Rhymes with ‘rap’

Gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur’s The Rose That Grew from Concrete, a collection of rhymes he wrote when he was 19, made the summer reading list in Worcester, Massachusetts. It’s a collection of misspelled tripe writes columnist Michelle Malkin.

The presumption that children — and particularly inner-city children — can only be stimulated by the contemporary and familiar smacks of lazy elitism and latent racism. These educators, and I use that term as loosely as gangster rappers wear their pants, are clearly more interested in appearing cool than in inculcating a refined literary sense in students. Their aim is not enlightenment, but dumbed-down ghetto entertainment. So that teachers and pupils can “relate” and be “down with that.” So they can “keep it real.” You know what I’m sayin’?

. . . One poem is “Dedicated 2 Me.” Another is “Dedicated 2 My Heart.” There’s one “4 Nelson Mandela” and another “2 Marilyn Monroe,” which laments: “They could never understand what u set out 2 do instead they chose 2 ridicule u.” Another Shakur opus is titled “When Ure Hero Falls.” Still another muses: “What Is It That I [insert pictograph of an eyeball] Search 4.”

A dictionary, perhaps?

In riveting prose that presumably rivals Frost or Longfellow, Shakur brags that he is “more than u can handle” and “hotter than the wax from a candle.” Edgar Allan Poe had Annabel Lee. Shakur had Renee (“u were the one 2 reach into my heart”), April (“I want 2 c u”), Elizabeth (“the seas of our friendship R calm”), Michelle (“u and I have perfect hearts”), Carmen (“I wanted u more than I wanted me”), Marquita (“u were pure woman 2 me”), Irene (“I knew from the First glance that u would be hard 2 4get”), and Jada.

Here are comments on her blog, courtesy of Rosenblog, which has more links.

About Joanne


  1. ccwbass says:

    Eye wan 2 [censored].

  2. Richard Brandshaft says:

    That sort of pun spelling used to be popular among young science fiction fans decades ago. Some “improper” usages still survive. The plural of “fan” is “fen.” (If the plural of “man” is “men”, then …) “Filk” is a term for songs with and SF theme; I read somewhere it originated as a typo.

    There is also the fact that, back in the typewriter days, it paid to minimize the number of keystrokes. I’ve seen the cryptic abbreviations in UNIX blamed on this.

    I do buy the notion that black children have a cultural problems from very early on. But amusing use of written puns isn’t one of them. (For that matter, in Bill Cosby’s comments, his objection to hats turned backwards and low pants struck me as a false note. Both Bill Cosby I are old enough to remember when mini-skirts and long hair on men foretold the decline of Western civilization.)

  3. cjstevens says:

    Hmm. Before the potential firestorm begins, I just have to ask a few things:

    1) Does anyone have a copy of (or link to) the entire summer reading list?

    2) Have any of you read “The Rose That Grew from Concrete”?

  4. The poem is quoted in full in the comment section Joanne links to.

    And having read that comment section, I resolve that the only T.S. I will go on record as having ANY opinion about is T.S. Eliot. I don’t want to call that stuff down on me.

  5. Rita C. says:

    Summer reading lists should contain a wide variety of material. Ours is a mix of classics and YA lit. Shakur’s poetry is probably best classified as YA, as is Jewel’s. I don’t think it is the end of the world to recommend it to teenagers who may be interested in Shakur, etc. The idea of summer reading is enjoyment. Only the bookwormishest of bookwormishest are going to pick up a classic just because they should (and there appears to be plenty of that on the list). Most people read what they are interested in. Sure, it’s atrocious poetry. But people buy and read Hallmark cards every day and, much to my continual astonishment, survive the experience.

  6. Walter E. Wallis says:

    There are some poetesses who read like they are paid by the word.

  7. slimedog says:

    Both Bill Cosby I are old enough to remember when mini-skirts and long hair on men foretold the decline of Western civilization.

    And it declined!

  8. mike from Oregon says:

    I was a bit surprised by the remarks posted here.

