Hip-hop is an imperfect, but charming, language.
It is derogatory toward women, it thrives off power, sex and money, and it’s all one big bleep after all obscenities are taken out. But what great cultural movement in history didn’t have its kinks?
Hip-hop surrounds us. It blares through the headphones of the kid walking on the street, in the passing cars whose passengers are too cold to take off their coats, but too cool to roll up the windows, and from every DJ’s speakers.
So why, if it is inescapable, is it not used more in the classroom? If “Free Lil’ Kim” was on the syllabus of my Journalism and the Law class, getting up at 8:40 a.m. would be much easier.
If we, as students, are educated about American culture in general, why not also be educated about hip- hop culture? Hip-hop is often more accessible.
Here at Temple, the urban education department is paying attention to using music as a teaching tool. Marc Lamont Hill has taught several classes on hip-hop and urban culture. As a senior, I regret not being able to take one of his classes, where students often listen to lyrics and debate their meaning.
“That’s a common misconception about the class,” Hill said. “Hip-hop studies are rigorous and academically rich. One-third is music and the rest is reading.”
One book assigned is The American Project by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, which breaks down what Venkatesh calls the modern ghetto and housing projects.
“It helps students understand the social aspect of the people who live in the projects, and how the housing culture shapes people,” Hill said.
But to understand the deeper meaning of their lyrics, it’s necessary to understand what flaws in society fell on their shoulders.
“We use rappers to understand society,” Hill said.
In Hill’s class, and in classrooms around the country, students are studying the culture, history and politics of hip-hop.
“It’s just like you would with any other cultural phenomenon. It is a means to understand broader issues in gender, class, sexuality and urbanization,” Hill said.
“I am most delighted to see people that think they know everything about hip-hop, give them new lenses to look at it through, and see how surprised they are by the academically rich, vibrant and thoughtful [context] of hip-hop and the possibilities they see in themselves.”
Hip-hop started as an outlet for a victimized race, and while the journey from Afrika Bambaataa, the godfather of hip-hop, to Soulja Boy has been anything but customary, the genre has become tailored with grills, a clothing line, and new dance moves.
Jena Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.