Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (vii, 268 pages) : illustrations (some color)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Derik Smith

Committee Members

Glyne Griffith, Michael Leong


Hip Hop, hip-hop, poetics, Poetry, Rap, Hip-hop, American poetry, Rap (Music), Poetics

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Creative Writing | English Language and Literature


The study of Hip Hop poetics has been slowly gaining momentum as an area for scholarly inquiry. Accordingly, Mic Check rests on one critical assumption: Hip Hop is the most significant American form of poetry ever invented. To back up this claim, this project investigates Hip Hop lyricism from five critical angles: tradition, form, tone, medium, and practice. I argue that music’s foundational position in African American literature clarifies Hip Hop’s experiments with language, which operate within and extend an ongoing, centuries-old tradition of linguistic, rhythmic, and poetic experimentation. Comprehension of the longstanding literary/oral territory from which Hip Hop is born compels an analysis of the art’s formal characteristics. I argue that these formal traits of Hip Hop poetics bear more structural semblance to earlier British and American forms than they do to those of contemporary and modern poetry. Form is thus a new (yet old) vehicle for advancing African American literary exploration. However, form alone cannot carry the weight of a poetic genre; this is where theme and specifically argumentative positioning become essential to understanding Hip Hop poetics. I assert that the “politics of abandonment” (as conceptualized by Jeff Chang), through which the social apparatuses of the American state systematically neglected the urban poor, gave birth to an oppositional poetics within the Hip Hop form. Foregrounding the tone of oppositionality in Hip Hop allows me to productively account for problematic themes—violence, misogyny, etc.—in the genre’s corpus, rather than sidestepping these concerns. Additionally, as a multi-disciplinary artistic movement, Hip Hop cannot be confined to one medium, and it often incorporates several at once. I argue that Hip Hop’s blurring of medium—especially orature and literature—inevitably brings its poetry to the page. This movement from the mic to the page exemplifies the circular relationship between the oral and the scribal in the African American literary tradition. These critical interventions set the stage for me to explore all of these themes via the creative/critical practice of poetics. I engage Hip Hop on the page in my own poetry to demonstrate how my critical discussions play out in the creation of an art product. This creative intervention—combined with my critical discussions of tradition, form, tone, and medium—compels us to consider what lies ahead for Hip Hop poetics and for poetry as a whole.