    Is summer reading really suppose to be for “enjoyment”? Hmmm, that was never my understanding and in most of the better schools (schools that actually teach), it appears that summer reading is used to help get a jump start on the coming school year. Enjoyment reading is just that, it is printed material (please don’t call it literature) that is picked up and read for pleasure. It can range from magazines to knock-knock jokes to this prattle put out by this thug. For a school to recommend/require reading this pathetic attempt at prose is a mockery of both good poetry and good english. This is the type of trash that helps “these poor ghetto” kids stay stuck in the lower dredges of society. They not only hear this improper use of the language from the people they associate with, but now have a school encouraging them to read garbage that helps reinforce both bad use of the language and poor english (and poor writing skills).

    Richard – you “black children have a cultural problems from very early on.” – my question to you would be, do you think having them read this dribble will help or decrease those cultural problems?

    Folks, it’s just another example of public education dumbing itself down even further. Imagine how the poor english teacher WON’T be surprised when the first essays of the new school year start out with “Wat I did ovr sumer vacason”.

  9. Interesting that mike from Oregon defines “literature” defines as something one does not read for pleasure.

  10. Interesting that George Williams cannot distinguish between different types of pleasure, or acknowledge the fact that some pleasures must be first cultivated before they can be enjoyed.

    This is the type of thinking that lies behind the eradication of distinction amongst those currently deciding what belongs in the literary canon.

  11. dhanson says:

    Why must everything a child, teen or adult reads qualify as great literature? Given a variety of choices (and some occasional nudges) I think a broad range of reading material is healthy.

    As for Tupac Shakur’s poetry, I see the abreviations and misspellings as an affectation as easily as ignorance. Of course, I’ve always liked the poetry of people like Lewis Carroll, Ogden Nash and John Lennon, all of whom were ready to murder spelling or even make up words as it suited their purposes. Several of Lewis Carroll’s made-up words (like Shakespeare’s) have made their way into the English language.

    Then again, I’m also reminded of the old Saturday Night Live “Prison Poet” sketch, in which Eddie Murphy recites a poem from his prison cell:
    “kill my landlord.
    kill my landlord.
    C -I – L – L my landlord.”

  12. mike from oregon says:

    Clarification for those who like to nit-pick. You CAN read good literature for pleasure, I do, but I was merely trying to point out that, while Rita C believes that summer reading is suppose to be enjoyable; in my experience the reason for a summer reading list (especially if it was required reading) was to get a jump on the next school year.

    As for dhanson – I agree that not EVERYTHING that person reads needs to be great literature. I did not try to imply that. Read for enjoyment, read westerns, read fiction, read whatever you happen to enjoy. However, when something is mandated by the school, I believe that REQUIRED reading should be something that a lesson is taught from. As near as I can figure, Tupac’s ramblings teach how to mutilate the english language. If you like to read it, and want to do it for enjoyment, fine, go ahead do it – but I hard pressed to see any scholastic value in it.

  13. Rita C. says:

    And I hard pressed to see how one book of poems is going to cause the decline of western civilization, the literary canon, and traditional grammar. Since I am the “poor English teacher” who reads all the essays (although not in Worcester), I’m in a pretty good position to judge the effect of what one reads on what one writes. If only I could assign a book and see the next set of essays come in in that style! Now there’s a fantasy. Assign The Odyssey, receive classical epic poetry from my students. Assign Shakespeare, receive Elizabethan drama full of beautiful language and insights into the human condition. Ok, stop. I can’t take that sort of tease.

  14. Rita, it does occasionally happen. For a highschool assignment on Chaucer, my brother, now himself a stonecarver, handed in an illuminated scroll, on onionskin, describing a “Kerver in Stoon” whose wrists were not small.

    There is an educational potential in assigning the poetry of Tupac Shakur, and that is using it as an entry point to the reading of poetry. Start here, then go to Maya Angelou, then Phyllis Wheatley and Langston Hughes, and maybe then Byron and Keats if you are lucky.

  15. although I wouldn’t read Shakur’s writings (if for no other reason than the “hip” substitutions of “2” for “to” and “U” for “you” make me go cross-eyed), I don’t necessarily have a problem with using them as sort of a gateway to other literature, as triticale suggested.

