Rap has real problems, and some criticisms are valid. But I think of rappers as great American storytellers. They structure their work around rags-to-riches tales, that most American narrative of overcoming circumstance and reaching success through talent and hard work. Their stories can be heroic, too, in the exaggerated tradition of folktale, with struggles against tragic circumstance or great beasts in the form of grim conditions or implacable haters. But rap is more like literary fiction than pure fantasy; its monsters are real.

For those trapped in the violence of poverty, rap tells heroic tales of breaking free.