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Along with a DJ, the class has its own MC, Nick Webb, aka Eckho, whom Bradley regularly calls on to spit rhymes of notable rappers, as well as some of his own ("If drinkin' were a class I'd be sure to get an 'A'/ Cuz they seen me in more House Partys than Kid 'n Play"). Reading materials include Jay-Z's Decoded, and the course syllabus features its own Parental Advisory warning. And each Wednesday, different students battle it out in a "Rhyme of the Week," each submitting favorite rap lines to be voted on by the class. Winners have been known to score vintage, unopened packs of Yo! MTV Raps collector cards.

Thanks to such innovations — plus the fact that he's put out four books in the past two years — Bradley has quickly earned a name for himself at CU. "He is one of the few scholars I've met who can do conservative scholarship on one hand and, on the other, do really avant-garde, out-there pop-culture scholarship," says William Kuskin, chairman of the English department. "If he is at this level at this stage of the game, imagine where he is going to be in fifteen years. This guy is on an incredible career trajectory."

Even if Boulder seems like an unlikely spot for the center of hip-hop literary scholarship. "Certainly working in hip-hop draws me to the coasts a lot," Bradley says. "But I learned from my mentors the virtue of creating your own territory and doing your work from a place where you feel comfortable, a place you can call home." It helps that his university colleagues embrace such boundary-crossing scholarship; Kuskin is a dual expert in Chaucer and graphic novels.

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).

So with the full blessing of his department, Bradley's "Hip Hop Poetics" class this semester has ranged far and wide, covering everything from rap's gender gap to the intricacies of the N-word to why white kids love hip-hop. "I don't know many other college classes that have done anything like this," Bradley says. But he hopes classrooms across the country will soon follow suit.

With paperback versions of The Anthology of Rap and Three Days both due out in the next few months, Bradley is already hard at work on his next round of titles that blend scholarship with pop culture. First there's Common's memoir, on which he collaborated with the rap star, due out in September. "I feel like I developed a friendship with him," Common says. "I trusted in his insight and I trusted him, and I talked to him about things I haven't talked to anybody about."

After that, Bradley will publish a followup to Book of Rhymes that will apply its poetic tools to all of pop music. Plus, he and DuBois are developing a classroom edition of The Anthology of Rap — one that will include some, but not all, of the corrections recommended by Devlin and others. "There were a handful of things we agreed needed to be changed, but some of them really didn't pass muster," says Bradley.

Although Bradley is used to working hard, it's not easy pushing himself like this. A part of him struggles with fielding calls from Ice-T and MTV, with getting up in front of hundreds of people to talk about Ellison and Eminem. He recognizes that there are two sides to his personality: the assertive hip-hop head and the timid professor, the part from his mother and the part from his father, the side that's white and the side that's black. "I have always had this kind of split within me, being at once terribly shy, but also being a showman," he admits. "Part of me longs for a public voice, but it takes a lot out of me to use that voice. There are some people who thrive on being out in the world, on being visible in a real public way, but for me it is exhausting."

After the great highs and withering lows of the past year, it might have been easier for Bradley to quit while he was ahead, to build up walls around himself like his father had, to turn out like Ellison's lost second novel, a work in progress hidden from the public eye. To be invisible.

But he's not about to go that way. "It's not about me," he says. "It's about the broader nature of the work itself. For me, that was a revelation that's allowed me to be a much more public person. When I walk out there on stage, I am representing Ralph Ellison, I am representing these rap artists in some way, in places and in front of people that otherwise may not be able to hear them."

There's so much more he wants people to hear, so much more he has left to say.

And who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, he speaks for you?

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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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