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New American Songbook

New American Songbook: Justify Yourself!


A couple of weeks ago in Charlton, Massachusetts, a car pulled up to a group of teenagers. A man got out of the car and began rapping at the teenagers. They were asked if they, too, wanted to, quote, "spit some bars." The teenagers declined and the man got back in the car and left. It’s a weird and silly story, but it left me concerned for the teenagers: Why didn’t they have any bars to spit?

The term ‘battle rap’ has been overused and ill-defined for a long time, but at its most basic a battle rap is a manifesto of the moment, a statement of who you are right now. And, okay, a lot of battle raps will spend time on breaking down someone else—a challenger, an opponent, real or imagined—but we are always, in part, defined by other people, and there’s a usefulness then in defining those who are trying to define us.

Imagine a world where we introduced ourselves not by our names, but by our stanzas. Where the question ‘Who are you?’ is a call to plant your feet firmly on the ground and explain yourself with a poem. What are we teaching our children if they are unable to meet this fundamental challenge? Who are we, as a nation, if we don’t have any bars to spit? Justify yourself!