Hip-Hop School? [Article/Photos]
It turns out, hip-hop lyrics create more than just a hot track to add to your iPod and they’re increasingly becoming the basis for academic studies.
Andrew Dubois, an English professor at the University of Toronto at Scarborough (UTSC), developed and now teaches a course called rap poetics – an examination of the history of hip-hop, its culture and its use of numerous techniques and elements of poetry.
Though hip-hop forms its own distinctive rendition of poetry, Dubois says many people don’t realize it also relies on and employs familiar, conventional genres and techniques found in traditional poetry.
He talks about how some rap rhymes may just be regarded as lyrics in a song, but they actually fit the makeup of classic poems. The difference is a hip-hop song might express things through the rapper’s personalized experiences, message or even slang.
“Like 6’n the Mornin’ by Ice T, that’s like a gangster aubade,” says Dubois, explaining an aubade as a poem concerning or evoking daybreak. “He’s waking up at six in the morning and the cops are at his door. And the third Kanye album starts off with an aubade, Good Morning. Or even something like Ghostface Killa’s The Sun would be an example, where he’s directly addressing the sun. So it’s a great way to study genre.”
Because most of Dubois’ students grew up beside hip-hop, it is proven a useful tool in effectively helping students understand poetry, even better than the use of antiquated literature works.
“They might not be as inherently afraid of dissecting [rap] as they seem to be of poetry with a capital ‘P’ because [poetry] forces you to really think and deal with ambiguity – you can’t just say ‘the correct answer is b.’ And I think maybe dealing with rap, they’d be more inclined to let their guard down a little bit and not be so anti-poetry.”
Kingston Yogendran, a graduate of a specialist English literature program at UTSC says after completing Dubois’ rap poetics course, he has a new appreciation and value for hip-hop in his education.
“It would be truly beneficial if hip-hop studies were incorporated into more literature programs,” Yogendran says. “Rap poetics helped me become a more astute reader and critical writer… all these skills I was able to carry over to other poetry and literature classes and it helped write more engaging, critical papers and gave me a greater appreciation for literature.”
York University Professor Ron Westray, teaches a course called black contemporary music, a history of hip-hop’s development. Westray says through hip-hop, students will get a deeper understanding of the relationship between the arts and our society.
“[Students] develop an appreciation for hip-hop as an art form and its ability to function in the same way around the globe, not just for African Americans, but for all cultures,” says Westray.
Toronto rapper and York University graduate, D.O. talks at schools about how hip-hop positively influenced his education and how it can help students to channel their aggression and feelings of low self esteem into positivity and confidence. He says rappers’ powerful use of words helped him to significantly expand his vocabulary.
“Sometimes I’d learn about words just by listening to rap songs, By hearing rhymes from Nas, I might not know what a word meant but by they way I heard him use that word in a sentence, in a rhyme, it really helped improve my vocabulary.”
Dubois says a lot of people would dispute the idea that it improves language skills because they think hip-hop is a mixture of verbal nonsense.
“I think some of the most amazing manipulations of language are in rap songs, for good and bad. Not every idea in a rap song is one I would hope that students would read and then reenact in their own lives, just like I hope they don’t read a William Faulkner novel and go out and have sex with their sister,” he says.
The audible stories told in rap songs often provide the public with an educational awareness of important current events and world issues, according to D.O.
“Just from listening to rappers’ lyrics I’d known who [New York Mayor Rudy] Giuliani was and knew that he wasn’t doing great things when I heard rappers saying that he was terrible because of some of the laws that he created,” says D.O. “So for [students] who necessarily aren’t into reading conventional streams of the news, I think hip-hop is great to learn about what’s going on in,” he says.
D.O. says it’s important for people to realize that mixing the genre of hip-hop into our education system isn’t meant to try and transform our youth into the next 50 Cents or Lil’ Kims.
“One of the things I learned while doing my thesis project and learning hip-hop through school is using [hip-hop] in education isn’t directly teaching you to become a rapper. I don’t think that’s the point of it. I think that hip-hop can help you learn different avenues so by incorporating it, it can help,” says D.O.
Written by Melissa Sundardas for HipHopCanada
Edited by Jonathon “Bizz” Brown for HipHopCanada
Photography provided by Stay Driven (http://www.staydriven.com)