Hip Hop Saved My Life
Hip Hop influence is seen in markets across borders in electronics, fashion, interior design, and television, but what about the classroom? Specifically in the English classroom, concepts have evolved, yet remained very conservative. Student’s composition courses are still paired with literature from the cannon, including works of Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, along with young adult literature approve last century. These readings still hold value, however they do not resonate with the students as well as once upon a time. While older generations see Hip Hop as loud, violent, vulgar, misogynistic, disrespectful music, younger generations share a bond with Hip Hop. Hip Hop has become an outlet, a safe haven, music of understanding and creativity, metaphors and double entendre, the soundtrack to their stories. In the English classroom, Hip Hop can be the bridge between the familiar and academic across borders. By incorporating Hip Hop in the English classroom students can improve their critical thinking skills, use elements of Hip Hop to better understand the writing process, and help ELL students and native speakers grasp concepts through a relatable medium.
When Hip Hop comes to mind stereotypically, “Yo Wassup Ma Nigga” is the first phrase to come to fruition. This phrase along with many others is often used to discredit the academic value of Hip Hop because it is heavily rooted in African American English. African American English (AAE) is the variety formerly known as Black English Vernacular or Vernacular Black English among linguists, and commonly called Ebonics outside the academic community (Sidnell). African American English has been stigmatized as ungrammatical and not useful in the academic arena however it has been proven that AAE both has grammar rules that it follows as well as a written discourse. As stated in “Modern and Postmodern Rhetoric” by Bizzell, it states “The feature of the black dialect of English have long been studied and have been found to be a completely grammatical and internally consistent version of the language of which Standard English is also a dialect, albeit a socially privileged one (Bizzell 1544). In academia Standard English is used in all discourses, and is the unofficial language of education. However as stated above, Standard English is simply an adopted dialect stemming from the socially privileged. Since “Standard English” is arbitrary, it is not as “standard” as one may believe. The standardization of a dialect in the academic setting is problematic to begin with, and even more so when the dialect adopted is one of social privilege. With the increased diversity in America, especially in urban areas, Standard English is not only not relatable, but also isolating. If Hip Hop were used in academia it could serve as a bridge language for students of all backgrounds due to the new universality of Hip Hop.
Four decades ago Hip Hop was birthed on 1520 Sedgwick Ave. to the youth of the Bronx battling drugs, crime and poverty with music provided by DJ Cool Hercules. While many of the young followers were African American, race was not what brought the young people together, instead they bonded over a shared struggle, creativity, and making something positive out of their barren surroundings. Today Hip Hop holds to this standard. Hip Hop more than ever has become an inclusive genre, with popular Moroccan rapper French Montana, working class Caucasian rapper Eminem, Trinidadian female rapper Nicki Minaj, Cuban rapper Pitbull, and bisexual artist Frank Ocean. Hip Hop can even be found in countries around the world. In the interview with Northeastern University’s Communication studies professor and hip-hop expert Murray Forman,
From my media studies perspective, it is simply too big, economically robust and globally dispersed to ignore as an “object” of scholarly research. It is a crucial element in the daily lives of literally tens of millions of people — in the U.S., Europe and from places as diverse as Cape Town, Dakar, Dar es Salaam, Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, Sydney, Moscow — both young and middle-aged. They make sense of their world in and through hip-hop-inflected discourses and practices. It has also proven to be influential in many areas of society that are central to ongoing academic research across the disciplines” (McFalls).
Hip Hop, as stated in the interview, is a global means of expression, encompassing various sexualities, ethnicities, and cultural viewpoints of the world. With Hip Hop begin an inclusive genre; this will translate into the classroom giving students a sense of belonging. While education is inherently exclusive, Hip Hop is inherently inclusive creating a balance in the classroom and creating learning environment that is accepting of all students.
