Is Rap Poetry? What’s the difference between the poetry of Shakespeare and the lyrics from your favorite rapper?

In definition, poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and often rhythmic qualities of language − such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and meter. Therefore, evoking meanings in addition to, or place of, a prosaic ostensible meaning. A poem is a literary composition written by a poet utilizing this principle.

Rap is a musical form of vocal delivery that incorporates rhyme, rhythmic speech, and street vernacular. All this is performed or chanted in various ways, usually over a backing beat or musical accompaniment.

Comparison Between Rap and Poetry

Poetry has been around for centuries and has evolved through time. A poet uses various styles and techniques to make their masterpiece with poetry. There are different styles of poems, such as a sonnet, haiku, acrostic. From the diverse styles, rap falls within the guidelines for poetry.

Rap, just as poetry, seems to have some features in common. Features such as:

1. Writing forms

Both rap and poems are usually written in verses(stanzas) which can be faceted. Poems can be structured with rhyming lines and meters or freeform.

On the other hand, rap songs consist of intros, hooks, and verses.

2. The use of imagery.

Imagery is used in poetry to help the writing appeal to the readers. Poetry uses imagery to engage its readers and audience. Additionally, imagery intensifies the impact of the poet’s language as he shows us with his words rather than just telling us what he feels.

An example is “Man Versus Pepper,” Roper vividly describes one man’s experience with extra spicy food.

“One sniff gives a clue of the heat within.

First bite feels like swallowing a lighted blow torch,

And tears stream from his eyes like a flash flood

As the dying ghost pepper delivers its savage revenge.”

Rappers connect to their audience using the images they create. The images encourage reflection of the world surrounding listeners and enable a process of self-realization.

Kanye West, for instance, has used imagery in his song ‘Flashing Lights.’

‘First class with the seatback, I still see ya.

In my past, you on the other side of my memory’s museum’.

In the first part of this excerpt, West uses imagery to describe that although he lives luxury, his ex-girlfriend still haunts him

3. Rhythm

Both rap music and poetry have rhythm in common. Irish poet W. B. Yeats once said that poetry is ‘an elaboration of the rhythms of common speech and their association with profound feeling.’ Though poems don’t necessarily have to rhyme, all poems have rhythm.

Without a rhythm, hip-hop lyrics would be just a short story. Rappers use organic rhythms from a speech and then manipulate them into a beat.

The rhythms in rap and poetry can either be smooth, flowing, choppy, edgy, violent, gentle, turbulent, or vengeful. Rhythm helps artists create a mood that manipulates the feelings they are trying to convey.

4. The use of figurative language

Figurative languages are words and expressions used in poems and rap music to convey various meanings and interpretations from the literal meaning.

Rap music features figurative language as any Shakespeare sonnet or a John Milton poem.

Examples of figurative languages in both rap and poetry include:

Metaphors are figures of speech that directly refer to one thing by mentioning another. Romeo and Juliet proclaim, “Juliet is the sun.”

Lupe Fiasco has used an extended metaphor in his song “daydreamin.” In the track, he personifies a project building in Chicago.

Simile interestingly compares two things using the words ‘like’ or ‘as.’

 Robert Burns employs this in his poem ‘A Red, Red Rose.’

‘O my luve is like a red, red rose

That’s newly sprung in June

O my luve is like the Melodie

That’s sweetly played in tune.’

2 Pac in his song California love, he says;

“Now let me welcome everybody to the wild wild West

A state that’s untouchable like Elliot Ness.”

Hyperboles are intentionally exaggerated descriptions, comparisons, or exclamations meant to make a specific impact on a reader.

Let’s take an example of William Wordsworth’s ‘A Character.’

“This picture from nature may seem to depart

Yet the man would at once run away with your heart;

And I for five centuries rightly gladly would be

Such an odd such a kind happy creature as he.”

California Gurls by Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg heavily employs hyperboles.

“California girls

We’re unforgettable

Daisy Dukes

Bikinis on top

Sun-kissed skin so hot

We’ll melt your popsicle.

Onomatopoeia is the process of creating a word that phonetically imitates, resembles, or suggests the sound it describes.

The Tempest by William Shakespeare has excellent use of onomatopoeia

“Hark, Hark!


The watchdog’s bark!


Hark, Hark! I hear

The strain of strutting chanticleer

Cry, ‘cock-a- diddle- dow!’

Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” has employed onomatopoeia in the lyrics

Boom- ba-doom-boom-boom-ba-doom-boom-boom

Yeah, that’s the super bass

That’s the sound of a bass, or as Nicki compares it, a heartbeat.

4. Delivery

The delivery of both forms makes them separate. While poetry can be picked up and turned into rap, most raps are not poetic.

Poets find it easy to write rap music between the two forms, but to perform it? That’s an entirely different thing.

Poetry is often read alone, in class, or as a group. Rap, on the other hand, has to be performed. You can listen to it in a concert or the confines of your room.

5. Entertainment

While both rap music and poems are used to deliver a message and entertain, they are pretty different.

Poems convey an idea or an emotion in beautiful language. Poems paint a picture of the poet’s feelings about a thing, person, idea, concept, or even an object. Poems are good for developmental learning.

Additionally, poems are therapeutic for both the reader and the writer while also helping you understand the significance of words.

Rap that is considered poetry tends to highlight intricate and complex lyrics. ‘Socially conscious’ rap aims to question the dominant cultural, political, philosophical, and economic consensus.

Rap music has also become a platform for young people to share their views on exploitation, prejudice, police brutality, injustice, and violence.

Mediocre rap songs feature repetitive phrases and lyrics about avid drug use, misogyny, and excessive partying.

Though there are plenty of rap songs about partying and women, if you look deep within the genre, you will find songs that exhibit the romanticism of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.


Whether or not you see poetry as rap or rap as poetry. I am sure that you agree that there are similarities between them just as there are differences.

The distinctions make them unique but also connected in a way.

As for me, I may say rap is also poetry, and you may also argue that it is not, and we both could be right.

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