The Utility of Hip-Hop Music in Music Education #HipHopMusicEd
I really love hip-hop music, …no I REALLY love hip-hop music! I have loved it, the good and the bad, ever since I was about 11 years old and my mother bought me some Addidas high-tops like Run DMC, and took me to see “Tougher Than Leather”, a movie produce by Russell Simmons and that featured Run DMC (coincidentally, it was a great album as well.) So, I’ve been in love with hip-hop music for almost three decades. As a member of the hip-hop generation I am both a critic and advocate for the power of the music, and by proxy the culture. I’ve seen hip-hop grow into a multi-billion dollar industry that started off as a mechanism for expression and agency, out of the urban experience. I fell in love with music even earlier than I feel in love with hip-hop. I can remember going to the record store, yes the Record store, to pick up new music. See, my mother was and still is a lover of good music. So, I grew up listening to Stevie Wonders “Innervision”, all of Natalie Cole, the Ohio Player’s “Honey”and “Fire”, as well as all of EWF (Earth, Wind & Fire). I watched Casey Kasem “America’s Top 10” every Saturday when I would visit my grandmother’s sister Luella. I was and still am the Hip-Hop generation. My favorite hip-hop song of all time is “Stakes is High” by De La Soul, track produced by the dynamic genius of J-Dilla. I used to play in a hip-hop band in Chicago called H2O Soul, and we often opened up for the legendary hip-hop band, the Roots, Mos Def, and Common in Chicago, IL and Milwaukee, WI. I still make my own mixtapes (CD)of the hottest rappers out so that I can hear them in my car on either my iphone or my cd player. I am Hip-hop.
I have also been part of the conservatory method that was a huge part of the model used to design the American system of music education. I am a professional trumpet player (jazz) and I have two degrees in music performance, one a M.M. in jazz studies from Northern Illinois University (Go Huskies). But, the majority of my musical development and understanding, over the last twenty years, of what I feel real music, honest music, should be like comes from my time investigating hip-hop music on my own. Its these critical experiences in hip-hop, I believe, along with critical reflection that can and will help save American Music Education. I know that’s a bold statement, but there has to be something said about a musical genre that is global in nature. There are hip-hop cultures all over the world. Hip-hop exploded on the scene like a nuclear bomb, leaving radiation everywhere…affecting everything around the blast zone, whether it be lasting or temporary. The debates that have sprung from the addition of the music into the popular domain of culture is immense. The critical writing on the subject, in the “con” side, is a large number. However, there are a few examples of researchers calling for more investigation into hip-hop pedagogy. This groups use the music and culture as a device rather than a music making opportunity. These experiences in music that we are talking about would be called “Musicking” by the late ethnomusicologist, Chris Small. Daily we all are bathed is sound, and music in its essence, is sound. Why must we be masters in order to craft something? That’s a horrible thought, to believe that in order to take part in something you can only do so if you are the master of it. You can never contribute, or feel value until you have truly mastered it, correct? I disagree with this sentiment and believe hip-hop music’s development has helped music endure in the America of the 21st century. It helped the music industry sustain over the last two decades. It has revitalized the way we share music and how often we can do it. Hip-hop was child along with the internet, synthesizers and cable, and the little brother to Funk, Punk and Disco. Hip-hop was raised on a diet of Reganomics, budgetary cuts in Arts Education, the Crack Explosion, and the AIDS epidemic of the early 1980’s. What a dynamic time in the world, and more specifically the United States of America.
So, I believe this dynamism that Hip-hop, the music of the Urban America experience, encountered during that time makes it a suitable and relevant bridge, lens and practice – framework, in which to work in. Music education is behind the eight ball and needs to look deeply in itself to find the big why(s)? Why do we teach? Why do we need to teach that? Why isn’t Hip-Hop music part of the canon? Why are we afraid to use hip-hop as more than a tool? Why aren’t we treating it as a subject – space of inquiry? These questions can be very difficult to answer, for some. Hip-Hop is relevant for the millions of people that are part of the post-hip hop generation. Hip-hop, for them, has always been a part of their lives and they can’t remember a time when there wasn’t hip-hop music or culture seen all around them. They can’t think of a time before rap, or when there wasn’t graffiti somewhere, or when deejays didn’t mix records without the use of a crossfader? Hip-hop is S.T.E.A.M.. If you really want to be real about it. Its the place where technology, society (culture), and music collide (imbricate) creating a beautiful consequence. If you want to relate to this generation of people, as a music educator, you will have to overcome your fear of messing it up (experience) or not doing it authentically (realness), and truly investigate the music (black urban culture). Music education programs will have to accept change and include new things into their pedagogies on pedagogy(instruction). I advocate for change, not massive and devastating change, but dynamic change nonetheless.
