Hip hop as poetry and rappers as poets 

COLUMBIA, Mo 2/8/14 (Beat Byte) --  A Mizzou English professor who specializes in 20th century American literature, criticism, and theory is teaching a class on Jay Z and Kanye West that's getting a lot of notice. 

Andrew Hoberek's English 2169 course asks how the two hip hop artists have changed the history of hip-hop music; how their work compares to poetry; and how their notable celebrity and corporate power alter our understanding of the American dream.   Students  listen to music , watch videos, and read Decoded, Jay Z's autobiography.   

Time Magazine picked up on the course last month, likening it to a study of artistic relationships:  Hemingway and Fitzgerald; Van Gogh and Gauguin; Lennon and McCartney. 

Hoberek, meanwhile, emphasizes the duo's relationship to great poetry.  "These guys are warming up to the level of major poets," Hoberek told Consequence of Sound music writer Chris Coplan.   During the course's debut in Fall 2013, Hoberek's students "looked at how books about poetry help us to understand rap with Jay and Kanye at the forefront," he explained.   "They’re very much like painters and novelists in the 20th century, moving beyond the confines of the art form’s boundaries."

A heavyweight literary scholar best known for his analyses of modern American culture's impact on literature -- and vice versa -- Hoberek has studied post-War science fiction and the political implications of contemporary films like Argo and Zero Dark Thirty

He authored The Twilight of the Middle Class:  Post-World War II American Fiction and White-Collar Work  (Princeton University Press, 2005).   From the works of an astonishing variety of American writers -- Ayn Rand, Ralph Ellison, Saul Bellow, Phillip Roth, Flannery O'Connor, Thomas Pynchon, and Don DeLillo -- Hoberek examined a phenomenon long in the making, but at the forefront of political discourse today:  the downward mobility of the American middle class, as it transformed from property ownership to white collar employment after WW II. 

He recently wrote a chapter on the Jewish American novel for the Cambridge History of the American novel.
With such high-brow credentials, how did a class on hip-hop pass muster with Hoberek -- and his department leaders?   He likens the course to film studies, once frowned upon as a proper academic topic.    "Now, you go into any English department, and there is going to be a film element," Hoberek said in a Riverfront Times interview last month.