Frequent commenter lucretius takes issues with me comparing complexity of writing rhymes with writing sonnets:
you may be pushing it comparing the best of rap to sonnets: the purpose of the two things is so different that any comparison is surely moot. but i am prepared to say that it is certainly MUCH harder to write a shakespearean or petrarchan sonnet at a technical level than it is write a rap: the rules of sonnet writing are exceedingly strict. the metre and rhyme work as a means of crystallising a certain thought or feeling. rap is the opposite: it's strength is its looseness: in fact seems to put almost no emphasis on concentration of mood or meaning whatsoever: e.g., the T.R.O.Y. lyrics are a pretty random collection of unconnected thoughts. in fact, isn't this when rap works best, i.e. as a series of one liners? or at least a series of wildly contrasting items? i offer in support of my argument compelling melnges such as chuck d / flavor flav and the wu tangs, but any dozen or so examples are to hand.
I actually have no idea, which is harder. But I'll tell you a story. Before I went into journalism, I was actually a poet, and before that I was an MC. As a rapper, I sucked. I mean I was just awful. But I loved words, and I turned to poetry armed with the exact same logic that lucretius offers here--I thought it would be freer, because I didn't have to stay on beat, and thus easier. Ironic, no? So I turned out to be a so-so poet--a better poet than MC, definitely, though some of my early stuff is just embarrassing. I was going to get my MFA--even did a week long workshop at Provincetown with Pulitzer prize winner Yusef Komunyakaa. But what I quickly realized was that my essential problem was the same--just like in hip-hop, formal poetry put a premium on words. You had to find a way to say as much as possible, by saying as little as possible The premium for me was always Rakim--"I can take a phrase that's rarely heard\Flip it, now its a daily word."
The point is, in my time, I actually got to try my hand at both sonnets and hip-hop lyrics and I found them both very difficult for the same reasons. I think people who firmly believe that "formal poetry" is harder should do themselves and try to write some hip-hop verses and then offer them up to a knowledgeable audience. Or they can save themselves the embarrassment and listen to Wynton Marsalis laughable "Where Ya'll At" track. Whoever let him within ten feet of a microphone should be caned. And then water-boarded.