Hip Hop as Pedagogy: A Look into "Heaven" and "Soul" in São Paulo, Brazil

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article investigates the blurry intersection between the state and civil society in the fields of popular education and citizenship. In Brazil most performers of hip hop (rappers, DJs, graffiti artists, and street dancers) make their living as educators remunerated by state agencies and NGOs. The significance of such labor can be understood in terms of a historical relationship between agents of popular culture and the state regarding the parameters of citizenship. From the pragmatic perspective of most hip hoppers, their employment status is part of a long-standing objective to make hip hop more visible and "take over" more public space. To this end, the following text examines events in the CEU (United Educational Centers) and the Hip Hop House as differentiated examples of hip hop pedagogy. [Keywords: Brazil, hip hop, pedagogy, agency, citizenship, the state]

After a two-hour bus ride through seemingly every nook and cranny (quebrada) of the East Side of São Paulo, the leaders of the Hip Hop 20 Anos event started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We were finally arriving at our destination. KaII1 announced: "Hold on, y'all, we're almost in heaven [no céu]." Beyond the literal meanings of "heaven" and "sky," "céu" has come to stand for a public institution of education and community in São Paulo, Brazil. CEUs, an acronym, which stands for Unified Educational Centers, are state-subsidized mega-school complexes located in various "periphery" (periferia) neighborhoods in the municipality of São Paulo, Brazil. At the time of this writing, there are twenty-one CEUs in São Paulo.

We all laughed at Kail's joke, but I was on a different wavelength. I thought Kall, the apparently laid back but remarkably industrious mastermind of this hip hop venture, was making a joke about the steep and windy roads leading to a sudden opening up of the shantytown landscape, so ubiquitous on the city outskirts. I remembered the many times Brazilians had referred to such outer-edge neighborhoods as the "end of the world" (iim do mundo), both literally (geography) and ideologically (savage outback areas). I laughed as I appreciated Kail's attempt to flip it all around in his announcement that we were indeed arriving in "heaven" or what officially was labeled Cidade Tiradentes district of São Paulo municipality. I would soon learn that Kall was directly referring to a type of school, a new landmark of State presence in the São Paulo periphery and a new place for hip hoppers2 to make their mark. As will be discussed below, "the State" refers to both governmental agencies at federal, state, and local levels, which provide a relatively significant number of employment opportunities for cultural performers and organization such as hip hoppers, and an idea of a social system, which ideologically represents a structural opposition for socio-cultural movements, such as hip hop, interested in reporting state abuse and neglect. In essence, hip hoppers use the new opportunities within the state to work to change the "reality," which they feel is, in part, caused by the state.

In the U.S. a casual observer might easily characterize hip hop as a massive, influential culture industry based on black-on-black violence (gangsta), material possessions (bling bling), and exaggerated performances of masculinity. More than simply entertainment, hip hop is a major part of contemporary identity circuits-networks of philosophies and aesthetics based on blackness, poverty, violence, power, resistance, and capitalist accumulation. Yet, the connections and applications people make with regard to this "information" are not totally imitative, nor does the "information" have its origins always in the US. Following a cadre of recent "global hip hop" scholars (Mitchell 2001, Krims 2000, Durand 2005, Maxwell 2003), it is quite evident that local contexts and concerns are not epiphenomenal but actually shape the meaning of hip hop. …