Re-Membering Freire: The Links between Hip-Hop Culture and Paulo Freire

By Williams, A. Dee | Journal of Thought, Spring-Summer 2008 | Go to article overview
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Re-Membering Freire: The Links between Hip-Hop Culture and Paulo Freire

Williams, A. Dee, Journal of Thought


From its onset, Hip Hop has been inextricably linked to critical thought. With its roots in West African culture and the identity of the griot (1)/bard (Keyes, 2002), spreading through the Caribbean (George, 1998; Rose, 1994; Kitwana, 2002), and re-membered (2) in the mid 1970s in the streets of New York, early Hip Hop pioneers gazed upon their experience of living in poor conditions and began a running dialogue with each other that took many forms. Black and Brown urban communities were plagued by "shrinking federal funds, affordable housing, [and] shifts in the occupational structure from blue collar manufacturing toward corporate and informational services" (Rose, 1994, p. 31). Through dance, art, poetry, and music, a critique of systems of oppression began in a language that those connected to the oppression could understand. And understand they did. Today Hip Hop music exists as a main feature of the soundtrack to a new globalization and corporate culture, but embedded within Hip Hop culture is the critical discourse upon which it was founded. This discourse is buried beneath corporate control and unconscious/uncritical thought, but it is still there buried within the subconscious minds of everyone connected to Hip Hop whether they know it or not.

As Hip-Hop was being born, the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (1970) was tapping into pathologies that were also found in the streets of New York. Freire investigated his Brazilian home and focused on the field of education. In particular, he identified a problem in which students were systematically relegated into the conceptual role of an object rather than the more empowered position of a subject. In other words, students were often disempowered by schools and were, as a result, not afforded the chance to actively construct their own realities. The lack of critical consciousness in the United States has allowed a pattern of systematic control and oppression in schools to rob many students of their right to be viewed as subjects. Hip Hop culture has been a space where the youth of today have come to see themselves as subjects, found their identity and humanity, and created a place to develop their critical consciousness through the engagement of humanizing discourses (e.g., art, music, dance).

As educators link the power and potential of Hip Hop as a pedagogical tool, Hip Hop culture has begun to creep into the classrooms (as well as informal sites of education) in three distinct ways: (a) Hip Hop has found its ways into after-school programs where teachers are taking an entrepreneurial approach with the students as they are constructing their own music and expressions (Anderson, 2004), (b) Hip Hop has been used inside formalized classrooms to scaffold subject matter at both the elementary and secondary levels (Morrell & Duncan-Andrade, 2002; Sitomer, 2004), and (c) Hip Hop is used in classrooms to introduce a critical analysis of systemic forms of oppression that pervert our society (Williams, 2004).

In this essay, I investigate the links between Paulo Freire's philosophy and Hip Hop culture, looking to draw out the links that allow educators to ground pedagogical philosophy within the lived experience of students. I will specifically explore (a) the birth of Hip Hop culture as culturally dominant discourse, (b) the theoretical framework of Critical Social Theory and its relation to Hip Hop Culture, and (c) the development of Hip Hop's voice as Hip Hop's version of consientizacao.

An Introduction to Hip Hop: The Birth of a Culture

But like I told those in the ghettoes Here's the facts! True hip-hop is so much more than that Some much more than rap, so much more than beats Hip-hop is all about victory over the streets

--KRS-One: 9 elements (2003)

The question is often posed, "What is Hip Hop?" Mainstream America is stuck using commercial rap music, often heard on the radios and on the music television channels, as a complete representation of Hip Hop culture.

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Re-Membering Freire: The Links between Hip-Hop Culture and Paulo Freire


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