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Hip-hop in the English classroom

18 December 2013, 09:01

The point of an education in English Home Language is to educate the student in Language and Literature - being able to read, speak and write fluent English, as well as being able to say things without having to say them, and being able to understand the deeper side to written material. I think that to help children in the latter realm of prose and poetry, a few lessons based on hip-hop might be of use. I'm not asking to replace Milton with Lil' Wayne (please no), but then I genuinely think students could benefit from a lesson in a little Tupac or Kendrick.

Hip-hop is full of socially relevant messages expressed with poetic mastery. I'm not highly versed in hip-hop, but I'm trying to learn more after realizing there's some good material out there. Currently I'm only familiar with Lupe Fiasco, so I'll use him as the main justification for my points.

Clever Word PlayAn important part of literature is appreciating a clever use of language to bring about a point. Take this bit from Lupe Fiasco's 'American Terrorist': "Now the poor Ku Klux Man see that we're all brothers Not because things are the same but because we lack the same colour And that's green, now that's mean Can't burn his cross 'cause he can't afford gasoline"

The message is quite clear and that lyric isn't very complicate, but that doesn't mean it's not cleverly put. If you want something really cleverly done by the same artist, listen to the song 'Lamborghini Angels' and if you don't get the lyrics look them up on RapGenius. Imagery and everything.

The MessageA big criticism will be that hip-hop and rap don't have good messages. This is true, but not all the time. Very often there's a good message in the music. More than not though I would argue that a literature lesson is not about imparting a good message, it's about exposing the child to another view of the world - including things the teacher and parents might disagree with.

I don't always appreciate Lupe's content - sometimes I think that he focuses far too much on blame instead of sticking to inspirational messages, but then he comes up with songs about why girls shouldn't allow themselves to be referred to as female dogs and I cheer for him. It's not about indoctrinating kids with good or bad messages - it's about opening minds.

I don't think that old poetry doesn't have relevant messages. Tupac Shakur was a fan of Shakespeare for crying out loud. But that doesn't mean new music can't be relevant either and can't be relevant in a clever way.
Lupe Fiasco's 'Kick Push II' is a song with a message that I enjoy - it paints the world from the perspective of a group of the typical 'troublesome' skater children and it's written well too.

As for rapper's lifestyles? Well, I doubt that having your English teacher do a class on hip-hop will make you want to go and drink the night away, especially if she's a 60 year old lady taking Kendrick Lamar's 'Swimming Pools (Drank)' to start a discussion on the dangers of drinking, or his 'Art of Peer Pressure' to talk about the very same issue.

If anything it might inspire kids to search for music with a deeper meaning instead of the regular consumer trash.

ConclusionAgain, I'm not asking to even put it in the exams - I'm simply arguing that maybe in your school it might be a good idea to ask a teacher to expose kids to some rap music from a literature perspective - it could do a lot of good. Everything from songs with heavy social messages (as Shakespeare's tragedies were) to light songs of love like Lupe Fiasco's 'Sunshine' which I consider a modern version of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 (Shall I compare thee to a summer's day...).
Would love to hear thoughts from the community.

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