[INTERVIEW] Hark! Meet The Hip Hop Version Of Shakespeare: ‘The Sonnet Man’ Devon Glover

Photo: Devon Glover aka The Sonnet Man is making Shakespeare fun with hip hop.  (Devon Glover)

Devon Glover studied a bit of Shakespeare in high school. He’d read a few plays.  He’d seen “West Side Story” and “Ten Things I Hate About You” and “The Lion King” — loosely based on “Romeo and Juliet,” “Hamlet,” and “The Taming of the Shrew,” respectively. He knew the basics. Then one day…

…Devon’s friend, Melissa Guttman, introduced him to esteemed Broadway playwright, Arje Shaw, who had an idea: make Shakespeare’s sonnets more accessible by setting them to hip hop beats. Having dropped out of college to help support his family, Devon welcomed the chance to tap into his spoken word talent and hit the books despite a sabbatical. Producer Daniel Lynas brought fresh beats to the mix, and the whole thing went full circle thanks to vocals by none other than awesome friend, Melissa Guttman. Thus, Devon Glover became The Sonnet Man.

Photo: If Shakespeare was alive he would call this guy Hamlet’s Hip Hop Hooray. Right? (Devon Glover)

Refresher course: In addition to his legendary plays, Shakespeare also composed 154 delicious sonnets — short poems adhering to the following structure:

+ Fourteen lines long.

+ Ends with a rhyming couplet (that usually sums up the theme).

+ Written in iambic pentameter (da-DA, da-DA, da DA, da DA, da DA).

+ Favoring themes of love, beauty and life’s temporal nature.

These themes, Devon points out, are timeless — and with the right delivery, haven’t skipped a beat in 400 years. The Sonnet Man lets Act in on lessons learned from studying The Bard.

ACT: Have you learned anything striking about the human condition — qualities and themes still applicable today, perhaps?

DEVON: I believe [they] haven’t really changed much. Whether it’s the feeling of love or hate, happiness or sadness, emotions are still the cause of most of our actions. Shakespeare’s words were very proverbial, especially his sonnets. Comparing Shakespeare’s works with others, I believe the best creative work is emotion-filled.

ACT: If Shakespeare was around today, do you think he’d join in on the rap?

DEVON: I believe Shakespeare could join in with rap music. I picture The Bard more of a spoken word artist than a rapper, but a lot of his more emotional parts are written in rhyme.

ACT: In 400 years, what contemporary artist do you think will go down in history as Shakespeare’s 2012 equivalent?

DEVON: A couple artists who come to mind are Mos Def (Yasiin Bey), Common, Black Thought (from The Roots), Bob Dylan, Jay-Z, and André 3000. A lot of their songs are emotion-filled and their projects are theme-based.

I believe the rapper Nas will go down in history as the 2012 equivalent of Shakespeare. He writes a lot about his upbringing and wears his heart on his sleeve. Although he is very musical, his words are very poetic, with themes and messages. He also knows how to raise a few eyebrows with his work, like Shakespeare did in his day.

ACT: You teach and conduct workshops. What do you hope to bring to the education system that might be lacking today?

DEVON: I hope to bring an innovative way to vision Shakespeare’s work. I also would like to bring music into the classroom more. Because of repetition, music is one of the best ways of memorization for students. I would like my workshops to bring inspiration and encouragement to read more.

Photo: A bunch of kids getting all up ons Shakespeare thanks to man…Sonnet Man that is! (Devon Glover)

ACT: It sounds like your decision to postpone college was a difficult one. What message do you have for young people trying to decide whether college is right for them, particularly given affordability barriers?

DEVON: I believe that higher education works wonders for a person’s well-being. There’s always more to learn. In our society, college is essential to earning a living, and succeeding in life. For those who don’t believe college is right for them, it’s possible that college is just not right for them at that particular time. Sometimes, all it takes is a plan. If you have a goal, follow it. Most goals are going to take some knowledge or form of education to achieve it.

I understand a student’s struggles with going to college because of financial reasons. However, there are plenty of resources that can help a student’s pursuit to a higher education. It takes a little research. I found a way to do it by keeping the dream alive, and last summer 2011, I graduated, received my BA degree from Ithaca College, majoring in mathematics.

The first CD installment of The Sonnet Man is available on iTunes and Amazon. The Sonnet Man is currently working on the second installment of The Sonnet Man series, which will feature the single, “Hip-Hop Hamlet (H. H. H.)” You can increase the project’s impact in schools and communities by supporting The Sonnet Man’s upcoming Kickstarter campaign, launching next week. 

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