"Hip-Hop [can] use ... a binding formula or philosophy. In the time since its creation, its subtending parts have each gone off along their own vectors, some more or less prosperously, but all at great deficit to the potency of others. The question, then, remains, much as it does in the study of the heavens, whether hip-hop is, in fact, a closed universe--bound to recollapse, ultimately, in a fireball akin to its birth--or an open one, destined to expand forever, until it is cold, dark, and dead." (1)
Depending on whom you ask, Hip Hop is in perpetual crisis. Those who are concerned about Hip Hop's fate, mainly artists and fans of the culture, and those who teach and write about it, are in constant debate and dialogue about its traditions, its rituals, its political potential and, in a word, its power. This special edition of Radical Teacher is our attempt to look specifically at one aspect of Hip Hop--its function in the realm of critical education. This places us squarely in the largely disregarded "Fifth Element" of Hip Hop (2): Knowledge, or a concern for the vast array of understanding that fuels Hip Hop culture and its practitioners around the world. We are concerned with what is known about Hip Hop and equally, perhaps more specifically, how it becomes known. Accordingly, we ascribe to Hip Hop a form of critical education at the intersection of and inseparable from political engagement. In this sense, we view Hip Hop as an apt modality of critical pedagogy, demonstrating and reflecting on Hip Hop's ability to "read the world." (3)
Hip Hop's seemingly continuous state of crisis requires frequent accounting of its engagement with the social, political, and cultural climate that surrounds it. While we seek to amplify "media assassin" Harry Allen's call for a "binding philosophy" of Hip Hop, none seems on the horizon. The urgency of his statement, however, is a clarion call for artists, practitioners, educators, and activists to take seriously the meaning, stakes, and desires of Hip Hop, considering its persistent resonance amongst youth and its expansive global recognition. Allen's statement also carries a sense of ethical responsibility put to practitioners of Hip Hop culture, suggesting it is their duty to craft such a unifying philosophy. And yet, Hip Hop Studies remains as variegated as Hip Hop itself, making Allen's statement all the more potent, and no less prescient. Though varied by the particular strengths and outlooks of a given instructor, and honed by student demand for an educational experience centered on their life experiences, Hip Hop has gained recognition in the realm of critical pedagogy. Regardless, if the direction where Hip Hop is headed matters to us at all, some assessment of its current status is long overdue. In this introduction, we highlight some of the issues that emerge in contemporary explorations into Hip Hop's burgeoning impact on community organizing, teaching, and institution building. Collectively, the essays and syllabi in this special issue of Radical Teacher represent our attempt to examine current pedagogical practices driven by Hip Hop, signaling its reach into traditional educational settings, while identifying emergent limitations in its trajectory. We make no claims of exhausting every angle of Hip Hop-based instruction. A single issue, no matter how ambitious, could not accomplish that. However, we do intend for scholars, practitioners, and students whose work is influenced by Hip Hop to join with us in thinking critically about the ethical styles it proffers, the consequences of its academic code switching, and the impact of its pedagogical power moves.
Hip Hop and the Color of Crisis
Among several notable events that have recently captured national attention, two particular incidents pinpoint Hip Hop's current engagement with political struggle and critical education: the murder of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of his killer George Zimmerman, and the renewed bounty on Assata Shakur. …