Enrolling In Hip-Hop 101

Enrolling In Hip-Hop 101 
Increasingly, institutions are turning to the musical genre to grab students’ attention.
By Marlon A. Walker

After all the students make their way into the lecture hall, the professor slips the audio CD into the stereo system. Sounds of “U.N.I.T.Y.” by Queen Latifah emote through the lecture hall. Class has just begun.

Colleges and universities across the country have turned to hip-hop to educate the masses. Many say it’s the newest way to get the younger generation to learn: by talking their language. Others say hip-hop as an academic discipline allows for the teaching of the genre’s beginnings without getting sidetracked by its current negative connotations.

“Part of it is to get folks to go back to the early hip-hop,” says Yumy Odom, director of Temple University’s Pan-African Studies Community Education Program. “They’re too caught up in the images that have
been co-opted.”

More than 85 hip-hop courses were being taught in American universities during the 2005-2006 academic year, according to a census conducted by the Hip Hop Archive, which was recently moved to Stanford University.

“Hip-hop has reached well beyond its urban roots to diverse national dimensions and has been an integral part of American culture for almost 30 years,” says Dr. Brent D. Glass, director of the National Museum of American History, which recently announced the development of a comprehensive exhibit on hip-hop culture.

At Temple, the hip-hop course is advertised as a way to share in the appreciation of what the music form is all about. “Do you love hip-hop? Do you hate hip-hop frauds?” the ad begins.

“Hip-Hop 101” is just one of 85 courses in the Pan-African program’s curriculum, Odom says. He talks about a time when hip-hop fueled a good way of life. Today, Odom says, artists have one main
goal — to make money. And the music they create to achieve that goal is not good for the community.

“Once it becomes moneymaking and superficial, it loses its purpose,” Odom says. “Everybody is not being shot at. Everybody is not prostituting or pimping folks. But you’d think that’s how people lived based on the lyrics.”

Although hip-hop was born in the Bronx, its influence — and the courses dedicated to it — have spread across the country. A class at San Francisco State University teaches students about the origins of
hip-hop. Another course at the University of California, Berkeley examines the history of the culture and its relevance to today’s music. In Fairfax, Va., a course at George Mason University’s New Century College looks at hip-hop and its impact on society.

North Carolina Central University is putting a twist on its use of the genre to influence the current generation of students. While the class, “Hip Hop in Context,” is providing education on the genre and its history, the overall goal of the university’s initiative is to grab students’ attention.

“Hip-hop is the music genre that most of our students are attuned to,” says Kawachi A. Clemons, coordinator of NCCU’s music industry program and the man in charge of the new Hip Hop Initiative. “The whole goal for our initiative is to reach them on the affective level. Basically, we want to reach them where they are.”

It doesn’t hurt that one of the teachers is 9th Wonder, a producer and a member of the hip-hop group Little Brother. The other instructor is Christopher “Play” Martin, a member of one of hip-hop’s most popular duos, Kid ‘N Play. 9th Wonder, whose real name is Patrick Douthit, says he wants to use his name recognition to help others while he can.

“It puts me in a place where people will listen to me, and I want to use that for good,” says Douthit, a graduate of NCCU. “So many rappers use that for bad.”

While their attention is focused on the music, Clemons says students will be exposed to other useful skills that will help them in any path they choose to take.

“We’re using hip-hop to draw the students in,” he says. “But when they get here, by being participants in these interdisciplinary discussions, they’re acquiring the tools necessary to go into the world upon graduation. It almost takes a culturally responsive pedagogical approach that favors the student-centered model, where the student is seen as the learner and dispenser of acquired knowledge.

“It’s bridging the gap between theory and practice.”

Odom says it’s time for students to realize some of the images they’re being force-fed are not what hip-hop’s originators intended.

“If you look at what’s been done to Mary J. Blige and Lil’ Kim, they’ve been transformed into White women,” Odom says. “What it is … is Black women in White face; a Eurostreamed image. It’s like making a caricature. Their interest is in getting some jewelry.”

Odom says the class hopes to dispel that image by drawing from the genre’s roots. Its importance can be realized by simply looking around and observing those around you, he says.

“Hip-hop is ongoing history. It’s a part of American history,” Odom continues. “You can barely watch a newscast where somebody is not using hip-hop lingo that they think is cool. It’s impacted the world. You can go to Japan and find people trying to mimic [the genre].

“And that includes the superficial part that has been co-opted by the industry.”



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