FI UWFF Presents: Hip-Hop Pedagogy (Re-cap)

On Thursday, February 14, 2019, the Futures Initiative hosted yet another captivating event: Hip-Hop Pedagogy that is part of The University Worth Fighting For, a series of workshops that tie student-centered, engaged pedagogical practices to institutional change, race, equality, gender, and social justice.

The cypher began with me Lauren Melendez (Director of The Undergraduate Leadership Program and Administrative Specialist, The Futures Initiative), sharing opening remarks and introducing my colleague that I co-direct the Undergraduate Leadership Program with, Kashema Hutchinson (Co-Director of the Undergraduate Leadership Program and Ph.D.student, Urban Education). I then welcomed our leadership fellows that participated in the cypher; Kia Thomas a student at City College, City University of New York (CUNY) majoring in Black Studies and minoring in Journalism. Yadira Vargas a student at LaGuardia Community College City University of New York (CUNY), majoring in Travel Tourism and Hospitality Management, and last but certainly not least Steven Pacheco who is a student at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice City University of New York (CUNY) majoring in Social Thought.Topics discussed at the event were relationships between the elements of hip-hop culture and pedagogy in traditional and non-traditional educative spaces, in addition to narratives and infographics which were used to examine the various kinds and lens hip-hop pedagogy can be interpreted through.  

This event was conducted as a cypher which in the hip-hop culture takes place in a circle, with rappers,  MC’s, etc. battle, freestyle and share their lyrics, poetry and artistic expression without interruption. The cypher format was used for this event in addition to restructuring the room to be in a circular configuration to foster inclusivity, student-centered learning and to step away from the hierarchical structured panels that are often the format found in most higher educational settings.

Kashema began the cypher with some background information about her being a Brooklynite, PH.D. student at the Graduate Center and how she is deeply connected to hip-hop and has been doing extensive research for many years on this topic. Kashema explored the 5 elements of hip-hop (MCing, DJing, Breakdancing, Graffiti-ing and Knowledge), in addition to hip-hop being viewed through a social political lens, and many learning outcomes received from the lyrics, metaphors and concepts used in hip-hop lyrics that speak to the richness of experiences that is crucial to any understanding or awareness of black people and those especially from the urban and underserved communities.

She began giving some context on the framework on pedagogies of hip-hop which are examined and analyzed in Beats, Rhymes, and Classroom Life: Hip-hop Pedagogy and the Politics of Identity by Marc Lamont Hill. She described pedagogy of hip-hop; which explores how pedagogies of hip-hop extend beyond traditional notions of text and reach into all aspects of hip-hop cultural production. She touched on how Hill explains a true understanding that hip-hop culture operates as a “terrain of struggle over competing meanings, values, and truth claims”. It was noted that one needs a deep understanding of the lyrical content and culture and it is imperative for analyzing and giving a platform to engage on the subject of pedagogies of hip-hop.  

Kashema then lead us into the context of the framework pedagogy about hip-hop which Hill describes as the use of educational spaces to analyze and critique and reproduce hip-hop texts. She refers to this as where we look at the good, the bad and the ugly of hip-hop. It is not only learning and understanding the voice for the marginalized, but what they are saying including the misogyny, homophobia and consumerism. Lastly Kashema briefly explained Pedagogy with hip-hop which touches on how educators must identify how hip-hop texts can be used to navigate traditional academic subject matter. This is where we create a space to integrate ideas and recognize relationships between ideas using hip-hop.


