Hip Hop in the Classroom

The Power of Rap and Hip-Hop in the Classroom

In the article “Hip-Hop EDU: Use Music to Spark Students’ Creativity and Learning,” published in School Library Journal, journalist Marva Hinton investigates the innovative ways in which educators are use hip-hop to promote learning and increase student engagement.

According to historian and educator Carole Boston Weatherford, hip-hop music is “the language of global youth culture.” The genre’s popularity has been steadily on the rise over the past few decades, with the recent surge being largely attributed to the success of the musical Hamilton. Hinton writes that in the past, “that often meant a well-meaning teacher putting on a gold chain and imitating something you might have seen on Yo! MTV Raps in the late ’80s.” “In the past, that often meant a well-meaning teacher putting on a gold chain and imitating something you might have seen on Yo! “However, in the modern era, a lot of teachers are giving greater consideration to the most effective ways to include hip-hop into their classes.”

Hinton tells how Andy Spinks, a library media specialist at Campbell High School in Smyrna, Georgia, developed a popular recording studio in the library so that students could produce music, learn about digital recording, and most importantly, collaborate with one another.

“The reason that they’re drawn to it is because they have things that they want to say, they have a way that they want to say them, and they’re given a lot of licence to do that there,” says Spinks. “The reason that they’re drawn to it is because they have things that they want to say, and they have a way that they want to say them.”

As more teachers come to see hip-hop as a form of poetry, the genre may present new opportunities for teaching writing: Students who aren’t as interested in traditional writing may find traditional rap songwriting to be an engaging alternative. For example, Spinks’ pupil and sophomore Jarrett Modica found his voice by composing and creating lyrics in the recording studio. Modica was a student of Spinks. According to Modica, “it’s a space where you can simply be yourself,” and they encourage that.

Some teachers are reluctant to employ hip-hop music in the classroom because some of the songs use offensive language, depict violent acts, or have explicit content. Spinks recommends establishing boundaries and expectations for the lyrics. He encourages pupils to steer clear of any lyrics that glorify or encourage bullying, and he discourages them from writing songs that are critical of another person who is a part of the school community. Spinks advised, “If you want to make a diss track about Drake, you can, but don’t make one against anyone from this school.” It is important to provide parents with early warning of potentially contentious material and to explain how and why that material will be used.

The librarian at West Boca Raton High School, Kristine Cannon, has devised a reading curriculum centred on the book Let Me Hear a Rhyme; the class is designated for pupils who did not achieve a passing score on the state’s standardised English tests. Cannon told Hinton, “We just believed that the essence of the music, the hip-hop, and even the time period would really capture the children.” “We just thought that the music would really catch the students.” We believed that it would provide us with a lot of material to talk about with them.

According to what Hinton states, it is possible to use it as the subject matter for courses that are not as interesting because it is a topic that kids are interested in. The library media specialist at Edgewood Middle School in Maryland, Libby Gorman, utilises hip-hop examples to teach citation, a topic that she admits is generally “boring.” In order to get kids interested in the material, Gorman uses songs like “Friend Like Me” by Will Smith and “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X. She provides positive reinforcement for accurate citation: “The rule was that they had to cite it before they could play it, but once they cited it, they could play the music,” Gorman said.

Hip-hop, on the other hand, is something that can easily be taught alongside other subjects. The librarian Joquetta Johnson use hip-hop as the culturally relevant foundation for interdisciplinary courses that include creative writing, reading, and even mathematics. These studies involve hip-hop. “Students had to solve a scenario-based math problem concerning Kendrick Lamar,” was the assignment for one of the lessons. They were able to recognise recurring themes in his Twitter feed and evaluate the expansion of his fan following. In addition, Johnson teaches his students about digital citizenship, copyright, and intellectual property through the medium of hip-hop.