Is Jay-Z The Shakespeare of Hip-Hop?

So I was listening to some AM radio in the car for some reason (i.e. my ipod battery ran out) and caught the last part of a conversation with Adam Bradley, an Associate Professor of Literature at the University of Colorado who wrote a book called Book of Rhymes about the connection between rap and poetry. Hardly the most exciting premise, but after enduring the usual bullshit about the difference between rap and hip-hop he was actually posed a decent question by the interviewer, which resulted in this jewel being dropped:

Who is the contemporary Shakespeare of the rap world?

Adam Bradley: It’s a heavy mantle for anyone to bare, but I think the one who could probably do it the best would be Jay-Z – and I say that both for the longevity of his career but also the range of his subject matter. As he’s evolved as an individual his music has evolved to reflect that. So while he was rhyming on his first album about street life, about dealing drugs, about all kinds of nefarious activities, on his latest album he’s rhyming about being married to Beyonce, he’s rhyming about life as a mogul, as an entrepreneur. As a visionary in business as well as music. So that kind of breadth, that kind of development, I think is a sign of an artist who is willing to grow. Willing to grow even past his own popularity, past the time when people expect a particular thing of him – and yet he finds new ways of appealing to a new public, and that’s precisely what Shakespeare did if you look across his body of work. He never stayed the same. Whether it’s tragedies or histories or comedies, he’s always shifting and expanding.

Sure, I may not be the president of the Hova Stan Club but I have to admit that the Prof. has a pretty strong case. Don’t forget, William Shakespeare wasn’t highbrow in his day – he was penning the stage equivalents of Summer blockbusters, knocking out those hits. But it wasn’t until years after his death that he was declared to be “the greatest writer in the English language…Shakespeare was never revered in his lifetime, but he received his share of praise”. S. Carter may never make a song as great as ‘Halftime’, but – like it or not – history may just prove him to be the G.O.A.T. after all.

Share Button

44 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I was just thinking how the art of rapping reminded me of how cats during Shakespeare’s day must have been doing it. You’re a funny dude though, snatching the worst picture of dude. Lol.

Comment by Combat Jack 10.06.09 @

I agree.
Hov is THEE greatest at something! be it lyricisim, Emceeing, or longevity he has exceeded expectation and passed all his peers.
Nas will always be in my top 5 discussions, Always, and he will always be ahead of jay in MY list of greatest MCs, lyricist…all that…
I’d have to put jay #1 in my GOAT list…its only right…
not only is he everything an MC should be, but he went pop and keeps it gutter…eh for the most part…
jay is one of those guys who wont be FULLY appreciated until he’s gone though…same with LL…

Comment by Ay! 10.06.09 @

You have to grow as a artist. Jay might have spoken about the same things as in his past, but now at a different point of view. A much older, wiser version of himself. That’s the way any artist, of any kind of art, should structure their career. As you grow in life, so does your content and body of work.

Comment by nito 10.06.09 @

sell dem books boy. sell dem books.

as for the comparison. not to sound bookish but, i think even jay-z would find this comparison laughable. we’re still waiting for shawn’s book for pete’s sake.

Comment by ghost 10.06.09 @

yeah terrible comparison, professor only knows him ebcause hes all of the media and branding. Not that its a bad thing, just saying its not like the guy listened to all his records and made the comparsion. There are way better “poets” in rap or hip hop. Shakespeare talked about deceit, tragedy, and so does every rapper.,

and he IS NOT the GOAT or Alive (in my opinion).

Comment by mcb 10.06.09 @

jordan, sinatra, shakespeare
come on son, all in one ?
u must love him
and i like jigga a lot for real but sometimes u must to chose something, the focus is needed !

Comment by yessir 10.06.09 @

lol @ he may never make a song as great as “Halftime”, boy are there Stan’s on every level. “Heart of the City” > “Halftime”, yup.

Comment by iHATEbackpackers 10.06.09 @

I thought your “Hova Stan Club” link was going to take me to RR

Comment by dronkmunk 10.06.09 @


Comment by TYBO2020 10.06.09 @

“Don’t forget, William Shakespeare wasn’t highbrow in his day – he was penning the stage equivalents of Summer blockbusters, knocking out those hits. But it wasn’t until years after his death that he was declared to be “the greatest writer in the English language…Shakespeare was never revered in his lifetime, but he received his share of praise”.”