Kashema then turned the floor over to Kia who touched more on (Pedagogy about hip-hop) pertaining to artists such as Lauryn Hill, Lil Kim and Queen Latifah who have contributed immensely to the art of hip-hop. Kia explained that as black women, they provide the most comprehensive view of our society from various sociopolitical and socioeconomic viewpoints. She highlighted how examining the position of black women both in relation to and as a part of hip-hop can contribute to a student’s understanding of multiple subjects, such as Gender Communication and concepts relating to it such as Intersectionality, Radical Black Feminism, and Gender Oppression. Kia expressed that hip-hop is an art that is essentially about speaking truth to the marginalized experiences of those involved. She explained that by bringing these truths into the classroom, students can gain a far more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the entire world around them, as opposed to the limited scope provided by those who want to remain in power. Kia expressed her love for literature and for writing and used an example of learning about Shakespeare in the classroom and did not feel she could relate to him but as a writer herself and being a journalism minor, she could respect the content and grasp the importance and significance of it even if only from that standpoint. She feels educators could view hip-hop from the same context when incorporating it into their lessons if they feel it is hard to relate to.   


The cypher continued with Yadira explaining (Pedagogy with hip-hop) where she explored why hip-hop should be seen through an academic lens. She described how with the increase of diversity in the classroom there is a constant struggle as to what texts is considered worthy to review and when a curriculum does not reflect the culture, interests and realities of the youth, the students lose interest in learning and school altogether. Yadira shared that hip-hop started as a social justice movement and emerged from the black and latino communities that had low income and few resources. She concluded with examples of how hip-hop music can be analyzed in educative spaces and how classrooms should be reconstructed to enrich intellectual space.    

Next up to the mic was Steven who gave his perspective on (Pedagogy of hip-hop) topics which included poverty, masculinity, trauma, identity, culture, history, social justice, spirituality, and more. Steven mentioned a great reference to James Baldwin before we even began the cypher with reminding us of one of his many famous quotes which states: “If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see,” which tied in nicely to the fact that there were only 3 black men in the room including Steven, and directly speaks to the points he spoke about when describing pedagogy of hip-hop and how there is a gross deficit with men of color in academia and the need to increase the number of black men and people from underrepresented groups in higher education is at an all time high.  

It was at this point we headed into the Q&A part of the cypher which lead to Kashema sharing more about her extensive research that she has done creating infographics as educational tools with marginalized participants which included Nicki Minaj and King Hatshepsut, Meek Mill and Maslow,  and Tupac Shakur’s Makaveli and Niccolò Machiavelli just to name a few.

A question about who the panelists favor rappers were was asked by someone in the audience and this is when Yadira brought up the fact that it was a tough question to answer but mentioned being torn between saying J Cole and Nas since she is from Queensbridge where Nas is from as well, and also how inspiring and influential his music is to the hip-hop culture.

Since Nas is also one of my favorite and most beloved rappers that I would consider apart of my life’s soundtrack, This lead me to think about some of the points Steven referenced earlier in the cypher. He mentioned that he is from Highbridge in the Bronx and him choosing to wear his bandana which states “Highbridge” on it and represents where he is from and his artistic expression which is apart of the many essences of hip-hop but also how when he is at his home campus of John Jay College, how some will not even identify him as the same person or know he is the same person as when he is dressed more business casual. This also speaks to many students not being able to be themselves in academic spaces where if your clothing, jewelry, or hairstyle are not minimal or look like what “traditionally” is worn you then often ostracized and made to feel inadequate.

I brought awareness to the fact that most men who look like Nas and to be quite clear are very much like the young Nas who grew up in Queensbridge are often discriminated against due to them dressing in a more casual and street style of clothing and also how these young black men are missing completely from academia. I thought it was important to share that as famous, brilliant and accomplished as Nas is with being currently worth over 35M and having investments with Ring the virtual doorbell company Amazon bought for 1.1 billion in addition to money from touring, streaming, and Hennessey endorsements; he also dropped out of school in the 9th grade and did not finish his education. Nas also was 13 years old when his parents broke up and was expected to at that point be a man, along with his brother Jabari aka (Jungle) of their household which is the reality for the vast majority of black men in the urban and underrepresented communities in New York City. It was at this time in Nas’s life that he sold drugs and began working more on his artistry and trying to figure out ways not only to get his music in the right hands but more importantly trying to figure out ways to survive. This goes back to the reference that Steven made about there only being 3 black men in the room of this event and how there are not many black men in academia. It’s extremely difficult to go on paths that were never exposed to you as a child or see beyond your environment especially when you are raised in poverty. Young adults from low-income families are at heightened risk for a lower productivity of life, including depression, drug use, engaging in illegal activities to survive, antisocial behavior, poor physical health and educational failure.

