RAP Is a Patchwork Quilt, Part 1

LaToya R Jefferson-James
7 min readJan 5, 2024

As a professor who occasionally teaches HipHop as a literature form, I am tired of useless, divisive debates about the roots of RAP. RAP is an African American artform, and like many African American artforms, it is a patchwork quilt of cultural influences. For the record, I do not own the rights to any of the music that I am about to post. I’m using them for demonstrative, educational purposes and not solely to boost any profits I may receive from this post.

Downloaded from African American Quilts | Anacostia Community Museum (si.edu)

I remember these quilts from my childhood. They were heavy, colorful affairs folded neatly at the foot of the bed. My mom made my quilt three years before I was born. I still have it, though it needs a new top. As my mom explained, her quilt followed this traditional pattern, but it had been tacked and not truly quilted. My mom said she hated quilting. She remembers having the mattresses taken off the bed and used as a quilting frame. She also remembers the heavy, denim quilts that her grandmother used to make.

In a traditional African American quilt, scraps of clothing from here and there are taken and pieced together to form the top. Then the batting is added and a bottom. Finally, the whole thing is sewn together. In a tacked quilt, such as the 40+ year-old affair that I have, the parts of the quilt are held together by yarn knots. I loved those yarn knots.

When I think of the roots of RAP and the current silly debates around its origins, I think about those patchwork quilts. Like RAP, those patchwork quilts are now considered an artform. As a matter of fact, if you visit the Anacostia Community Museum’s website, you will find that a quilter says, “Quilting is like singing.” And African American art is like that — in all of its mediums. RAP’s music is from the Black South, its heavy emphasis on bass comes from Black Caribbean migrants, its dance moves show distinctively Asian influence, its spiritual backbone is the Northern-based Nation of Islam, its poetic flow is Black folks’ global tendency to speak in 3 beats per measure (seriously, from Africa to Brazil, to America), and much of its content comes from Northern Black writers and poets of urban realism.

1.) First of all, RAP is an African American artform. As an artform, RAP is a product of the Great Migration. I am speaking of Great Migration II, specifically. RAP was born…

--

--

LaToya R Jefferson-James

LaToya Jefferson-James has a Ph.D. in literature. Welcome! The professor is in! Come in and stay a spell. Let’s discuss and learn from one another.