Hiphop Saved Lupe Fiasco’s and My Life: Hiphop Pedagogy Event Recap

His man called said, “your time might be now//
They played your freestyle over ‘Wipe Me Down’//
They played it two times said it might be crowned//
As the best thing out the H-Town in a while”//
He picked up his son with a great big smile//
Rapped every single word to the newborn child//
Then he put him down and went back to the kitchen//
And put on another beat and got back to the mission of//
Get his momma out the hood//
Put her somewhere in the woods//
Keep his lady lookin’ good//
Have her lookin’ like she should//
Show his homies it’s a way//
Other than that flippin’ yay//
Bail his homie out of jail//
Put a lawyer on his case//
Throw a concert for the school//
Show the shoulders that it’s cool//
Throw some candy on Caddy//
Chuck the deuce and act a fool//
Man, it feels good when it happen like that//
Two days from going back to sellin’ crack, yessir//
“Hip-Hop Saved My Life” by Lupe Fiasco ft. Nikki Jean


Two weeks after the University Worth Fighting For Hiphop Pedagogy event, this Lupe Fiasco song and verse resonates deep within my heart of hearts. Nearly 10 years after the release of my first solo mixtape, A Mile In My Chucks, I feel my life gradually coming full circle as I am paving a way for myself within the conversation of Hiphop Pedagogy, as well as for Hiphop within the world of academia.

Kashema Hutchinson, Co-Director of the Undergraduate Leadership Program and Doctoral Fellow at the Futures Initiative, tapped me to be one of three Undergraduate Leadership Fellows to speak to the power of Hiphop Pedagogy and how it relates to my academic journey and I couldn’t have been more proud to take on the task. Hiphop truly saved my life, and prior to being on this panel, I often undermined the impact it had on me as a student. Once you’re done reading this blog, take a moment to read her recap of the event here.

From left to right: Yadira Vargas, Kashema Hutchinson, Steven Pacheco, Lauren Melendez and Kia Thomas

You see, Hiphop has a fairly short-lived history against the canvas that is America. And, while Hiphop is currently responsible for producing the most popular music genre, Rap (which people so often incorrectly interchangeably used in place of one or the other), it has been demonized and dismissed as a sub-par culture by most of mainstream society for the larger part of its existence. So, to be sought out to play a part in shaping the discourse regarding Hiphop Pedagogy is beyond humbling and surreal. Between surviving the protests of the 90s against “Gangsta” Rap spearheaded by white America, concerned parents, and politicians equally and the lack of representative ownership in the music industry, I feel obligated to help steer the conversation towards its rightful creators and pioneers – Black and Puerto Rican communities.

The day of the event I was covered in excitement and couldn’t wait to see what sort of crowd piled into the room. It was a full house, and I was genuinely surprised by this. Given the demographics of The Graduate Center (predominantly white academics), I did not anticipate such a crowd as the one we were blessed – especially since so many people observe Valentine’s Day. To that point, James Baldwin has a famous quote which states, “if I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see,” and Hiphop is one of the most revealing cultures/art forms to exist, so I presume it’s only right that we held the event on February 14th.

A posse pose by Futures Initiative scholars.

In my roughly 20-year long academic career, I cannot count many occasions where I felt a sense of belonging, embrace, and respect in an academic setting comparable to what I felt at this event. Though the cypher did not have many fellow Hiphop lovers in it, folks were rather engaged. I had the opportunity to speak on my favorite artists, some dynamics that inhibit Black men from having autonomy over their own narratives, and what Hiphop means to me. Professors and students were even asking questions about actionable ways to implement Hiphop Pedagogy into the classroom. Fortunately, Dr. Asilia Franklin-Phipps, a Post-Doctoral Fellow at The Graduate Center’s Teaching and Learning Center, followed up our panel with a workshop on some practical ways to integrate Hiphop pedagogies into their teaching and lesson plans. I also provided a document with some key takeways on what I was presenting in case my delivery was over the head anyone in the audience. Then, to top it all off, Dr. Lauren Leigh Kelly of Rutgers University was in attendance and shared with the room the Hip Hop Youth Research and Activism Conference taking place at Rutgers in June. After learning of this opportunity, I encouraged Boubou Sacko, a high school student from my neighborhood who I consider a little brother, to co-submit a proposal with me for this conference.

To see so many aspects of my life come full circle from my Hiphop career to my academic career to Hiphop Pedagogy to my role as mentor is such a wonderful blessing. My fire for education has been re-ignited in a way I could have never imagined and I feel so blessed. This event was a historical moment in my life, and I’m sure it will be the hallmark of my Undergraduate Leadership Fellowship with the Futures Initiative program. To all my students caught in the struggle, doing their best to make the academy their home, we are on our way to breaking new ground in the field of education. The future belongs to those who are bold enough to take at shaping it, and that’s what my colleagues and I did on February 14th, 2019. In the words of Dead Prez, this sh*t is “bigger than Hiphop!”

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About mrstevenpacheco

Steven Pacheco is a student at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice majoring in Social Thought. As a four-time inaugural fellow, he has worked with the Vera Institute of Justice, the David Rockefeller Fund, John Jay College of Criminal Justice (Ron Moelis Social Innovation Fellow), and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. At the tail-end of his fellowship with Vera, he also interned with the Office of Academic Engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance during the fall of 2016. For the academic year of 2017-2018, Steven served as the Vice President of the Student Council. Following his 2018 Echoing Green NYC Future of Work Social Innovation Challenge victory, Steven was selected as an Undergraduate Leadership Fellow for the 2018 - 2019 Futures Initiative Leadership program. The program is housed out of the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Graduate Center, and advocates for greater equity and innovation in higher education. In addition, Steven is an Advocacy Specialist with the Punishment to Public Health Department (P2PH) at John Jay College. As co-founder of CONNECTr, an app-based platform geared towards making the job market more equitable for justice-affected people, he’s primarily focused on pushing forward ideas that will socioeconomically empower formerly incarcerated people.

1 Comment

  1. Steven, thank you for your recap. When we speak, the word community is said a lot and this post is a testament to the community that we created and work through to resist and educate as a collective. No doubt, that was done that day and I don’t think it would have been as amazing without you and your co-panelists. You all brought your passion and intelligence.

    I am glad it sparked something in you and more opportunities presented themselves. Let’s go!

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