From Tupac 101 to the Poetry of Kendrick: 7 times hip hop was taught in schools
Before Kendrick Lamar taught poetry, there was Tupac 101.
Earlier this week, rapper Kendrick Lamar visited a New Jersey high school English class that used his To Pimp a Butterfly album to learn poetry in English. Lamar listened to the students’ original work, talked about his school days, and gave a performance in addition to partaking in a slam poetry session.
But this isn’t the first time Lamar’s work, or those of his contemporaries, has been used in an academic setting. Here are seven schools at which students have received credit for transcribing rap lyrics, examining graffiti, and studying music videos.
School: Yale University
Class: Evolution of Rap Music in the U.S.
The Ivy League school was among the first to acknowledge that hip hop has a place in the classroom, adding a course called The Evolution of Rap Music in the United States to its 1993 offerings. According to the class description, the course covered history of the rap industry, women’s roles in hip hop, and the graffiti aspect of hip hop culture. Student assignments included creating their own raps and observing local graffiti tag names or murals, in which students were warned to go out “in small groups due to the fact that some neighborhoods that our students live in can be quite dangerous.”
School: Rice University
Class: Religion and Hip Hop Culture
In spring 2011, original UGK member Bernard “Bun B” Freeman taught Religion and Hip Hop at Rice University alongside Dr. Anthony B. Pinn. The class hosted panel discussions titled “Should Rap Be in the Church?” and “The Ethics of Hip Hop,” as well as a talk hosted by the professor and Russell Simmons. The class was so successful that Freeman and Pinn teamed up to offer an online version this past spring, in which students would learn “elements of Hip Hop culture,” “Hip Hop vocabulary related to religion,” and “structures of religion and Hip Hop interaction.”
School: University of Missouri
Class: Jay Z and Kanye West
First they Watch-ed the Throne, and then they helped teach college kids English. In fall 2013, the class inspired by Jay Z and Kanye West examined the rappers from the following perspectives: “Where do they fit within, and how do they change, the history of hip hop music?; How is what they do similar to and different from what poets do?, and How does their rise to both celebrity and corporate power alter what we understand as the American dream?” Required course materials included “Jay-Z’s Decoded; histories of and critical works on rap music by Jeff Chang, Adam Bradley, and others; and one or two good studies of how poetry works.” Before the class geared up for its second semester, professor Andrew Hoberek told Consequences of Sound he believes Jay Z and West are “warming up to the level of major poets.”
School: Syracuse University
Class: Hip Hop Eshu: Queen B@#$H 101 – The Life & Times of Lil’ Kim
Before your lip gloss was poppin’ and you could hear that superbass, Lil’ Kim led the game for female rappers. “Her lyrical artistry is nothing short of revolutionary,” SU English professor Greg Thomas told ABC Radio in 2004. “It’s the art with the most profound sexual politics I’ve ever seen anywhere.” Thomas kicked class off by having students transcribe the lyrics to Lil’ Kim’s “Get Money,” and the Queen B even visited the school to listen to students’ presentations and discuss her role in hip hop culture. Talk about the ultimate guest speaker.
School: Georgia Regents University
Class: Good Kids, Mad Cities (get it?)
Turns out that New Jersey high school wasn’t the first to use Lamar’s 2012 album as course materials: Professor Adam Diehl launched an English class this past fall dedicated to examining “the role of urban living on the development of young people,” using good kid, m.A.A.d. city as a text. “With Kendrick’s album, you’ve got gang violence, you’ve got child-family development in the inner city, you’ve got drug use and the war on drugs, you’ve got sex slavery, humman trafficking,” Diehl told USA Today. “A lot of the things that are hot-button issues for today are just inherent in the world of Compton, California.”
School: Georgetown University
Class: Sociology of Hip Hop: Urban Theodicy of Jay Z
Professor Eric Dyson began teaching hip hop-related courses in 1995, but it wasn’t until 2011 that he started to make headlines for offering a class on Jay Z at Georgetown. “We’re dealing with everything that’s important in a sociology class: race, gender, ethnicity, class, economic inequality, social injustice,” Dyson told the Washington Post. “[Jay Z’s] body of work has proved to be powerful, effective, and influential. And it’s time to wrestle with it.” Wrestling with it meant comparing Jay Z’s raps to the works of both W.E.B. Du Bois and Notorious B.I.G. and looking at how Jay Z ascended his current superstar status.
School: University of Washington
Class: The Textual Appeal of Tupac Shakur
Tupac’s a popular course subject: Both Harvard University and Berkeley University have also offered classes focusing on the late rapper in the past. But this one specifically “[explored] the philosophical, historical, and literary influences” of Tupac by comparing Tupac’s rap to older works, including Shakespeare’s plays, and the Bible. Instructor Georgia Roberts told Seattle PI in 2003 that listening to Tupac’s music got her interested in things like Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Live from Death Row and the prison-industrial complex, something that makes his work ideal for a classroom. “Listening to hip hop when I was younger was always a motivation to gain access to education and to be able to have these larger debates that are going on within society,” she said. “Students are not just listening to his music and internalizing it. Students are listening to his music and listening to the messages that are coming across.”