So by your estimation Jay-Z died in, what, 2005?

Comment by noz 10.06.09 @

this is crazy talk.

whoever agrees with him is a douchebag.

If his sole basis of comparison is “range of topics”, KRS kills it. He has talked about EVERYTHING.

C’mon y’all… Unkut? I expected more thinking from you guys… not just some “ok, we agree” BS.

Comment by CENZI 10.06.09 @

fuck being compared to shakespeare. he was doing 13 year old boys back in the day.
Truth: Juliet was a teenage boy, don’t believe look it up. All his female parts were played by young males
Shakespeare was the gay Roman Polanski

Comment by CassavaLeaf 10.06.09 @

So by your estimation Jay-Z died in, what, 2005?



Comment by CassavaLeaf 10.06.09 @

“S. Carter may never make a song as great as ‘Halftime”

Streets is Watching > Halftime

Jay had MADD Songs way better than “Halftime”

Comment by BKThoroughbred 10.06.09 @

jay z’s not fit to lace shakespeare’s jerkin

Comment by mustard 10.06.09 @

The Shakespeare of Hip-Hop is more likely someone like MFdoom or somebody a lot more poetic.

Comment by RowanB 10.06.09 @

fuck naw… cmon robbie

Comment by er4se 10.06.09 @

see renegade.

Comment by Hud 10.06.09 @

Look at the catalog classic after classic Look at the hits influence only other solo artist with so much impact and changing the game the way he did are Mele Mel for stepping up word play and Rakim for setting so many trends from 16′s to intricrate word play to having everybody on that 5 percent shit . Speaking on greats Jay is cosign by your favorite emcees Rakim Kane Biggie Slick Rick and everybody we all look up too.Take Over > Ether shit even Super Ugly So what he talk about having more in Carmen with Nas. Its a shame we dont praise the greats until they die.

Comment by CashRlue 10.06.09 @

I dont get why some people think Jay’s subject matter has grown..He went from talking about hustlin on the block to hustlin in the corporate world,how is that growth??

Comment by dj blendz 10.06.09 @

Pac was established as the “shakespeare” of hip hop long ago. Nuff said.

Comment by ScrewHeads.Com 10.06.09 @

oh dear, i do not agree with this idea… at all.

Comment by Arkitek 10.06.09 @

I love how when artists or stans discussing them say when an artist gets older they show “growth” by changing their subject matter…that is irrelevant! My question is how these cats say what they’re talking about..where’s the technique? Jigga raps over techno and all that and it’s just corny..he could just as well show his “growth” over real beats….

Comment by dlp23602 10.06.09 @

Some cats just have a hard time giving Jay his respect! Why?! I may not really feel this latest album like his previous work, but dude is crazy talented and is up there as far as greatest MCs. He has been making relevant albums that sell long past most of his contemporaries. If you are talking about the same things or doing the same things for that matter that you did 10 or 15 years ago, you may be the one with the issue and not Jay. Seriously!!! Let dude grow lyrically and have Just, Bink Sean C/LV and Primo get back on the beats for him on the next project.

Comment by SPank (Divided Souls Ent) 10.06.09 @

Its widely believed that William Shakespeare didn’t write any ‘Shakespeare’ and that in fact Francis Bacon (or a collective of writers including bacon) wrote Shakespeares plays. So you could say Jay-Z is in fact more talented than Shakespeare.

Comment by KQ 10.07.09 @

shakepeare is to francis beacon as jay-z is to sean carter

Comment by 456 10.07.09 @

Completely off-topic but has anyone else the state of Parrish Smith on the new XXL cover?

Homeboy looks ILL, is it just a bad picture or has anyone heard anything to suggest the Mic Doc needs a Doc of his own?

Comment by Hooligan 10.07.09 @

wow. nothing j made will ever touch halftime or live at the bbq or memory lane or ny state of mind or anything nas made when he was fresh….shit i even like the stillmatic white label more than anything j made. not sayin i dont like j….just saying fcing with nas? “NO”

Comment by Mercilesz 10.07.09 @

Another N*s vs. J*y fanboy faggotry fest.

