Does Shakespeare and Hip-Hop Have Something In Common?
Is Hip-Hop the birthplace of Shakespeare? The popular hip-hop group Public Enemy envisioned a world where rap lyrics take on high stakes, social and political themes, and predict the future.
Psychological game theorist Aaron M. McCoy of the University of Mississippi sets out to explore the broader literary game theory implications in his new book. McCoy examines the question, in short, whether Shakespeare’s work and the aesthetic progression of pre-historical Romantic poetry lends itself to social and cultural adaptation to the music of the 20th Century.
“We all want to know the answer,” McCoy told Reuters. “Why did Shakespeare write what he wrote? The fundamental question is, ‘Are literary and music disciplines and styles matching up or not?’ If they are, people will be more open to learning and enjoying music.”
Shakespeare has been the target of hip-hop collaborations for years, with hip-hop acts like the Beastie Boys, Run-DMC, Public Enemy, and more tackling Shakespeare’s works. Kanye West most famously shared his love for Shakespeare’s works and taken his influence to work on his latest album, “The Life of Pablo.” Public Enemy’s “Welcome to the Terrordome” even features a rendition of Hamlet’s famous verse about “hollow streets.” So far, David Bowie, Pete Townshend, Nas, Bjork, and Earth Wind & Fire have all covered Shakespeare’s works as well.
The question in McCoy’s book is whether or not the contemporary popularity of classic literature can be seen as a “positive trend.” Writing in the journal Violence in Society, the author argues that this question doesn’t have a simple answer. He attempts to delve deeper into the question, shifting focus from the novel to the entertainment medium.
“Today we call such phenomena ‘literary adaptations’ or ‘literary modernization’,” writes McCoy. “But even the ‘breakthrough’ adaptations reflect a struggle, more than a trend, in the cultural integration of the entertainment and literary industries.”
He thinks that the influence of the entertainment industry and the popularity of modern musical compositions are not enough to bring classical literature into popular culture. Much more is needed to guide readers of Shakespeare to the audience they aspire to. McCoy goes on to examine the implications of classical literature adaptations in popular culture to identify issues pertaining to cultural adaptation.
“If we’re going to do entertainment in broad terms, it seems very important for a subject matter that’s more strict, even restrictive to be able to adapt and produce whatever entertainment we want,” McCoy says in the book. “You don’t have to find a solution to everything. You can have as many sides as you want.
“But you have to be able to provide reasons for the novel to connect to an audience and why the audience has some potential to change.”
Although certain traditional works of literature and music have seen an increased cultural presence in the 20th Century, some scholars argue that more must be done to make sure that creative works of traditional literature and music are preserved. Much of this is due to a lack of focus in retelling the same story year after year. McCoy argues that creating a long-term strategy to preserve cultural works of legacy will help audiences with better educational experiences and ongoing intellectual respect.
“I think there are a lot of problems that plague both literature and popular music,” McCoy tells Reuters. “Part of the solution is really to consider how far are we willing to risk making the books and music we love accessible to audiences that don’t know them.”
Whether McCoy’s book will open readers’ eyes to the differing possibilities available to classical works of literature and the entertainment world remains to be seen. But, for those interested in any additional perspectives, readers can find more from McCoy at the Computer and Culture Media Research website, mrrm.centerfhc.edu.