Devlin's piece set off a minor firestorm. NPR published a follow-up story on its website titled "Why the Errors in The Anthology of Rap Matter." An article in the Yale Herald claimed, "Yale's Anthology of Rap let us down." In a second article, Devlin noted that many of the errors in the lyrics were the same as those found on OHHLA.com; he wondered if Dubois and Bradley had simply taken their transcriptions from online databases and claimed them as their own. And for a third piece, Devlin included quotes that expressed disappointment in the book from several members of the anthology's advisory board, which hadn't vetted the lyrics. Also critical was Grandmaster Caz, one of rap's pioneers. While Anthology listed Caz as one of the artists consulted, Caz said he wasn't asked to check the transcriptions of his own lyrics until after the first printing of the book — when he discovered a number of mistakes.

"I think the book's benefits outweigh its shortcomings, but the shortcomings need to be addressed for history's sake," says Caz. "It's about chronicling this history as correctly and accurately as possible. If nobody checks it, they can change this whole history around, as has been done before. And it's not like we are not around. How can I be misquoted when I'm right here? All you have to do is call me."

The controversy caught Bradley off guard. He'd expected critical pushback, even complaints about which artists and songs they'd decided to include. But not this. After years of backbreaking work on all of his projects, now he was being knocked for not working hard enough.

Adam Bradley dug through Ralph Ellison's notes to find his mythic second novel.
Courtesy of Glenn J. Asakawa-University of Colorado
Adam Bradley dug through Ralph Ellison's notes to find his mythic second novel.
Jack Monahan, aka J.Familiar, the resident DJ in "Hip Hop Poetics," along with resident MC Nick Webb (aka Eckho).
anthony camera
Jack Monahan, aka J.Familiar, the resident DJ in "Hip Hop Poetics," along with resident MC Nick Webb (aka Eckho).

Yes, he admits, there are mistakes in The Anthology of Rap. He and DuBois predicted as much in the book's introduction, where they encouraged readers to point out flaws. But considering that the anthology contains 250,000 lines of lyrics, he believes the slip-ups represent just a small fraction of the work. As for some of those same errors being found on the OHHLA, "It is possible to find moments of connection, because among the many sources we used in preparing the lyrics, [the OHHLA] is the most comprehensive source online," Bradley explains. "I think it is sometimes a matter of us reinventing the mistake, and sometimes it is us emulating the mistake."

And some of the alleged mistakes aren't mistakes at all. In one of his Slate stories, Devlin claimed that on Wu-Tang Clan's "Triumph," the RZA spits the line, "March of the Wooden Soldiers," not "Watch for the wooden soldiers," which is in the anthology. But that version coincides with the one published in the RZA's own book, The Wu-Tang Manual.

The RZA was an anomaly; since most rappers don't publish their own lyrics, Bradley says he and DuBois made every effort to reach out to the artists themselves to check their transcription work. According to the Anthology's acknowledgments, roughly two dozen of the 120 or so rappers featured did so. But because of time constraints and the number of artists involved, Bradley notes that some of those rappers, such as Caz, couldn't be reached before the book's first printing. (And some of the artists they did reach admitted that, thanks to various substances they were on at the time, they couldn't remember their lyrics.) They discussed including footnotes, he says, but considering that they couldn't squeeze all the lyrics they wanted into the 800-page tome, something had to give.

Bradley doesn't know why matters of footnotes and fact-checking, usually reserved for wonky scholarly publications, suddenly exploded in the mainstream press. But he does know that "it was probably one of the most difficult times of my professional life," he says.

Now, though, with a little bit of hindsight, he can start to see the positives. When a Poetry Magazine reviewer griped over whether or not Ice-T's "6 'N the Mornin'" really was an example of a classical aubade — a morning love song made popular by troubadours in the Middle Ages — or the New Yorker weighed in on how best to transcribe Big Daddy Kane, that meant that rap was finally getting the scholarly attention it deserved.

"All of a sudden, in 2010, we had a public discussion of rap as poetry," says Bradley. "What ultimately will matter about this book isn't the skirmishes over particular words and lines, but the life it can live as part of the grand story of hip-hop as a whole."

******

It's a warm spring day, and the Hellems Arts and Sciences building at the heart of CU is bumpin'.

An incessant bass line throbs out of a seminar room, reverberating down the hall as students stream in by the dozen, ready for another class of English 3856-010, "Topics in Genre Studies: Hip Hop Poetics." Inside, the class's resident DJ, Jack Monahan (aka J.Familiar) spins tunes on a turntable mixer as if he's at a house party.

With a gesture, Bradley, dressed in a stylish gray sports coat and jeans, silences the beat. "All right, all right, all right," he says, like a late-night talk-show host launching into his opening monologue, scanning the group of a hundred students. He first taught this course in 2009, not long after he started at CU. That semester, the class was a more conventional affair, with a couple dozen students. This year, he says, "I've super-sized it."

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6 comments
Musician
Musician

rap is often negative, ethnic and gang related and this can be proven. NOT a true style of music, more of a justification of expression and way to get rich for some. NOT the intention originally of music

hoho11
hoho11

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Paulie P
Paulie P

So, this is what passes for higher ed these days? Cutting funding is sounding more reasonable.

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