This week we used the KWL chart from last week’s class to springboard our discussion around the history of Hip Hop. The students were amazing.
We started class with our afternoon cypher. The greeting for the day: “What’s good.” The message of the day: “Know your history.”
After our cypher, I gave the students a timeline from the National Geographic that traces the history of Hip Hop back to West Africa. I then utilized a Prezi presentation to showcase the rich history of African and African American storytellers throughout the last 400 years. The students learned about West African storytellers called “griots.” We also focused on the power of the African drum and its infectious beat that is also a fundamental aspect of Hip Hop. We then listened to an African drum song by World Masters called “Beat the Drum.” The students loved how their bodies felt listening to the rhythm. I then played the instrumental track of the Busta Rhymes’ song, “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See.” The students instantly made the link between the African drum song and Hip Hop. The energy in the room at that point was electric. Without any prompting, students got up and started dancing to the drums of Hip Hop. A few teachers from the school even joined in.
We then moved up the timeline to make a stop at the slave-era music. Drawing on last week’s lesson, we discussed Harriet Tubman and the ingenious freedom songs enslaved Africans created to inform others about the Underground Railroad. We focused in particular on the song, “The Gospel Train’s A’ Comin’.” The students, again without prompting, turned the freedom song into rap. Moments like that one, for me, confirm why Hip Hop Ed is so important – students get to move, think and create in ways inside the classroom that comes naturally from who they are culturally.
Next, we discussed as a class how there would be no Hip Hop with out the griots and the inventiveness of freedom songs.
The latter portion of the class was spent discussing how modern day Hip Hop emerged from African Americans’ long-standing brilliance in verbal arts. Students learned about scatting (Ella Fitzgerald), spoken-word poetry (Gil Scott), Hip Hop (Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five). In that same vein, we also discussed DJ Kool Herc and his impact on Hip Hop music and culture. After discussing the development of DJ’ing, and the process of isolating the drum beat or the break of the song, we watched a video of DJ Jezzy Jeff scratching.
After that discussion, we then explored how break-dancers got their names, and followed up with a dance scene from the movie Beat Street.
Finally, we ended the class by listing old and new school Hip Hop artists in order to underline the point that there would be no Jay-Z, OutKast, Future or T.I. without the griots.
The class was amazing. The students were engaged the entire lesson, while still managing to have fun learning. The class was filled with movement and students embodying Hip Hop music and culture.
As I write this blog post I am in Pittsburgh, PA for a conference. I will not be teaching the class next week, but the show must go on. Marsha will be teaching the class about climate change and linking that to knowledge of self and community.