How many times a month does someone ask me whether rap is poetry? More than you'd guess. Sometimes the questioner strikes me as a rap aficionado, checking to see if I'm going to come correct. Sometimes the question seems to come from a person who could never be persuaded to consider rap as "real" poetry, but who asks my opinion just to confirm that all _____ (black people / younger poets / your-stereotype-here) insist on making that argument. Sometimes the questioner appears to be truly on a quest for information, to be thinking her way through the debate and looking for solid ideas that will help her come to a resolution.
Well, count me in. I frankly don't understand by what measure rap could not be considered poetry. Whether one likes it or not is not the issue. (I don't love it -- or, at least, not the wide swathe of mysogyny that runs through it.) But since I don't have time to tell you why (!), let me refer you to an interesting book review that appeared recently in the NYTimes: "Def Poetry." The reviewer takes up a new publication called Book of Rhymes, by Adam Bradley. The review is mixed, in part because the reviewer thinks that the debate about rap's status as poetry is over -- though my first paragraph is evidence to the contrary! But, all-in-all, I think I'm likely to order the book (from an independent bookstore!) sometime before long. I have yet to teach anything in the rap/hip-hop poetry arena, other than Saul Williams's S/he (an excellent work), and this is partly because I don't feel as comfortable in my knowledge about it as I'd like to. I'm hoping this book might help. I can't recommend it yet, but I do recommend your checking out the review and deciding for yourself.
At the very least, you'll have another person's answer to the question . . . : )