In order to bridge the gap from the underrepresented communities and to make higher education more inclusive so that all students can achieve student success we are going to have to follow Cathy Davidson’s lead in her most recent publication:“The New Education; How To Revolutionize The University To Prepare Students For A World In Flux” where she states how “redesigning higher education demands institutional restructuring, across the board within the classrooms, curriculum, and assessment system”. She also explains how the current infrastructure, curriculums, and assessment methods we have now were created between 1860 and 1925 and no longer are sufficient to serve as a template for students in the 21st century.

I think it time more so than ever before to incorporate hip-hop and Reality Pedagogy and all innovative forms of teaching into the classroom in order to make education more inclusive for all students. With me being born and raised in the South Bronx and attending the NYC public schools from K-12 and CUNY for my undergraduate and graduate degree, I am the student I write about from these underrepresented communities and I know first hand about the disadvantages these students face and what it will take to get some of them to even consider education as an option at all. We still need some of the traditional teaching structure that is currently in place but also need to incorporate the interests, content and values from the students lives who are currently being taught, to make the curriculum more relatable and increase engagement for all students.

With that said I want to give a shout out and many thanks to my co-director Kashema who has dedicated years of her life along with blood, sweat, and tears to use hip-hop as a tool in navigating her way through institutional barriers, racism and everything in between during her doctoral educational journey. I would also like to thank Yadira, Kia and Steven for stepping into a leadership role not only within the FI Undergraduate Leadership Program but also using this cypher to express how important hip-hop culture is to them and how it resonates with each of them deeply within their own lives. I would like to also thank Cathy Davidson for creating the Futures Initiative and having the opportunity to work alongside her, and Katina Rogers, Sujung Kim, Celi Lebron, and All of the brilliant past and present doctoral fellows and faculty who work with us throughout CUNY in the fight to make higher education more inclusive and to create a University where success can be achieved for ALL students.  

Hip-Hop as I mentioned earlier is absolutely a large part of the soundtrack of my life and over the years which has helped raise me, inspire me, uplifted me, motivated me, enlightened me, confused me at times, to in turn bring me clarity, strengthened me and helped make me the woman I am today. As I conclude it’s only right to leave you with our Hip-Hop Pedagogy Playlist we collectively put together below and since it is now the weekend where we who absolutely love hip-hop culture celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the life and legacy of the late great Notorious B.I.G, I will leave you with one of my favorite videos by him entitled : “One More Chance”:

Hip-Hop Pedagogy Playlist Below:

    • Steven’s songs
      • “Jungle”-A Boogie Wit da Hoodie
      • “Made It”-Akua Naru
      • “Trauma”-Meek Mill
    • Kia’s Songs
      • “Off The Lot” by EARTHGANG
      • “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” by Geto Boyz
      • “FEAR” by Kendrick Lamar
    • Yadira’s Songs
      • “I Can” – Nas
      • “Changes” – Tupac
      • “Neighbors” – J. Cole
    • Kashema’s Songs
      • “Old School”- Tupac
      • “Just Another Day” Queen Latifah
      • “Young Black America” -Meek Mill
    • Lauren’s Songs
      • “Everyday Struggle” -Notorious B.I.G
      • “Can I Live”-Jay-Z
      • “Alright”-Kendrick Lamar
    • BonusTrack
      • “Where I’m From” Jay-Z
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1 Comment

  1. Reading this gave me goosebumps all over again even though I was there for the actual event!! Such a powerful and inspiring message. Some things are just so perfectly articulated, this is definitely one of them. Thank you again for the opportunity and for sharing the playlist!! So excited to share this to my contacts!

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