Baba Brinkman Mixes Hip Hop with Literature

English literature and creative writing students were thrilled by a visit from performance artist Baba Brinkman, who just finished touring his combination of rap and medieval literature around Europe, where it won several awards. Mr. Brinkman first connected the works of Chaucer to hip hop music when he was studying at Simon Fraser University.

“Shakespeare didn’t write to be studied,” says Mr. Brinkman. “He wrote to entertain and later people found deeper meaning in his work.”

What Mr. Brinkman discovered through his studies, is that the situation faced by medieval poets, such as Chaucer, and today’s hip-hop artists is similar. Both are trying to utilize their skill with words to better themselves financially, but while poets sought patrons, today’s recording artists seek fans and record deals. They are also similar because they often use their work to comment on class struggles, of which Canterbury Tales is a prime example. “The stories are universal,” he says.

Mr. Brinkman performed three stories from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which he reworked to fit into the style of hip hop while keeping the details from the stories, which are hundreds of years old. He recited the Miller’s tale, the Wife of Bath’s Tale and the Pardoner’s Tale for a packed house before leading a workshop with some of the students.

“All rap is poetry,” says Mr. Brinkman. “Rap is a form about rhyme and rhythm.”

Hip-hop or rap music uses the natural stresses of words to create a beat. Mr. Brinkman showed the students how to create multiple-syllable rhyme patterns before assigning them to write a few lines about their school.

“It’s about taking everyday speech and finding the music in it,” he explains.

At the end of the workshop, Mr. Brinkman collected the lines written by all the students and merged them into one piece, which touched on everything from lunch-stealing seagulls to campus construction.


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