    However, if that’s ALL a person reads, I suspect it’s as stultifying as if ALL they read was Newsweek, or the sports pages of the newspaper, or romance novels.

    There is a certain enjoyment in reading difficult works. It took me over a year (as a new professor reading it for “enjoyment”) to get through Middlemarch, but I wouldn’t ever say I regretted the time I spent reading it, even though I often had to backtrack and sometimes had to look things up. I don’t know how to culture this in young people – an enjoyment of things that are difficult because they are worthwhile, and perhaps even because they are difficult – and I wonder if it’s perhaps an inborn/early-developed trait that teachers really can’t influence greatly, and that those who choose not to dig deep can never be influenced to do so.

    In other words, there will be students who read Tupac and move on to Ellison and Hughes and others, there will be students who may not even WANT to read Shakur but rather go on to the “harder stuff” right off, and there will, unfortunately, be a few who only want to read that which is easy for them and immediately speaks to their experience, or what they think their experience to be. (As in the suburban white kids of privelige who claim a great solidarity with ghetto youth, when they’d really be scared feces-less if they actually wound up in an inner city area). Perhaps, for that last group, if they’re still like that as high school seniors, you simply shrug and say “as you wish” and hope that maybe in a few years, after they’ve done a stint flipping burgers, they come to appreciate education and come back wanting to work in the vineyards of the mind.

    Perhaps, at some point, you do have to cut your losses a bit and say “if I’ve lead the horse to the water, pushed his snout into the stream, and the stubborn beast still won’t drink, then I must wait until he becomes thirsty.”

    I will say that I am constantly irritated by the drive to force those who teach to make the content “hip” or “entertaining.” I consider that what I teach (biology) is inherently interesting, I do experiments in class whereever possible, I choose examples carefully to present the material in a way that students can (hopefully) relate it to their life experience, but I refuse to try to be an entertainer in what I do. It wouldn’t work for me, and besides, if I were good at entertaining, I’d be on the Vegas strip or the Broadway stage, making more money (and likely, getting more appreciation) than I do now.

    And why should education be “entertaining” any way? Shouldn’t learning bring a different sort of fulfillment beyond mere shallow enjoyment?

    (Sorry, the whole teaching-like-you’re-on-MTV issue gets me worked up.)

    I do think it was unfortunate to include them (and Jewel’s writing, which I suspect I would enjoy about as much as I would Mr. Shakur’s) in a summer reading list that will get a lot of press. It does look silly to someone on the outside of the situation.

  16. Looks to me like the poems are written in Texting (the abbreviations kids use for sending written messages over cell phones). So, while the unconventional spellings annoy the heck out of us, the kids reading the poems may be quite comfortable with it.

    I don’t have a problem with weird spelling as long as kids learn to write “to”, “too”, or “two” instead of “2” when they’re writing for the rest of us (parents, teachers, employers…)

    A post-summer classroom discussion of conventional spelling vs. Texting might be in order.

  17. If we;’re going to dismiss the work of Tupac Shakur for having improper spelling and grammar, perhaps we ought to remove Mark Twain from summer reading lists (or high school study) for the same reason.

    Why is it appropriate for one artist to use dialect and not appropriate for another one?

  18. Well, chuck, perhaps because the content of one is thought-provoking and the content of the other is overrated crap?

  19. Richard Aubrey says:

    Aw, jeez, Winston. Now you’re being judgmental.

  20. just another sockpuppet says:

    “perhaps because the content of one is thought-provoking and the content of the other is overrated crap”

    And with that, ladies and gentleman, we conclude tonight’s tautology. Thank you and please drive home safely.

  21. i think that people should be able to rap on thing that are good for people can relale to that a person would not have anything to say about no one on the floor or what ever

  22. Its poetry not a dictionary, if things were mispelt it doesn’t matter the poems were written to his satisfaction maybe he was only meant to see it so who are you to judge, and I’m guessing he would have said the poems out alloud to the listeners so what difference does it make.

    What i find annoying is when people are ignorant just because you can’t relate with it, if you can’t relate to it then you can’t judge because you obviosly don’t know nothing about what he is saying.


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