A New Approach to Hip Hop and Education

By Tony Muhammad



 Note: The contents of this article are in part based on a workshop presented at the PATH (Preserving Archiving & Teaching Hip Hop History) Summer Camp in Miami.   The article itself was originally published in the August edition of Hurt 2 Healing Magazine, published by Sis. Ebony S. Muhammad, truly a gem and a rising star in our community.  For more info on PATH visit http://www.pathtohiphop.org/.  For more info on Hurt 2 Healing Magazine visit http://www.h2hmag.info/.


In recent years, it has become trendy for many education specialists throughout the country to incorporate Hip Hop as a valuable teaching tool.  While these measures have produced both very exciting curricula for many school districts and highly esteemed independently-based outreach community programs, as conscientious educators who have been stimulated to become the inspirational voices that we are today to millions of youth because of Hip Hop, it is absolutely crucial that our creative fire continue to evolve and expand.  Truly, the work must transcend the status of mere “trend” and become more of a movement and ultimately an integral part of our culture. 

In analyzing the current popular and corporate controlled state of the music, it is understandable why many who do not understand Hip Hop beyond its surface level in the present may in ignorance be opposed to the concept of Hip Hop expressed in the classroom; as in the case with recent curricula initiatives in the states of Texas and Arizona.  For educators that grew up in what is termed as “The Golden Era” of the culture (late 80s/early 90s) Hip Hop was much deeper than just music.  It was as Chuck D of the legendary group Public Enemy put it, “The CNN of the streets.”  For many of us that grew up in that era, Hip Hop gave us our first true history lessons and compelled us to look deeper within our roots and deeper understanding as to what our true culture is.   In fact, hundreds of Hip Hop albums at the time included samples of speeches by leaders such as Malcolm X and the Hon. Min. Louis Farrakhan.  Some of this continued into the mid to late 90s, which is termed by some as the Wu-Tang era, when the music became more grimier in its expression but still provided enough light to provoke many us to question our self-identity and true purpose in life. 

Paralleling CNN, the popular Hip Hop of the past decade has been void of almost all pertinent information.  As media mogul Ted Turner has noted, CNN has become “personality-based” with its various news talk show hosts and no longer a viable news source, focused more on ratings than information.  Hip Hop music has also been altered for commercial purposes, not for the sale of the art in and of itself, but the products the owners of record labels and their associates have invested in; namely liquor, fashion (including but not limited to clothes that sexually arouse) and prisons.  And the artists themselves, the more ignorant consumerist expression they have, the better. 

As adults who became inspired to become teachers because of the knowledge and wisdom that we learned through Hip Hop, we may find ourselves in many ways, day in and day out, judging our own students because they may like the ignorant expression of the popular music of today.  This is problematic because at the mere perception of being judged, students tend to shut down from communicating and they tend to look at the adults who judge them as old has-beens who are not “up with the times.”  For a teacher to be stuck in a “pioneer era” or a “golden era” or even a “Wu-Tang era” is what the Hon. Min. Louis Farrakhan refers to as a “time warp.”  The Hon. Min. Louis Farrakhan says on page 59 in Closing The Gap:

There is a saying, “the only thing that is permanent in creation  is  change.”  As long as we live, we are engulfed in an eternal process of change.  Sometimes, however, we get locked into an era of time that gives us great comfort, because in that era of time we became possessors of certain knowledge that acquits us in that time period and we become successful.

This type of thinking violates the mere principle of Hip Hop as defined by KRS-One in the song Hip Hop Lives.  He says to be “Hip” means to be “up-date and relevant” and “Hop” meaning “movement” or moving based on what is known.  It does not mean that we have to accept all the views and attitudes of our students.  It just means that we need to change our methodological approach to teaching and incorporate a style that compels the student, through self-discovery, to challenge his/her own thinking in regards to interests, attitudes and values.  In these scenarios, the student would be at the center of learning and the teacher would perform more as a coach facilitating the process.  In addition, other activities can be developed such as having students write rhymes (or poetry) to history lessons and have them flow over their favorite beats.  Conscientious lyrics of the past (as well as the present) can be used to facilitate understanding the development and evolution of realities in the world so that gaps between the generations can be lessened through the qualitative teacher and student interaction.  Through this approach to teaching, surely students have more of an opportunity through active participation to develop a greater sense of responsibility and consequently stand a greater chance of giving birth to a new expression of Hip Hop that will eclipse the knowledge and wisdom expressed in all previous forms of the music.  This can be a reality if we truly desire it and if we seek it!

 Tony Muhammad has been teaching Social Studies in Miami-Dade County Public Schools for over 10 years and is currently involved in The MIA (Music Is Alive) Campaign for the development of the National Hip Hop Day of Service.  Tony is most noted for his work as publisher of Urban America Newspaper (2003 – 2007) and co-organizer of the Organic Hip Hop Conference.  He is also a member of Difference Makers, Inc. and FLASC (Florida Africana Studies Consortium).