Also see on EducationWorld: Hip-Hop Lesson: DJs and Turntablism
EducationWorld note: In the course of doing Internet research on hip-hop related topics, or in the course of accessing the resources (videos, Web sites, articles, etc.) listed in this lesson, students may encounter material that contains objectionable language or content. Teachers may want to limit Internet access and/or screen specific resources ahead of time to select the options that will be most appropriate for their class.
Grades: 6-8, 9-12
Time: Two to four 50-minute sessions
Subject areas: Language Arts, Cultural Studies, Social Studies, Music
In this lesson, students will:
Skills: Expressing and supporting opinions in writing and discussion; analytical listening; critical thinking; public speaking; independent research
-Computer(s) with Internet access and speakers
-Chalkboard and chalk or whiteboard/butcher paper and markers
-Audio recording and playback device
|DJ Kool Herc|
Write these quotes on the board:
“The thing about hip-hop is that it’s from the underground, ideas from the underbelly, from people who have mostly been locked out, who have not been recognized.”
-Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam Recordings
“Rap is a gimmick, but I’m for the hip-hop, the culture.”
-Method Man, hip-hop artist, member of the Wu-Tang Clan
“Hip-hop is a vehicle.”
-Talib Kweli, hip-hop artist, founding member of Black Star 2
Students choose a quote, copy it down, and then free write. Have the students write for five minutes straight in reaction to the quote. Afterward, everyone shares what they wrote. This can be done by verbally sharing or by passing each person’s paper to another person to read.
If it’s a shy class, use anonymous writing. Ask students to leave names off their papers, then collect them and randomly pass the papers back out so each student reads one out loud. Use this activity to get students talking about what they know about hip-hop.
Questions to guide this conversation could be:
II. Listen to documentaries
Have students listen to Documentary #1 (Kool Herc Invents Hip-Hop) and Documentary #2 (Afrika Bambaataa Creates Culture), both in KEXP's Masters of Turntablism series.
III. Discuss questions
IV. Give an overview of Hip-Hop history
The culture, music, and lifestyle known as hip-hop began in the Bronx in New York City. At house parties and community centers DJs mixed songs from different records together. They started extending short drum breaks into longer dance mixes by switching between record decks. Bronx DJs experimented with touching and moving vinyl records with their hands. They also used electronic sounds coming from other places, like Europe. A famous example is Afrika Bambaataa’s use of Kraftwerk’s 1977 Trans-Europe Express.
In 1973 DJ Kool Herc DJed his first party in the South Bronx. The South Bronx was a poor neighborhood isolated from the rest of New York. One factor in this isolation was construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway, which created a scenery of rubble in neighborhoods it ran through. Young people of color found their own way to make these bleak surroundings positive and beautiful. They spray-painted and danced on cardboard they laid on the ground. Hip-hop parties were positive alternatives to gang violence.
Kool Herc, who became known as the father of hip-hop, formed the basis of hip-hop music by experimenting with instrumental breaks of funk, soul, and R&B songs. In the following years hip-hop pioneers such as Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash, and Grandmaster Caz start DJing at parties across the Bronx.
The story of Afrika Bambaataa—for example, his life-changing trip to Africa that resulted in his name change and his efforts to transform the South Bronx community—shows how the emergence of hip-hop is connected to identity, race, and place. Reformed gang member Bambaataa defined the four elements of the hip-hop scene. The four elements of hip-hop culture are:
Bambaataa also formed the Universal Zulu Nation, a hip-hop awareness group that organized cultural events for youth. The group was an alternative to gang activity for many young people. Over time, the Zulu Nation has spread internationally as a hip-hop awareness movement guided by certain spiritual principles.
The Sugar Hill Gang recorded the first popular commercial rap recording, “Rapper’s Delight,” in 1979. This song was many Americans’ first brush with hip-hop.
In the 1980s the hip-hop scene expanded and entered the mainstream in the U.S. Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash, Public Enemy, and NWA released albums. The first West Coast rap albums came out. The films "Wild Style" and "Style Wars" were released. Def Jam Recordings was established. Two big steps in making hip-hop mainstream were Run-DMC’s release of its version of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” and the group’s nomination for a Grammy. MTV and the radio started to have rap-specific programming with "Yo! MTV Raps!" and "Mr. Magic’s Rap Attack" on the New York FM radio station WHBI.
Two noteworthy women in the hip-hop world in the 1980s were Wendy Clark and Queen Latifah.
At the end of 1980s hip-hop started getting some negative press. Politicians and media personalities painted a picture of commercial hip-hop as music that taught immoral values.
In the 1990s gangsta rap, a type of rap that describes life in inner-city neighborhoods, became commercially popular in the U.S. Even though many people criticized it, this music spoke to youth who could identify with its themes of anger, rebellion against authority, and apathy. Companies who could profit from young consumers caught onto this trend and linked up their products with popular rap music. Some hip-hop fans see the commercialization of hip-hop music as selling out and compromising hip-hop’s original message.
Breakdancing, rapping, scratching, and graffiti art all became part of youth culture’s vocabulary. Looking at the roots of hip-hop, we see a powerful example of human creativity. A group of deprived kids managed to create an entire culture and art-form with the limited resources they had.
