Friday, April 28, 2017


Sorry to continuously lead you guys on, but this week will not incorporate my teacher in this week’s edition of my #BowTieBoys blog. We are still working around a scheduling issue. Maybe if I quit saying our discussion will materialize, it will just happen. Regardless of the interview’s absence, I still have a post for this week and in my opinion, it is as current as it gets.

How many of your students get excited to read Canterbury Tales? How about Charles Dickens? Does Homer get their adrenaline pumping? Confidently, I can say very few kids my age are exhilarated by poetry written forever ago. This is not to say these poems do not possess merit, but opening up a thirty year old textbook, smelling the musty pages, and reading the seemingly endless lines of Old English isn’t always the best way to hook students into poetry.

At my school especially, there is a negative stigma surrounding poetry within the student population. The most obvious cause is a lack of engagement. Teachers in my past (with the exception of one) combat this cynical connotation by telling students how to interpret poetry so it’s ‘easier for the test.’ While people may appreciate the cram-regurgitate-forget formula due to its simplicity, at the end of the day, nothing has been taught.

This poses the question: how can we connect today’s younger generation to poetry? It is my belief that the education system can completely revamp how kids see poetry by utilizing rap music as an everyday tool. It’s true the nationwide student landscape cannot be pigeonholed on any topic, it is safe to say, at least a good portion of students actively listen to rap or hip hop music. Recently, Grammy award winning phenomenon, Kendrick Lamar, released a new album titled: “DAMN.” For only two weeks, “DAMN.” has been picking up steam. As one of the most hyped albums in the genre of rap, it has already become the highest selling album of 2017 (Caulfield).

I understand where the hesitance comes from regarding introducing rap music into the classroom. Lyrics can be explicit, allude to drugs/sex/violence, or repeat the same lines over and over again. There are ways to combat that fact though. First off, overly vulgar or repetitive songs probably don’t need to be included as they may not possess much substance, but censored versions (or uncensored, if allowed) of well written songs can allow students to analyze storytelling through music they already listen to. Also, even though rap lyrics may be more direct with their references, school mandated books are not squeaky clean either. Last year, the entire grade read To Kill a Mockingbird. A key element of that story is a court case surrounding rape charges. Add in the constant use of racial slurs and you have a story that’s potentially ‘more inappropriate’ than some rap music. Obviously, subject matter doesn’t mean the book is bad, but the same judgment should apply to rap music as well. In English this year I’ve read Lord of the Flies and am actively reading Macbeth. Sexual imagery is present in the former and constant mentions of high alcohol consumption and murder run rampant in the latter. When broken down, other than word choice, there is not much difference between Macbeth brutally stabbing Duncan and a rapper describing a life riddled with gang violence. Just like poetry has a student-driven negative connotation, rap music has a seemingly adult-driven negative connotation. Bringing both together in a classroom setting would do wonders to crumble the criticism of each form of literature.

There is so much that can be taught with the unique lyricism that rap allows writers to play with. The genre is entirely based around rhythm, which in the state of Virginia is a concept students must master before the end-of-year standardized testing. Take this excerpt from Kendrick Lamar’s song, “DNA.” as an example:

"I got, I got, I got, I got
Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA
Cocaine quarter piece, got war and peace inside my DNA
I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA
I got hustle though, ambition, flow, inside my DNA
I was born like this, since one like this
Immaculate conception
I transform like this, perform like this
Was Yeshua's new weapon"

In a twenty-two second span, ‘Kung Fu Kenny’ manages to seamlessly use internal rhyme, allusion, simile, alliteration, assonance, consonance, flashback, and of course rhythm. All of which are literary devices that Virginia’s curriculum involves. On the surface, teachers may be quick to avoid this song because of the mention of cocaine. Upon further analysis however, it is clear that Lamar is merely explaining that he has overcome his family’s history of drug abuse/drug trafficking. Just as in any work of art, only when its audience delves beneath the surface do they find out what it truly means.

