me the power of being rhyme-less …which is timeless. ?
For my senior honors thesis, I went to London to interview rappers, DJs, and producers about how the evolution of hip-hop relates to the technologies of rap music production and the racial and cultural forces embedded in the music. My thesis, “The Evolution of Rap and Roll…“, led me to the conclusion that rap music is following the trajectory of rock-and-roll — grown from African American cultural roots into mainstream culture (“pop-hop”) in a way that loses sight of the origins and possibly even contributes to greater racial disparity in our society.
This conclusion made me feel guilty about my participation in hip-hop. I came from a relatively privileged background that had little in common with the struggles depicted in the music. I realized that rapping is a mechanism for the underserved in our society to have a voice (no music lessons required) and I felt selfish for using it without that background. Hip-hop and poetry in general had helped me through those angst-y teenage/college years, but I realized that all along I had actually been a part of the problem that my thesis had identified. I had been contributing to the dilution of hip-hop culture and music as an inauthentic participant. Or at least that’s how I felt. So I took a break from Hip-Hop/rapping.
And then I met my (now) wife. Talking with her about hip-hop culture and music — which she also appreciated as an informed quasi-outsider — made me feel less guilty about my hip-hop identity. I decided that I could write and perform raps guilt-free as long as they had a purpose bigger than myself and I always treated the roots with respect. And so I proposed to her in a rap song which I performed in front of her family after Thanksgiving dinner. And then when our first child was born, I recorded a 10-life-lessons song which parallels Biggie’s Ten Crack Commandments.
Around that time I also began thinking about integrating rapping into my academic interests. I came up with a few rhymey intros to my conference presentations. Some of those were just limericks, but eventually I begin making them longer raps. The first when I did that I actually had some significant educational content was about differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods. I still perform that a few times per semester for my students when the topic comes up.
The rest is recent history, I guess. I enjoy rapping about all sorts of nerdy topics, from my avatar research to the relationship between science and faith.
I plan to keep rapping until someone convinces me I’m just not cool enough anymore. I also plan to keep videos of performances and other related info here.