Blog Post

How to integrate Hip Hop music into your classroom repertoire.

Bomani Armah 'Read a Book' as a teaching tool

This week was the first for student led discussion and presentation. In three parts we examined what we know of Hip Hop music, how we hear it and how we see it. Finally, we discussed how the music and videos can be used to teach across fields of study.

Using the song and video, 'Read a Book,' a heavily explicit media object from 2006 in the style of Crunk, classmates were asked to first, listen to the song and write down who the assumed target audience could be and any intial thoughts or feelings they may have. Second, we viewed the video while writing again, the assumed target audience and secondary thoughts. These exercises were used to inform us how audiences receive information. We all know our life experience and backgrounds inform how we see and hear information, but this in-class excersice really exposed the differences. Some heard the song as an informational, "how to be" song and others heard a joke (I observed lol moments from a few). 

Using Think-Pair-Share, we engaged in discussion of how songs like this one can be used in our respective fields of expertise as a tool for teaching. In areas of Social Work and mental Health, the song can be used to examine blame and victim blaming in the syste of structural racism. In Playwriting, intentionality of ones words to convey your truest message to audiences was discussed. Finally, looking at the culture war of respectability in History classes. 

This week's class pushed us to examine the ways we hear, see and understand texts. Being more informed of the ways we consume media and media objects can lead to a more robust discussion in our teaching classrooms. One that addresses inclusivity, diversity of bodies and voices, and finally makes our learning about the past more relatable to our present and futures. 

Link to the Prezi used to help guide any future use in your classrooms here.

Required readings:

The Education of Hip Hop

If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?

Respectability Politics can get in the way of a good story

Supplemental readings:

http://baratunde.com/blog/2007/8/31/jesse-jackson-really-needs-to-read-a...

http://www.hiphopmusic.com/2007/08/jesse_jackson_on_the_read_a_bo.html

https://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/arts/article/13005875/delay-of-fame

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/mentalsalvation/2008/09/23/tba

http://articles.latimes.com/2007/nov/30/entertainment/et-armah30

https://hiphopdx.com/news/id.5635/title.media-attacks-bets-read-a-book-song#signup

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11 comments

Z structured the class around the Think-Pair-Share exercise that we were asked to do three times throughout the class. The question of who we believed was the target audience was an intriguing question that everyone answered in a variety of ways. At the end, Z instructed the class to talk to someone they had never spoken to before about how we would teach this in a class. I ended up having an amazing conversation with Solange where I got to learn about their work on literacy. Solange’s answer to that question was distinctly different than mine and talking about those differences was illuminating. I genuinely appreciated having the opportunity to just listen and learn about someone else’s work.

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I am still struck by the varying perspectives about the message of the song/video, the intended audience, etc. In many ways, the value of the exercise seems less in getting to the "right" answer, and more in opening up questions about how we "read" media texts. What elements lead us to interpet something as satire vs. straightforward? How do we account for the fact that various cultural traditions produce and interpret satire (and also parody, sarcasm, snark, etc.) in quite different ways? What might that teach us abotu the function and circulation of the texts themselves? 

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This was my exact intention. I practiced this exercise with multiple undergrad students, all first generation immigrant college students. Their responses were an excellent example of the types of feedback I may receive, as well as the cultural tradtions that informed those anwers. I had to remind them there was no correst answer and that no ideas were off limits. One student thought it was something produced for younger urban kids in order to get them to pay more attention to school. THey have since told all of their friends about the video and continue to discuss how others interpret it as well.

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I really enjoyed the way Z structured the class. A few things about this particular class had me challenge my ideology and perspective:1. I really was under the impression this was "raw" rap and it was made for black mothers. When I watched the video, I then had a change of heart where I thought of this as satire making fun of the way black people are portrayed and regulated by white supremacy and social welfare policy. I think all in all the challenge for me was actually understanding the intentions of the rapper. I think intentions are crucial as they are a way to convey a message but in this case there was no "clearly" indicated audience or message.

 

What I enjoyed most about this was how Z had us use different interactive exercises to get us to think and challenge ourselves about how we think about rap music and also the message. While I believe rap can be both fun and “popping” I do also  know it can be a form of revolution against oppression and for some their only access to information is through rap.

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the main points that resonated with me from Z's presentation explored how we challenge ourselves as black men and women to do better, while at the same time acknowledging how systemic racialized oppression has impacted our current standings, behaviors, and general social trajectories.  I look at videos like Bomani Armah's "Read a Book," and laugh to myself (feeling like I'm laughing with Bomani), understanding the criticisms within the black community that it reflects.  Some of the same criticisms are eluded to in other songs I enjoy like Jay-Z's "The Story of OJ," or Outkast's "SpottieottieDopaliscious."  How we value and treat these criticisms needs more review and understanding, so as to be able to better appreciate when hip hop artists express different perspectives.

The conversation has long existed around hip hop and whether artists appearing to glorify our "uglier shades" have a place has yet to come to a resolve.  Music speaking about all experiences, including negative ones, seems like to truly represent the collective's perspective more accurately.  But does that objective take primacy?  Should the art work to elevate and inspire us to be better?  If so, should ALL of the art do that?

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Perhaps my favorite part of Z's class on "Hip Hop Pedagogy" was when she structured a think-pair-share where we were required to talk to someone we had never talked to before.  Among the curious human traits one sees in a classroom: people tend to sit all semester in the place they sat when they first came into the class.  So, unless you structure a situation where people have to move around and talk to someone they have never talked to before, they tend to talk to the same people/person all term.

