Hip-Hop courses proliferate

Students explore Jay-Z, Rap Poetics, Religion and Hip Hop

Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. has launched a new course centred on the works of rapper Jay-Z, reports The Nation.

It’s getting a lot of attention, but it’s certainly not the first time that a prestigious university has used hip-hop to help students explore big questions.

Sociology of Hip Hop: Jay-Z has units on “Hustling Hermeneutics” and the “Monster of the Double Entendre.” The course is popular so far, with 140 signed up—about three-times the normal enrollment for a Georgetown seminar.

“Many are white kids—they bring a level of criticism about the culture they have emerged from… because they’ve seen that culture through Jay-Z’s eyes,” course instructor Michael Eric Dyson told The Nation, explaining the course’s popularity among a student body that’s only 6.7 per cent African-American.

Earlier this year, Rapper Bun B co-taught a course called Religion and Hip Hop Culture at Rice University in Texas. Popular panel discussions like one on “Ethics and Hip Hop” attracted stars including Lupe Fiasco, Talib Kweli and Malice (Clipse). That was undoubtedly popular too.

Anthony Pinn, the course’s other co-instructor,  explained on the school’s website, why he proposed the course: “African American cultural production has always served as a way to express attention to the ultimate questions of life:  Who are we?  Why are we?  Where are we?… One finds this in likely modes of cultural production like the spirituals, but the same sort of religiously inclined questions are found in the blues. And more recently, [in] a variety of genres of rap music…”

Hip-hop courses exist in Canada too. Concordia University in Montreal offered a fine arts course earlier this year called Hip Hop: Past/Present/Future taught by Yassin Alsalman and Marc Peters. “[Hip-hop is] an amalgam culture spoken the world over that’s created by a vast, diverse group of people from different backgrounds,” Alsalman, a.k.a. MC The Narcicyst, told Concordia.

And the University of Toronto (Scarborough) regularly offers an English course called Rap Poetics with instructor Andrew Dubois. It’s described in the course calendar as “an intensive study of form and rhetoric in rap lyrics. We will consider the quarter-century recorded history of this sub-set of African-American poetry in rough chronological order. We will also look for the pre-history of rap in such traditions as minstrelsy, blues, political speech, comic monologues, and lyric poetry proper.”

In Jay-Z’s 2010 book Decoded, he argued that “hip-hop lyrics—not just my lyrics, but those of every great MC—are poetry if you look at them closely enough.” Academics, it seems, now agree.