V. Activities - choose one or two
Visual Images of Hip-Hop Culture:
Watch one of these videos and reflect on them as a class.
-Afrika Bambaataa Planet Rock (4:00): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lDCYjb8RHk
-Temple of Hip-Hop (various artists): http://www.templeofhiphop.org/)
Artistic Brainstorm - Hip-Hop in Society:
Draw a large triangle on the board. At each point of the triangle, write one of these categories: CONTEXT, IDEAS, PEOPLE. In the middle of the triangle, write HIP-HOP. Explain that the goal of this brainstorm is to gather as many vivid adjectives as possible about hip-hop and to re-cap the most important things we’ve learned. CONTEXT includes the structures or systems that hip-hop came out of. Responses under this category might include historical facts, geographical places, or urban policies. The IDEAS category could include artists’ understandings of hip-hop, media stereotypes, or the students’ own beliefs about hip-hop. PEOPLE includes important people in hip-hop such as artists, people who shape our ideas about hip-hop, and consumers of hip-hop.
In the center of the triangle the class will list hip-hop’s essential elements in order to create a working definition of hip-hop. Ask for a couple volunteers to write on the board and another volunteer to get the brainstorm started. Each person to speak will pass off the conversation by calling out another person’s name or passing off an object. The writers should use different colors and ways of representing what classmates say to create a visual collection of ideas on the board.
Find an example of a politician or TV personality’s criticism of rap music and have the class come up with a rebuttal in light of what they have learned about hip-hop. One famous early example is the criticism surrounding Ice-T’s song “Cop Killer” and Tipper Gore’s editorial “Hate, Rape and Rap” (Washington Post, January 8, 1990), where she says that rap glorifies violence and teaches children to hate.
Here are a few excerpts from her article:
…As someone who strongly supports the First Amendment, I respect the freedom of every individual to label another as he likes. But speaking out against racism isn't endorsing censorship. No one should silently tolerate racism or sexism or antisemitism, or condone those who turn discrimination into a multimillion-dollar business justified because it's ‘real.’… ...Alvin Poussaint, a Harvard psychiatrist who is black, believes that the widespread acceptance of such degrading and denigrating images may reflect low self-esteem among black men in today's society. There are few positive black male role models for young children, and such messages from existing role models are damaging. Ice-T defends his reality: "I grew up in the streets--I'm no Bryant Gumbel." He accuses his critics of fearing that reality, and says the fear comes from an ignorance of the triumph of the street ethic. A valid point, perhaps. But it is not the messenger that is so frightening, it is the perpetuation—almost glorification—of the cruel and violent reality of his ‘streets.’ Children must be taught to hate. They are not born with ideas of bigotry—they learn from what they see in the world around them. If their reality consists of a street ethic that promotes and glorifies violence against women or discrimination against minorities—not only in everyday life, but in their entertainment—then ideas of bigotry and violence will flourish.
*Note: ―Cop Killer and Gore’s article contain offensive language and sensitive topics that might not be suitable for the classroom. The teacher should use discretion in presenting the material.
Other variants of this activity could be:
VI. Assignments - choose one
Caro, Robert A. "The City-Shaper," originally published 5 January 1998 in The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1998/01/05/the-city-shaper
Chang, Jeff. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop. http://cantstopwontstop.com/
DaveyD’s Hip Hop Corner. http://www.daveyd.com/
PBS Independent Lens, Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/hiphop/
About Hip-Hop Timeline. http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/hiphop/timeline.htm
Issue Brief: Hip-Hop. http://cdn.itvs.org/hip_hop-issue-brief-hip-hop.pdf
Temple of Hip Hop. http://www.templeofhiphop.org/
Zulu Nation. http://www.zulunation.com/
Books, Articles and Films
Arnold, Rick., Bev Burke, Carl James, D’arcy Martin, and Barb Thomas. 1991. Educating for a Change. Toronto, ON: Between the Lines and the Doris Marshall Institute for Education and Action.
Bell, Lee Anne, Barbara J. Love, and Rosemarie A. Roberts. 2007. "Racism and White Privilege Curriculum Design," in Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice. Routledge.
Bynoe, Yvonne. 2006. Encyclopedia of Rap and Hip-Hop Culture. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.
Caines, Jade. 2007. "It’s All about the Benjamins: The Marriage between Hip Hop, Adolescence, and Consumerism," in The Hip-Hop Education Guidebook Volume 1. New York: Hip-Hop Association.
Chang, Jeff. 2005. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-hop Generation. St. Martin’s Press.
George, Nelson. 1998. Hip Hop America. Viking Press.
Gore, Tipper. “Hate, Rape and Rap,” The Washington Post. 8 January 1990.
Kitwana, Bakari. 2003. The Hip-hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African American Culture. Basic Civitas Books.
Rodman, Sarah. “Breaking Down Hip-Hop,” The Boston Globe. 17 February 2007.
Spady, James G., H. Samy Alim and Samir Meghelli. 2006. Tha Global Cipha: Hip-hop Culture and Consciousness. Black History Museum Press.
“Style Wars.” 1984. Directed by Tony Silver and Henry Chalfant.
“Wild Style.” 1983. Directed by Charlie Ahearn.
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