Thug Notes, a site that reduces works of literature to their hip-
hop essence, is a deliciously executed example of a trend that has
been around for years: the application of street sensibility to high
In 1848, a reviewer for Graham's Magazine described "Wuthering
Heights" as "a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors,
such as we might suppose a person, inspired by a mixture of brandy
and gunpowder, might write for the edification of fifth-rate
blackguards." Presumably, this grumpy writer would have cared even
less for the Thug Notes version.
That Emily Bronte novel is among the latest subjects tackled on
Thug-Notes.com, a website where fine literature is reduced to its
hip-hop essence. A genial fellow using the moniker Sparky Sweets,
Ph.D. serves up video summaries of classics in the language of the
street, throwing in a minute or two of analysis for good measure.
Dr. Sweets, a black man whose wardrobe leans toward shorts, tank
tops and assorted do-rags and caps, sits in a somber-looking library
worthy of the Public Broadcasting Service and holds forth about a
new volume each week. The site's motto: "Classical Literature.
In the world of Dr. Sweets (who is actually a comedian named Greg
Edwards), Queequeg from "Moby-Dick" is "some tatted-up harpooner."
Jay Gatsby is "a rich playboy with that mad Mitt Romney money." And
the characters of a beloved Shakespeare play include "Romeo's
homieos, Benvolio and Mercutio."
SparkNotes and others, of course, have been summarizing the
classics for years, but their cheat sheets have merely made
literature's dusty volumes drastically shorter, not less boring for
the lazy and unappreciative. Mr. Edwards, speaking in character as
Dr. Sweets in an interview with The Tampa Bay Times last fall,
described Thug Notes as "my way of trivializing academia's attempt
at making literature exclusionary by showing that even highbrow
academic concepts can be communicated in a clear and open fashion."
The site manages to turn "Wuthering Heights," "Pride and
Prejudice" and other tomes into bite-size fun (the videos are
generally under five minutes) while conveying a certain respect
toward the source material.
The good doctor's summary of "Romeo and Juliet" may be full of
unpublishable slang, but it ends with a discussion of the clashes of
opposites in the work and whether it can rightly be labeled a
tragedy. He may dismiss the core of "Moby-Dick" as "about 500 pages
of Ishmael going off about whaling" (finishing that phrase with an
expletive), but he has thesis-worthy thoughts about the symbolism of
the whale, of the quest and of the ship -- the Rachel -- that
"Keep floating, homies," he concludes, "'cause somewhere out
there, we all got our own Rachel that's there to save us."
Thug Notes is a deliciously executed example of a trend that has
been around for years: the application of street sensibility to high-
culture, high-concept areas and, more generally, any place where it
is not expected. …