Move!  It's moving. 

Really.  (Thank you, Z!)

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In terms of the analysis of the song and videos- I found it particularly relevant to my field (social work) and education to consider how we can be misguided into assuming an artist/educator/practitioner represents a particular ideology based on their cultural/racial identity. These assumptions guide decisions which may be well intended yet have unwanted impact on the audience, students, clients. In addition, I was really struck by the nuances of the question of whether the intentionality by the creator mattered or not in terms of how audiences receive their work-especially given temporal and cultural differences. For example, I could see the "Read a Book" song having one meaning or intent within the context of the 90s versus two decades later and then even when viewed by an audience of children vs adults. So in this regard, how much of how media art is received actually related to the original intent behind it rather than the time, place, perspective and context of the audience?

The way Z structured our discussion was a great example of how to engage students' learning styles- there was opportunity for individual thought processing (which we wrote down), then we were able to have dialogue in pairs and finally large group dialogue which would work to engage students who are comfortable speaking in large groups, students who are more comfortable talking through their ideas, and students who may need to write things out to gain more clarity around their thoughts before speaking. I noticed how Z actually went around to listen to some of the dialogue in our pairs and actually being able to add to the conversation by sharing more information specific to the topic being discussed. This was a great way to get a sense of where we all were with our conversations, while also being able to then come back and integrate what she heard into the rest of the larger group conversation.  

 

 

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I really appreciate how Z structured this class. It was refreshing to start the exercise off by listening to a piece of media and then watching that media play out on screen. Naturally, I resort to visual images, so listening gave me a different context on the media as opposed to visually conceptualizing it. Another great element of this structure was talking about your perspective with someone you haven’t interacted with in class before. Because I’m interested in audience studies and an artist’s intentionality in their work, this opened up the conversation that there can be multiple answers for one text. 

I think the most challenging question I had to ask myself was, how exactly do I teach this? Ideally, I would love to teach this as how we read media, and how reading a text isn’t just limited to a physical piece of literature. In doing so, teaching Z’s style can help viewers understand that literacy can also happen by reading various media pieces. Being "media lit" can also teach audience viewers how to understand images of representation, and how a piece of media can be subversive, which can contain multiple interpretations. 

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I appreciated being challenged to meet both auditory and visual aspects of class material on their terms. I think opening oneself up to the act of how we hear and listen was well duplicated in the way in which we were introduced to sound and sight of the primary material in class. 

One of the most intriguing parts of discussion which seems to come up no matter what our medium is the idea of high versus low art. Looking at the animation styles of "Read a Book" versus "Bid Em In" we can see drastically different methods of conveying information through image as well as hear different choices about how to affect the audience. The methods in "Read a Book" go for a more colloquial and familar style in both image and sound--the animation style looks like much during the same period, familiar tropes of blackness are conveyed in the silhouettes of certain characters, and the music references both hip hop and classical to elevate itself for its audience. In "Bid Em In," the style uses much less reference to convey its message, highlighting the kind of starkness and harshness of its message of the slave auction. The colors spill over the characters outline, giving a shaky sense of identity and morals. The piece is spoken word with only the beat of the gavel to ground us. I'm glad we got to contrast these two pieces and challenge our notions about how to hear and watch media like these.

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Z's presentation class was really engaging and thought-provoking. The focus on education through hip hop was particularly impactful for me as a college English instructor who has played with the idea of assigning hip hop to my students. I have never officially assigned it, but I do have my Intro to Lit students bring in song lyrics of their choice for a poetry lesson and in many cases these lyrics are from hip hop songs. However, I now feel inspired to full-on assign hip hop, too. I think "Read a Book" is an especially great song to discuss in a classroom in order to dissect the representational inequality inherent in the education system. I could talk about tokenism and about the expectation that I teach only what is considered "high" or classic/canonical art in the course, given the verse that commands the listener to "read a book" and "not a magazine" or "the sports page." Of course as an English teacher, I am a proponent of books, but not at the expense of the other forms of expression around us - like music, including hip hop and this very song itself. Along with James Baldwin's 'If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?" (assigned by Z), the song could also be supplemented with an essay by Gerald Graff called "Hidden Intellectualism," which critiques schools for not utilizing more from students' outside interests and skills and argues that students can develop their brilliance in various ways beyond books. 

These questions about the shortcomings of the education system could lead into larger questions that "Read a Book" raises for me about systemic and structural oppression in America. Are the demands in the song understandable and valuable in certain ways? I definitely think so! But also, is it fair to tell people to buy land who literally cannot afford it as a result of an oppresive and racist history that has prevented their ancestors, and in turn them, from accumulating wealth? Buying property is one way to fight back, make room for yourself, and start to accumulate wealth in a continued oppressive and racist society, so that approach makes total sense. But within the current system, many people cannot actually do this even when working extremely hard. So once again, isn't it the system that needs to be shocked into change and not simply the individual? 

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I really appreciated Z’s class discussion about how/whether to integrate hip-hop music into the classroom because I think that, within academia, we are often critical of classrooms, curriculum, and pedagogy but our discussions of what is wrong often fall short when it is time to offer solutions. Considering hip-hop music, or any other music that is being consumed by young people, as a valuable pedagogical tool has the potential to positively impact everyday classroom hegemonic relationships by providing a space where the student can take the role normally occupied by the teacher. Reshaping the classroom on a macro level by rebuilding relationships and opportunities to contribute knowledge while renegotiating power dynamics and building students’ confidence.

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