With each new song comes a new story and/or a new perspective. It’s a great lesson to teach students; one writer can look at something in so many different ways. Look no further than “HUMBLE.” which is arguably Kendrick’s biggest hit from the album. Taking this song face value, one might think “HUMBLE.” is just another boisterous rap song where the artist raps about how great he is. After another look or so, it’s amazing how masterfully Lamar wrote this. Today’s rap singles very rarely venture into social commentaries. Typically, even when they do, listeners are supposed to just absorb the lyrics without too much extra thought. “HUMBLE.” is just one huge satirical piece, full of juxtaposed lyrics aimed at today’s landscape of rappers. Throughout the song, 'K-Dot' uses braggadocious lyrics to explain why people should “be humble.” This is a hugely popular song in my school. Imagine what could be accomplished if teachers harnessed the enthusiasm students have towards rap music and redirected it into the classroom. Most kids listening to “HUMBLE.” for example do not know that the song is dominated by irony. Reading comprehension and poetic writing ability will grow if students’ eyes are opened up to what their favorite songs’ lyrics mean.

So much would occur if rap was incorporated into the classroom more often. Rather than perpetuating a disconnect between teacher and student, schools should integrate the genre as a whole into English classes to:
  • Foster students’ abilities to analyze song lyrics, as well as poetry
  • Help students identify literary devices and figurative language
  • Build positive rapport with students through changes to classroom formulas
  • Increase enthusiasm for English through music that has a preexisting connection with kids
  • Show different methods famous songwriters use to captivate an audience
  • Draw parallels between classical and modern forms of literature
  • Allow students to explore emulating assorted writing styles in their own writing

I very much believe that one of, if not the, largest necessities of education is open mindedness. There is no such thing as one true way to write. There is no such thing as one true way to interpret a work of literature. There is no such thing as one true way to create art. That all may sound cliché, but when we disallow certain genres from the classroom (whether it be books, music, poems, movies, etc.), we dispute these expressions. To reiterate, I am not advocating for teachers to play songs that are primarily made up of unnecessary profanity, yet I still wonder; how come ‘classic books’ get exceptions made for them, while ‘modern music’ receives an advisory sticker?

As Kendrick Lamar says in the song “Ab-Soul’s Outro,” everyone has their own perspective on the world. When teachers expose students to only one form of writing, we have a much more limited understanding of what writing can be. Restricting rap music is just another way to restrict the way students think, act, feel, and express themselves. At the end of the day, even though educators are the classroom authority, no one can force a formula upon students. Writing is about envisioning a moment and recreating it for an audience, regardless of what shape it takes. Shielding kids from rap music (even though we already have access to it anyway) does much more bad than good. Ultimately, students need to have the freedom to explore what works for them and what doesn’t. Poetry is a beautiful art form and can be among the most therapeutic ways to release pressure from within. By incorporating the genre of rap into the classroom and helping students see its similarities to poetry, students will become more engaged and successful in English.

See a lot of ya'll don't understand Kendrick Lamar
Because you wonder how I could talk about money, h***, clothes, god, history all in the same sentence
You know what all the things have in common
Only half of the truth, if you tell it
See I've spent twenty three years on the earth searching for answers
Til' one day I realized I had to come up with my own
I've not on the outside looking in
I'm not on the inside looking out
I'm in the death ****ing center, looking around”
(Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul’s Outro)

Thank you so much for reading this week’s edition of my blog! I would love to hear any thoughts (in agreement or opposition), any suggestions you have, or any questions you may have. I will continue to update this on Fridays as the year progresses. You can follow me on Twitter @TheSammer88 for live updates from me. The hashtag, #BowTieBoys has been compiling my thoughts and my partners’ thoughts, so be sure to check that out if you want to hear more from us.

Caulfield, Keith. "Kendrick Lamar Earns Third No. 1 Album on Billboard 200 Chart With Biggest Debut of 2017." Billboard. N.p., 22 Apr. 2017. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.

Lamar, Kendrick. Ab-Soul's Outro. Kendrick Lamar. Terrace Martin, 2011. MP3.

Lamar, Kendrick. DNA. Kendrick Lamar. Aftermath Entertainment, Mike Will Made It, 2017. MP3.

Lamar, Kendrick. HUMBLE. Kendrick Lamar. Aftermath Entertainment, Mike Will Made It, 2017. MP3.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post Sam and fully agree that rap music is a great way to open the door to poetry. We choose carefully just as we do with any text but it would be such a great inroad to discussion and lyrics with real impact. I used rap music in my elementary classrooms for years.... and listen to it personally (if you looked at my playlist you'd be surprised to see what this ol' girl listens to).