“It may be verifyit that thy wit is thin”: Interpreting Older Scots Flyting through Hip Hop Aesthetics

Abstract

This study seeks to demystify the tradition of Older Scots flyting—a form of poetic invective unique to the late medieval Scottish court. Hip Hop battle raps provide a modern venue for exploring the motivations and potential rewards for engaging in this sort of technical poetic contest. The two forms, though culturally and historically distant, both exhibit analogous rhetorical techniques, which make this comparison possible. Each form is concerned with poetic identity—this is evident through each poet’s identification with specific communities or classes; while the concern with demonstrating superior technical skill is also essential to these invectives and is often highlighted through the manipulation of traditional forms and tropes. As an extension of this comparison, we hope to recover something of the tone and purpose of the medieval tradition, namely, that the poets who engaged in these public invectives were actually amicable rivals competing for increased court status and wealth.

eCompanion

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Kill That Noise,” from Down by Law (Deluxe Edition) 2007

Audio: Cold Chillin’ Records, 2007. Used by permission.

Boogie Down Productions, “South Bronx,” from Criminal Minded (Elite Edition) 2010

Audio: Traffic Entertainment, 2010. Used by permission.

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