Hip Hop in the Classroom

January 13, 2024
2 mins read


By Reginald N. Bradley

Friday, 01 April 2011.

I recently purchased Decoded. It was a necessity. I admire Jigga’s longevity and am intrigued by the content and design of the text.  While I have not been able to curl up with it like I would like because of an ongoing Decoded custody battle with my husband, at least I’ve heard it was pretty good.

A colleague’s interest in Decoded, however, really grabbed my attention. He asked me my thoughts about teaching Decoded as a classroom text. I did not really have an answer for him because I have yet to fully read the book, but I asked him his reasons for wanting to use it. He responded, “it sounds sexy and will keep the student’s attention.”

I was concerned. What made it sexy and appropriate for the classroom?

Conversations about Decoded as a classroom text and buzz surrounding publications like Adam Bradley’s The Anthology of Rap are pointing out increasingly blurring boundaries between Hip Hop Culture and the academy.

Hip Hop in the academy is not necessarily a new feature – peep scholarship like Black Noise, That’s the Joint or  Norton Anthology of African American Literature. But let’s be clear here. Critical perspectives about Hip Hop are very new. Hip Hop’s only rounding thirty, so in academic years it is still on the umbilical chord.

While rappers and scholars coming together in an academic setting is not fresh out the box, the accessibility to social media that is in place makes this moment of Hip Hop-Academic interaction unique. Jay-Z and Cornel West’s recent talk for the New York Public Library immediately comes to mind. Millions followed the conversation via u-stream, a live internet recording of the discussion taking place.

Rap legends like Chuck D and KRS-ONE are lecturing in colleges across America and are credited with initiating the conversation surrounding Hip Hop as a cultural experience. Unfortunately, they are swept to the side because they aren’t “what’s hot in them streets” at the moment. Legend status? Yes. Bumping on the iPod of a 15-21 year old? Hardly.

The link between social media, accessibility, and celebrity makes projects like Decoded relevant both in popular culture and the academy. Jay-Z or Wyclef Jean catches the attention of college faculty and students because of their presence in the media. Their significance parallels with their relevance because of high (damn near overdose) exposure.

To add yet another layer to this conversation, I’m curious about the next generation of Hip Hop scholarship:

-is Hip Hop’s participation in academia just a natural progression from wax to paper or is it profitable?

-is the push for a more expansive inclusion of rappers’ biographies and other rap narratives within the traditional African American canon an attempt to reclaim a voice within a space that has harshly dismissed rap music? In other words, can anthologies like Norton extend the “Hip Hop” section of the Norton Anthology of African American Literature to show how majorly representative Hip Hop is as a present day form of black (American) expression?

One major debate I’m paying close attention to is equating “street literature” as hip hop literature. Street literature is not a manifestation of Hip Hop but the continuation of a subgenre of African American literature from the 1960s by authors like Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines.

Cash Money Records’ new printing house Cash Money Content, owns the rights to Iceberg Slim’s memoir Pimp.  Can works like Pimp be considered hip hop lit because of Cash Money’s Hip Hop affiliation?

I’m optimistic that the relationship between Hip Hop, the academy, and the public continues to strengthen. The exchange of ideas, ink, and wax is a remix I look forward to hearing on repeat.

Regina N. Bradley is a doctoral student in African American Literature and Culture at Florida State University. She earned her MA in African American Studies from Indiana University Bloomington. Currently, her research interests include performance and gender identity, popular black culture, late 20th and 21st century black literature, and Hip Hop.

Ms Bradley blogs at Red Clay Scholar.


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