Comment by MF 10.07.09 @

Well they said that, Shakespeare observed and stole his plays from his surrounding aeas – which back in ‘ye’ days were ghettos which were more violent and poverty stricken than Marcy.

Comment by farns 10.07.09 @

I thought it was Jigga Warriors! lol

Andre 3 stacks … is a close 2nd

Comment by Mec-One 10.07.09 @

So if Jay’s Shakespeare, would that make Biggie Thomas Marlowe?

Comment by Rasclatt Baldelli 10.07.09 @

Robbie not so long ago you were saying you don’t like Jay-Z, now you’re comparing him to Shakespeare? Crazy shit. Jay-Z has been phoning it in for years.

Comment by Mag7Music 10.08.09 @

It’s not so much that I think Jay is The Bard, but I agree with the point about his ability to adapt to new audiences…which is why BP3 is the perfect soundtrack to picking up your kids from soccer after watching Oprah.

Comment by Robbie 10.08.09 @

history may just prove him to be the G.O.A.T. after all.
^History is a set of lies agreed upon.
-Napoleon Bonaparte

Comment by chronwell 10.08.09 @

Nigga is wack end of discussion. I compare him to shit cause he talks it all day fuck dat

Comment by killjay 10.08.09 @

that’s not Shakespeare. remove that pic, homie.

Comment by gordon gartrelle 10.08.09 @

Oh no…. NO!!!

Comment by verge 10.10.09 @

Halftime???!!!! Really????!!!
Can’t be.

Comment by Brooklyn 'Lo 10.11.09 @

Shakespeare left a legacy of stories that will continue to be re interpreted on film and in the theatre until the end of days. Jay Z boasts about himself.

Comment by S 10.11.09 @

Shakespeare of hip hop = Breeze Brewin, Godfather Don, Lord Finesse or Percee P.

Comment by S 10.11.09 @

you see the reason why i would elect “Jay as the Shakespear ” is simply bcuz he is using his music to live out the theater that is his life..he has shown considerable growth in his quest to return to semi intelligent ryhming in last Two albums and has used his reality his real life as the the linear notes on American Gangster..he killed that..How many ryhming schemes,metaphors,double and triple entendres can you produce while talking about surviving the crack game and Living the Dream of all Hustlers with ambition?? i personally know Legit business men who used the Jay Z Blueprint written in Rhyme yet lived in real life to the tee and Have benefitted immensely..the reason why i disqualify Nasir who is in his own right a Shakespear is the fact that Jay Z had proven to more honest and Revealing of the Two making his life the Blueprint of his latest work to perfection,thru the artform he’s revealed his soul and told you everything he’s done whether outright or encoded in them bars i cant say the same for Nas or Mos Def or Common..they didnt have that much to lose when revealing themselves if you get where im coming from? their lives weren’t tragic enough in a Shakespearian sense, they havent embodied the mythos of the character who rises from the project to the pyramids as well as Jay has..whether it was fabricated,corporate sponsored,Rick Rubin Lyor Cohen directed and produced it is simply genius when you see the script they are developing and the play they are writing..from the murder of the “Profane” Jay Z in 99 Problems video when he was raised into the Occult by Rick Ruben to his Masonic ascension to President of the Biggest Rap label in the World Def Jam which i feel set the stages for a Hip Hop president especially when his underling is KanYe West “King of the West” who is coincidently from Chicago?? im done this is Shakespear for real and if hes making this shit up in his Mind then its really a wrap..

Comment by red pill 10.14.09 @

the blueprint: JAY-Z = biggie +(kane + jaz-o) + nas + (g rap + grand puba). i wouldn’t say jay is shaekspeare because that dude wrote some shit that we still talkin about a couple of centuries later. of course jay won’t fully get his props until later (even from me) but he is one of, if not THE g.o.a.t. if not for originality than for longevity and accomplishements. and hum… he got enough quotables to entertain any discussion/cypher

Comment by BL 10.15.09 @

btw: illmatic, ready to die, only built for cuban linx…. > reasonable doubt

Comment by BL 10.15.09 @

Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>