While Hip Hop is inclusive, Hip Hop does present a side of “blackness” that is not acceptable to many. The concept of “ghetto blackness” is seen in Hip Hop contemporary music as a form of nonconformity in the Black community. As stated in Kermit Campbell’s article, “There Goes the Neighborhood: Hip Hop Creepin on a Come up at the U”, he discusses how Hip Hop changes common view as follows, “Hip Hop has in other words humanized not just blackness- for the civil right movement did that- but ghetto blackness, given it a name, an identity, a voice, a viable economy of expression” (Campbell 328-329). By using Hip Hop in the classroom, specifically in the composition classroom students can learn the value of writing outside of Standard English. The incorporation of Hip Hop in education can foster both critical thinking, as well as political awareness. These values will translate into student’s writing, creating composition that is both fresh, and can create new conversations in academia. Campbell also states how the use of Standard English can actually harm students by stating, Ultimately, our insistence on normative boundaries in students speaking and writing hinders learning and adversely effects the last value on Bloom’s list, critical thinking, the reputed, “principal virtue of freshman composition” (Campbell 335). By using Standard English in the classroom we are only teaching students to think in one way, and interpret text with one lens, which happens to be a white middle class view. However if Hip Hop were brought into the composition class, student would be forced to think critically about topics outside of the norms. Campbell discusses this concept by arguing that Hip Hop in the classroom challenges the status quo, he states, “The reputed gangsta rapper principally serves as this counteractive, ghettocentric force, challenging bourgeois political and social structures like the Perfectowns of America (Campbell 339). While this is only one example of Hip Hop challenging the status quo, Hip Hop releases the “deep dark secrets” of the world by openly criticizing them in their lyrics, clothing, and art. For example Hip Hop group Macklemore and Ryan Lewis even challenges the homophobia in Hip Hop culture in their song “Same Love”. Macklemore raps in the song, “If I was gay I would think hip-hop hates me Have you read the YouTube comments lately? "Man, that's gay" gets dropped on the daily We've become so numb to what we're saying Our culture founded from oppression Yet we don't have acceptance for 'em” (Macklemore and Ryan Lewis). By challenging the political and social structures in the classroom students are forced to see different views of America, and life itself. This will make their writing evolve by allowing students to see the various views of the world. Campbell supports this ideal in his article stating, “Yet there’s also the distinct possibility that it will raise students’ consciousness, help them gain a critical consciousness about themselves in relation to cultural material (e.g. Hip Hop music, video, and film) they otherwise passively consume” (Campbell 342). By asking students to become self-critical and to self-reflect on issues that are both uncomfortable and challenging, discussing race, class, and sexuality, students become more confident in their sense of self and become better writers as a result. They will no longer write for writing sake but will write with aim and purpose. Overall Hip Hop in the classroom can create an exigency for student writing because they are connected to the text and the text is directly relevant to their existence. At the least students will develop an idea of the difference in their society, as Campbell states, “Hip Hop and ghettoentric worldview are ever pitted against the American mainstream or middle class hegemony in composition. As critical pedagogue Peter McLauren argues, the ghettocentricity of Hip Hop reminds white observes that for one thing they are raced (Campbell 338). To contextualize this quote in the classroom the student’s at he least will gain an awareness of the “other” present in their world showing them that the status quo, or the “norm” is not as normal as they previously believed.
Aside from critical thinking Hip Hop can also be used to demonstrate the writing process using a medium that they are familiar with. For example, in Hip Hop there is a specific formula to writing a song, as follows, “Nearly every rap song consists of three basic parts: intros, hooks (choruses) and verses. Occasionally, you'll see some other elements, but usually rappers stick to these three” (Flocabulary). By showing students the formatting of Hip Hop you can use this to teach students the format of standard academic writing. While writers and hip hop artist can stray and often do stray from the standard formatting, they must first learn to master the “template” before they move away from the norm. Composition theorist Jeff Rice, in his article “The 1963 Hip-Hop Machine: Hip Hop Pedagogy as Composition” it also supports the concept of using Hip Hop to teach. In this article Rice states, “In choosing Hip Hop as a model for the composition essay, I attempt to draw upon a dominant form of contemporary culture familiar to the majority of students I encounter in my classroom (Rice 455). By using Hip Hop in the classroom the student can grasp the concepts of composition that seem foreign to them initially. The context of Hip Hop, the majority of the time, translates well with students because they are familiar with this medium. Students are able to identify the intro of a song, the first verse, hook, bridge, and outro. Students also are familiar with the parts of an essay also, however they struggle with the formulation. Rice states, “Hip Hop teaches that cultural research and awareness produce composite forms of writing (Rice 455). Through Hip Hop students are able to grasp the elements of composition writing, as well as understand the process, because they are taught through a contemporary and familiar medium. Rice teaches the writing process through the Hip Hop concept of sampling. “Sampling is the Hip Hop process of saving snippets of prerecorded music and sound into a computer memory. These sounds become cut from their original source and pasted into a new composition” (Rice 454). The concept of sampling is used to teach students how to properly research and cite. When students are research other they are not creating their own argument, but instead restating the argument of their sources. By using sampling the students is able to grasp the concept of research in composition writing, which is essential using outside sources to create their own argument, as Hip Hop artist use old records to create a new sound.
Hip Hop can also help ELL students and at risk student grasp information through Hip Hop delivery. With Hip Hop a global medium, students of all languages are at least vaguely familiar with Hip Hop. In America it is rare that you are not exposed to Hip Hop with 294.3 million album sales in Hip Hop alone in 2012 (The Nielsen Company & Billboard's 2012 Music Industry Report). While ELL students may have a hard time grasping lectured concepts, they may find it easier to learn concepts through song. According to Kevin Schoepp, using music and song in the classroom helps struggling ELL students by lowering the affective filter. Schoepp states, with the affective filter weak, Saricoban and Metin (2000) have found that songs can develop the four skill areas of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. With the affective filter weak, songs can develop the four skill areas of reading, writing, listening, and speaking (Schoepp). ELL students will find it easier to understand test-taking vocabulary in a song rather than in a lecture. In the Hip Hop pedagogical website Flocabulary, they demonstrate the use of Hip Hop in lesson plans on their website. Students are able to learn academic concepts through Hip Hop and have these songs to help them remember along the way. http://www.flocabulary.com/test-taking-vocabulary/
Overall Hip Hop in the classroom removes the hegemonic hand stifling the student’s ability to grown. Standard English is no ones “standard” and by using this ideal as a model for students, we automatically exclude all students. It is time to “Fight the Power”, we need to incorporate inclusive pedagogies in our classroom and let teaching evolve. During a time of growth and change the English classroom has yet to have to paradigm shift. Let is move in the direction of contemporary, and “Keep it Fresh”. In the classroom I vote Hip Hop for President.