Editor’s Notebook

Write Like Shakespeare

Changing the world one rap at a time


Facebook question: “How frustrating is it for you to know that writing and the power of arts are hardly able to change the world into a better place?”


The world would not be without writing. There would be no clouds if we could not describe sunsets. No birds would sing sweetly or caw discordantly if there were no words. We could learn no lessons from history without a means to pass them down. There would be no way to change the world at all without ways to express discontent – art, expression, language are those things putting forth the human mind, sustaining the heart, one beat at a time.

Which brings me to beats, reminding me of a presentation I recently attended, addressing in a way, all these things. Las Cruces filmmaker, rapper and all-around arts activist Julian Alexander has been sharing his MFA theme around Las Cruces with a lecture called “Story Telling & Rhyme, Searching for Shakespeare.”

Alexander associates Shakespeare with a certain kind of music.

“We don’t usually associate Shakespeare and music,” he said. “However, I associate Shakespeare with one particular kind of music and that’s hip-hop and rap.”

When it comes to writing stories and narrative poetry, the epic poems, they are all rhyming and all in verse. That means Alexander can rap every single one of those pieces.

“So only folks who are literally making poems telling stories are rappers,” he said. “It took me a long time just to respect somebody like (Edgar Allen) Poe when I came to school and class. I had no interest in the context of school and class. The moment I was able to attach these things to hip-hop, I was able to relate.”

In his lecture, Alexander visits the history of hip-hop. He said the first year of hip-hop is officially 1973 and it was born in New York, the Bronx, in the civil rights movement of anger, political uprising, moral issues and political upheaval.

But long before that, there was one of the grandfathers of rap music, Mohammed Ali, Alexander pointed out.

He talked about the four components that make up hip-hop culture, the deejay, the emcee, break dancing and graffiti. The frustration and sense of being ignored created the need to be heard, breaking out into expression through music and art.

“Hip-hop became more and more intricate with the rhythms,” Alexander said. “It became more about being noticed and rebelling and art.  There was no art in schools, but it has to come out, people have to get noticed. So, you throw stuff on trains and people see your art all across the city.”

Hip-hop is about the break. The break is the place in music, starting with disco, between the lyrics, where there is only music. That break began to be repeated by deejays using two turntables, and became the basis of the style, and why break dancing is called break dancing.

“It’s literally about the break,” Alexander said. “Breaking the ice; breaking out of the cocoon. It is an artform built on oppression.”

Where does Shakespeare fit into all this stuff?

“Most hip-hop artists fit 10-12 syllables per line,” Alexander said. “You know who else does that – Shakespeare. I can literally rap a whole Shakespeare show if I want to. Shakespeare was rebellion, at the time it was the level of hip-hop. Shakespeare wasn’t respected like he is now.”

Assembled and organized, the power of words and art is that which touches us, changes us and moves time forward. Whether it’s from Shakespeare to hip-hop or the dawn of mankind to the space age and beyond, we are nothing without those things, so keep creating, use your words and your paint and change the world.

Visit this story at our newly revised website at www.desertexposure.com for a quiz to see if you can tell Shakespeare lines from rap lyrics.

Remember, you have until Aug. 15 to send us your poetry and prose short works to enter the Desert Exposure Writing Contest at contest@desertexposure.com.

And don’t forget the Southwest Festival of the Written Word coming up Oct. 4-6 in Silver City. Listen to professionals, hone your craft and share your work. For more, visit swwordfirsta.org.

Elva K. Österreich is editor of Desert Exposure and would love to meet Desert Exposure readers during her office hours in Silver City on Thursday, Aug. 29, at the Tranquilbuzz Café, located at the corner of Yankie and Texas streets. If that is not a good time, Elva will be glad to arrange another day to meet and you can always reach her at editor@desertexposure.com or by cell phone at 575-443-4408.