U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Teaching Hip Hop

For my African American History class, I’m trying to decide if it is better to show “Hip Hop Beyond Beats and Rhymes” by Byron Hurt, which interrogates the idea of masculinity being portrayed in hip hop music (from a black man’s perspective) or “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party,” which is much more about black culture and the enjoyment of hip hop (but the musicians are more conscious artists than gangsta rappers). Chappelle goes back to his small Ohio home town and talks to white folks about coming to his block party in Brooklyn in a way that is both poignant and shows some of the cultural differences between rural whites and urban blacks–and it’s funny.

I’m leaning towards Chappelle. As my ethnomusicologist friend just noted–students can identify the misogyny in Hip Hop pretty well on their own. Although Hurt does do a nice job of connecting hip hop’s masculinity with the American masculinity of Westerns and other popular culture that make heroes out of violent men. But I think it would  be better to show something that illustrates hip hop culture in a broader way, which recognizes its strengths as well.

We will also be discussing black conservatives through Ta-Nehisi Coates’ exploration of Bill Cosby’s speaking tours, “This is How We Lost to the White Man.” I’m wishing I had done more black power in this class. Black conservatism and black power have a relationship, but they are not the same thing. I will modify my syllabus in the future to spend more time on black nationalism and black power.

Added 9:50am CST: These are the questions I will have the students answer during the film.

  1. What aspects of American life does Chappelle share during his Block Party movie? What does it mean to be black to him (there can be many answers—think creatively)?
  2. In Chappelle’s film, what are the possible meanings of the “n-word?”
  3. Thinking about Ta-Nehisi Coate’s article on black conservatives and Bill Cosby, do you think Chappelle is a racial liberal or conservative? Why?

4 Thoughts on this Post

  1. A friend posted on facebook:

    “Block Party!. While talking about misogyny is important, it is almost as important, if not more important, in the middle of Iowa to show students that the hip hop culture is much more than what plays on their parties and clubs. No disrespect to the pop-hip-hop artists out there (Drake comes to mind), but to show these students that there is a lot more than “beats and bitches” can be done by showing something positive.”

  2. Block Party, mos def! You can always bring up the question of masculinity and sexism as a foot note or as spring board to Block Party itself, perhaps through a clip from a paradigmatic video, by Snoop et al (there’s also the question of how skin color, hair type, etc. also follow a hierarchy of value in hip hop and contemporary African American culture).

  3. Lauren:

    You might think about trying to find some old episodes of Yo! MTV Raps. I believe it ran for nearly a decade. There is plenty of material there, especially between 1991-1993 when gangster rap was popular. Specifically, check out a rapper that went by the stage name of Apache (on Youtube) if you’re talking about masculinity in rap.

  4. I’d like to add that teaching Hip Hop to children will need a lot more than either of the two videos that have been proposed, but I’m sure you’ve figured that out long before even posting this. I believe that Dave’s video would also help show the children unity among their people. Make sure they recognize that one of the Black Panther Party’s own is in that video; Chairman Fred Hampton, Jr.; one who survived a traumatizing event when his father was killed by this US government. The children need to know what they are dealing with while living in this crazed society. The one thing I love about teachers is their ability to break the bad news with a positive solution or motto for and through it all.

    -Nikki Jones
    @Najledge on Twitter

Comments are closed.