Fresh out of School: Rap Music's Discursive Battle with Education

Article excerpt

The "Discourse" [a way of life] of rap music is in the midst of a "battle" with that of education, where rap music resists and critiques education as a dominant and domineering Discourse. In this article, as a means of exploring the contours of this battle, the author analyzes rap music lyrics to flush out hip-hop culture's perspective on the education of African American youth. The author finds that, from the perspective of rap music, the Discourse of education is largely dysfunctional when it comes to meeting the material, social, and cultural needs of African American youth. The author concludes that there is a need for the implementation of more culturally relevant curricula in schools, and that teaching effectiveness with students would benefit from learning about and understanding hip-hop culture.

INTRODUCTION

At its heart, rap music has revolved around the concept of battling. Whether it is battling to keep your chin up during hard times or proving yourself by battling in competitions of vocal style, performance, and rhyming skill; rap music has been a way for urban youth to say to the world, "Look at me, I can take whatever you dish out and come out standing." Admittedly, this battling has occasionally spilled over into real-life violence, but, by and large, rappers-and their DJ, graffiti artists, and break-dancer counterparts in hip-hop culture-stick to battling through the expression of their respective arts (Castleman, 2004; Dyson, 2004; Hager, 1984; Holman, 2004). Hip-hop culture is often broken down into these four component parts: (a) the DJ (disc jockey) as the one who plays records; (b) the rapper or M.C./emcee raps over the records; (c) the break dancer literally dances over what is called the "break beat" in musical terms, also sometimes called a bridge; and (d) the Graffiti artist is responsible for large, full-color murals that transform words into visual art. This is part of rap music's Discourse, and it sets the tone for the combativeness with which this Discourse views the world.

For the purposes of this article, the author uses Gee's (1996) conception of Discourse which he defines as:

. . .ways of being in the world, or forms of life which integrate words, acts, values, beliefs, attitudes, and social identities, as well as gestures, glances, body positions, and clothes. A Discourse is a sort of identity kit which comes complete with the appropriate costume and instructions on how to act, talk, and often write, so as to take on a particular social role that others will recognize. (p. 127)

The Discourse of education, like all other Discourses, with a capital "D," refers specifically to saying-writing-doing-being-valuing-believing combinations through language, whereas discourse with a lowercase "d" refers to "connected stretches of language that make sense"-a more general connotation (Gee, 1996, p. 127). Likewise, the Discourse of rap music also privileges specific ways of being in the world over others, part of which includes maintaining particular worldviews and ways of inhabiting certain social relations (Bourdieu, 1984).

The Discourse of rap music is in the midst of a battle with that of education, where rap music resists and critiques education as a dominant and domineering Discourse. Unlike an emcee battle, however, what is at stake is far more than just reputation and street-level credentials but the educational success of students of color in schools throughout the United States. In this article, as a means of exploring the contours of this "battle," the author analyzes rap music lyrics to flush out hip-hop culture's perspective on the education of African American youth.

Rap music, the vocal and musical expression of hip-hop culture, sprang from the African American, Afro-Caribbean, and Latino communities of New York City's South Bronx in the mid1970s (Chang, 2003; Clay, 2003; Rose, 1994; Scherpf, 2001). Rap music originated humbly at community center dances and block parties (Chang, 2003) as a celebration of surviving the poverty associated with Reagan/Bush-era economics (Clay, 2003; Kun, 2002; Scherpf, 2001), an era that saw wages fall and work conditions worsen, while the income gap between the rich and poor grew (Kitwana, 2002). …