The teaching and values of Hip Hop
Can we believe in the educational virtues of Hip Hop? In the mind of the general public the answer would probably be no. Its violent and misogynistic image may indeed suggest the contrary, and a majority of parents would probably be against the idea that this culture and music, and particularly its history, could be taught to their children.
In my opinion, rap only suffers from a bad image and a lack of knowledge from general public. This is probably less the case today, but this image was very persistent in the 90s and 2000s. When I was a kid, I still remember my father almost forbidding me to listen to this music. In reality, it wasn’t a formal prohibition but more a mistrust of this musical genre, which he finally knew very little about. Other than its violent character, at least on the surface, rap music also had a protesting side. My mother, on the contrary, allowed me a lot of freedom in my musical choices and reminded me of her adolescence listening to Rock music as an emancipation music. In fact, it’s mostly a question of perception.
One cannot deny the violence and aggressiveness of some rap lyrics, and this is part of its history. But if we take the 7 commonly accepted arts, literature remains the most massively taught art in schools, be it poetry or drama. The other arts, including music, are also taught, but the class hours are less important or they are specialties that come much later in the cursus. The purpose here is not to discuss the educational system but to highlight that all art forms, including literature, can be violent, yet literature remains the most taught art.
However, the Hip Hop movement itself is not violent in its nature and philosophy. Rap has virtues and values that could be taught and learned from. Hip Hop is born out of a desire to unite and elevate, to put the community first in order to get by. Knowledge has often been advocated precisely in order not to get locked into the vicious circle of urban street violence in disadvantaged neighborhoods. In this sense, Hip Hop has very quickly had a political aspect, particularly in a form of claim of the underprivileged minorities against the government and the institutions that persecute them. The goal was to make its discontent heard. The social character of Hip Hop is also very present, especially in the messages of communication to the youth. From this perspective, Hip Hop is very interesting to study.
As with all other art forms, Hip Hop has several styles. We find the political and social Hip Hop (N.W.A., Public Enemy, KRS-One), philosophical and abstract Hip Hop (A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, Ultramagnetic MCs), entertaining and comical Hip Hop (Will Smith, Ludacris, Redman), ostentatious rap (Puff Daddy, Jay-Z, Rick Ross), lyrical and poetic rap focused on the beauty of rhymes (MF Doom, Organized Konfusion, Aceyalone) or pure gangsta rap (Snoop Dogg, Mobb Deep, Fat Joe). Of course, these different approaches are not so compartmentalized and elements of several styles are often merged and integrated in the artists’ realizations. The idea is to illustrate that, as with other art forms, rap has much to offer in its diversity and can therefore be easily taught.
Beyond its history and its values, Hip Hop is one of the musics with the longest and most worked texts. Hip Hop is the art of rhyme par excellence with lyrics that can be very poetic. I remember studying the famous figures of speech in high school, and especially having to identify them in an excerpt from classic French literature. At the time, I really hated it. But I never imagined that it would be useful for my passion for rap. Although I was already listening to rap music, I wasn’t focusing on the beauty of the lyrics as much. I think that if the texts I was studying were rap songs, I might have been more motivated for these classes. Some of the rap lyrics definitely shine with lyrical beauty with fine rhymes and clever figures of speech.
The history of Hip Hop is closely tied to many events and parts of American history. Studying the history of Hip Hop can lead to the analysis of various sociological and historical aspects surrounding the history of the United States, not to mention the history of the music itself which would also be very interesting to teach.
Other great rappers have also been role models in their arts and have been able to inspire future generations, such as Rakim’s mic skills or Gandmaster Flash’s DJing techniques. The teaching and knowledge of such artists is of course invaluable to all younger generations of rappers.
The entrepreneurial success of some Hip Hop artists like Jay-Z, P. Diddy, Birdman or Master P could also inspire young people and serve as examples. These artists are indeed real businessmen who have succeeded in building empires. In this sense, they stand as a model for disadvantaged cultures, succeeding from nothing. However, this category will be excluded from the list to focus on more spiritual and artistic professors.
That being said, Hip Hop and rap do have a place in the classroom. Hip Hop can be studied in many different areas. Politics, history, sociology, philosophy, poetry, and comedy are all disciplines that can be integrated into the study of Hip Hop, ultimately in the same way that they can be analyzed in literature or cinema.