The Rhyme Renaissance: On Rap, Education and Creativity: Baba Brinkman, Author of the Rap Canterbury Tales, Argues That We Must Acknowledge the Potential of Hip Hop in Developing Literacy and Creativity

English Drama Media, February 2009 | Go to article overview

The Rhyme Renaissance: On Rap, Education and Creativity: Baba Brinkman, Author of the Rap Canterbury Tales, Argues That We Must Acknowledge the Potential of Hip Hop in Developing Literacy and Creativity


From a quick listen or a cursory glance it would seem that rap music and education are ill suited for one another. This is certainly the prevailing attitude among rap's detractors, many of whom are members of the baby-boomer generation as alarmed about their kids' music as their own parents were about rock in the sixties. Rappers for the most part have done little to dispel this view, and in fact they often address it directly in their lyrics, reinforcing stereotypes about themselves by reacting defiantly to criticism. A few examples that spring to mind are the words of the late Notorious B.I.G:

   considered a fool
   'cause I dropped out of high school
   stereotypes of black male misunderstood
   and it's still all good

or the more direct words of Redman:

   I skipped college
   for the big wallet.

What these rappers fail to mention is that millionaire drop-outs are a rare breed, and the vast majority of kids who try to skip college for the big wallet end up working menial jobs for life. Looking more closely, however, there emerges in Hip Hop culture a counter-narrative to the prevailing school-negative ones above. Back in 1987 KRSOne adopted the acronym and slogan: "knowledge reins supreme over nearly everyone!" and this became a calling card of Hip Hop's conscious underground, which has forged its identity around criticising the ignorance and materialism of mainstream commercial rap.

This push towards consciousness has recently been bolstered by the emergence of a number of educated rappers. J-Live was a Brooklyn public school teacher for years while he polished his style before finally making the leap to a full-time rap artist, touring and recording. He takes the opposite approach of B.I.G. both in word and deed, not only encouraging young people to get educated but also linking that push to the question of authenticity:

   The illest weapon you can load ain't your nine, boy; load
      your brain
   you can ask a real live gangster and he'll tell you the same.

Examples abound in support of both the positive and negative view of education, but more than anything else this proves that Hip Hop has become a truly diverse genre, representing as many perspectives as there are artists to voice them.

Ultimately, the degree to which any young person is influenced by the attitudes of rappers towards education, positive or negative, will depend on their own affinity for it. …

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