The use of hip-hop music in American music education is useful, practical and relevant. The utility of hip-hop music in music education is tremendous. Its both an “end” and a “mean” and that spells out a win win for all educators. Hip-hop has an aesthetic deeply grounded in ethnographic dislocating, de-centering and disrupting what we value and what our values are. The music can be analyze by theoretician, historian and educational teachers in three different perspectives; “Hip-hop as Bridge”, “Hip-hop as Lens” and “Hip-hop as Practice” (Kruse, 2014). These delicate yet flexible frameworks, through which we can use and engage with the space of inquiry that hip-hop creates, are important to recognize prior to delineating our curriculum. In order to create lasting change we must first get teachers, students, administrators and the public at large to understand that music is sound, and hip-hop in its purest form is sound appropriation. Its similar to the renown work of appropriation artist Elaine Sturtevant (Check out the MoMA – Double Trouble) did in the late nineteen-seventies from works centered on Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and Jackson Pollack. Hip-hop helps people combat and face their biggest prejudices by allowing an open debate between lyricist, deejays, graffiti artist, breakdancers and the audience to be had, about topics including but not limited to; freedom, identity, democracy, police brutality, violence in urban areas, racism, sexism, peace, victory and a wide array of other themes. Its a great introduction for music students interested in composition to learn about building motifs and motives. Its a perfect way to teach patience and what a groove is (Ostinato). It allows the teacher to deal with timbre and sonority, two of the most difficult topics in music education. Teachers can use the music to explore ethnomusicological approach to getting their students to learn more about the culture of America, history of our country and the various factors that contribute to our place in the world. Hip-hop helps people (that participate with it) to write their own worlds (story) in a more accessible ways than most other musical genres. Its accessible, and teachers need to know that the only thing between hip-hop music and them, is really only them and their preconceived notions about the culture and music(BAM). I prefer that the academy take a look at the programs all around the country that would benefit from culturally relevant music education, and simply attempt to expand the canon. Include a couple of famous hip-hop tunes as evidence of a willingness to engage with others about our path. Sometimes we as teachers (educators) forget that we are not in a fight with society or culture(people), but rather we are in a war with the thoughts and ideas that pollute our minds and those of the masses.
As I spoke earlier about “de-centering” “dislocating” and “disrupting” our thinking or ideological sediment, hip-hop music is great at doing that. Democracy demands controversy (Hess 2009). So, what other music has caused as much controversy as hip-hop? Lets use this space of inquiry as an opportunity to get teacher and student using discussion as a way of learning. To share is at the heart of the arts, and the vehicle of the aesthetic. Democracy is but a frame about which we demand to contribute our voices, but their must still be a system put in place to make sure everyone is heard. I am not suggesting that we simply change all of the literature and repertoire lists that exist in American Music Education, but that we simply expand it in order to make needed room for all American music genres. They all deserve to be valued as product, artifact, space of inquiry, movement, culture, etc. As American changes, demographically, so should the things that we value. We should start seeing more elements of the minority view present in the privileged position, because the Eurocentric values of our forefathers are antiquated and have never really represented the entirety of the American populous.
So, what I will be doing over the next couple of years, is build a case for a space for hip-hop music in music education. I hope you will join me, because will be writing about curriculum, instruction and uses of hip-hop pedagogy in the domain of the music classroom. I hope you will engage with me in this journey and feel free to comment and ask questions. I will post the link to my blog on #twitter #instagram and #facebook using the hashtag #hiphopmusiced
Jarritt A Sheel
#hiphopmusiced #hiphopmusiceducation #hiphoped #hiphoppedagogy #hiphop #Music #MusicEducation