Hip-Hop Project Based Learning: Illmatic

nas_illmatic_pv

By Timothy Jones @tdj6899 for #HipHopEd

Imagine in the fall semester of 1992 a group of students are taking a sociology class at a local college in New York City.  The students are having a series of discussions about the impact that project living and drugs can have on behavior and one’s outlook on life.  The Sociology course covered several theories and began with a comparison and contrasting of the sociological and social theories.  The Sociological theory is often based on testable propositions about society and relies on the scientific method in its aim for objectivity.  The Social theory is less concerned with objectivity and more likely to pass normative judgments.  The professor challenged the students to form groups and produce a project that embodies a sociological or social theory approach to answering the following driving question:

What are some of the impacts on children growing up in an inner city that is plagued by the environments of drugs, perceived lack of opportunity and violence that urban educators need to understand?  The students through their project would be providing urban educators various insights into some of the behaviors and perspectives that these young people in their classrooms may have.  The urban educators should be able to use the lessons within the finished project to better understand and engage the youth in their classrooms that are growing up in different urban neighborhoods in New York City and beyond.

A group of students named Nas, Q-Tip, Large Professor, DJ Premiere, L.E.S., Pete Rock and AZ decided to examine their upbringings in Queens and Brooklyn using a social theory approach and write and produce a series of songs that would later be packaged and released in 1994 as Nas’ debut album “Illmatic.”  Here is a closer examination of how “Illmatic” could have been the result of a project based learning assignment given in a sociology class back in the fall semester of 1992.  Buck Institute for Education www.bie.org is a premiere resource for project based learning and they have created an essential checklist for educators to understand the elements that must be present in project based learning.

Looking back, here is how “Illmatic” could have been evaluated based on having the essential elements of project based learning:

1.       Focus on significant content: “Illmatic” is the coming of age story of a young man growing up in New York City during the height of the crack epidemic which ravaged many inner cities across America

2.       Develop 21st Century Competencies: The creation of “Illmatic” featured the collaboration of Nas and a collection of the premiere Hip-Hop producers of the day.  The album communicated a story that spanned an array of emotions in a manner that was deemed acceptable (where often the only acceptable emotion to express is anger) by individuals growing up under the strictest of definition of manhood.  Nas and AZ exhibits creativity and critical thinking as MCs with crafted rhymes that tell stories, embodied figurative language and elevated rhyming standards for MCs that followed for more than a decade.

3.       Engage students in in-depth inquiry: The group held extensive conversations about life growing up in the ghetto and how they felt society at large viewed black and brown youth from the ghetto.  The group consisted of individuals that were experts in their craft who was given the task of cultivating the budding genius that was in the writings of Nasir Jones.

4.       Organize tasks around a driving question: The tasks were designated based on their talents and their ability to contribute their experiences to the following driving question:   What are some of the impacts on children growing up in an inner city that is plagued by the environments of drugs, perceived lack of opportunity and violence that urban educators need to understand?

5.       Establish a need to know: The media’s portrayal of black and brown youth from the inner city during this time frame was very stereotypically and selectively driven; it was critical that a group of young people begin to give firsthand accounts to better inform urban educators who were allowing the media’s portrayal of inner city youth to begin to influence how they engaged these youth in the classroom.

6.        Encourage voice and choice: The students were given the freedom to tell their story in a manner that resonated with themselves and their peers.  The students chose to speak through Hip-Hop and challenged the urban educators to learn on their terms as opposed to writing a standard report or story.

7.       Incorporate revision and reflection: MC Serch served as the Executive Producer of “Illmatic” and was in charge of reviewing the songs with the Artists and Producers to ensure that the best final product possible was put out to the masses.

8.       Include a public audience: The finished album was released on April 19, 1994 after singles were released and one song featured on a movie soundtrack.  The project received the coveted 5 microphone evaluation from The Source magazine, which at the time was the premiere source of Hip-Hop journalism.

For more insights as to how Hip-Hop can be used as a tool for effective Project Based Learning check out the following video http://bie.org/object/video/keep_it_real and join our weekly #HipHopEd chat every Tuesday from 9-10 pm EST.

“I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death. Beyond the walls of intelligence (schools) life is defined “- Nas, New York State of Mind

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Civil Rights Education via A Beat & A Rhyme

TakeMe2YourLeaderDownload Mix Tape Here:   http://t.co/0PU4tGDJzo

By Timothy Jones, Chief Visionary Officer #HipHopEd @tdj6899

I’m sitting at my computer with my headphones on listening to “Take Me To Your Leader” created by DJ Hoodwink provided by @raptjr as my personal way to reflect on the day that the nation celebrates and commemorates the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  This is not a standard mix tape review where I say this song is hot and this artist is featured.  This is a mix tape overview where I expound on the intent of the mix tape and the hope that the listener gets the responsibility that comes within the re-creation of the project. 

To drop “Take Me To Your Leader” on #MLKDAY14 would naturally make you believe that the leader that we are being taken to is Dr. King and what he represented for us as a people.  But if you really listen to the music and focus on the power of Hip-Hop as a medium that is now a worldwide phenomenon; the leader(s) are the voices of the artists on the project.  Leadership is something that can no longer be embodied in an individual that can be assassinated in an attempt to stop whatever movement the individual represented.  Leadership is a shared responsibility that we do not have the luxury of deciding whether to embrace without severe consequences for our failure to act.  There are roles within the notion of leadership that position some as leaders, but not in the traditional sense that led to the assassinations of Malcolm and Martin amongst others.

Leadership is the theory by which we embrace our connectivity to one another as people who are aligned by our experiences which include our victories, sacrifices and our sufferings.  Music and art has always been one of our most powerful weapons in evoking collective thought that incite a people to the point that they see themselves and the world around them through the paradigms created by the music.  Art is a continual remix of sounds, thoughts and method of expression; which inherently attaches a responsibility to all who dare call themselves artists.  This ideology is not prevalent in our commercialized Hip-Hop that dominates American airwaves, but is bubbling in what we call the “Underground.”  Is it a coincidence that the “Underground Railroad” is the name of the system that was developed to transport individuals from enslaved to free?  Can the music on “Take Me To Your Leader” be a stop on the “Underground Railroad” of Hip-Hop music that can transport the mentality of our youth and adults from enslaved to free?  A mindset that is free to question the way things are and presenting an alternative narrative that explains the way things can and should be?

5 Ways to use “Take Me To Your Leader” as way to introduce civil rights education to youth and adults

1. Listen to Mix Tape with a group of young people and conduct searches for the subject matters that are in the songs.  An example would be listening to “Dear Chicago Summer” and examine how violence increases in the summer and discuss ways that this pattern can be changed for summer 2014.

2. There are portions of tracks where you hear words from President Obama’s tribute to Nelson Mandela laid over Hip-Hop beats.  Take some of the words of Dr. King that speak to the realities that many people are still dealing with and have them remix the words by putting them to music.  Here is a Dr. King snippet that is seldom presented in schools, Dr. King said it: “I’m Black and I’m Proud”

3. Track 28 “Wake Up Everybody” on the Mix Tape is a remake of “Wake Up Everybody” by Teddy Pendergrass, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes in 1975.  This creative expression is a great time travel bridge to begin to look at music from the past that called for us as a community to go higher and the Hip-Hop that is doing the same thing today.

4. Track 10 Jasiri X’s “21 Forever” provides the backdrop to look at the portrayal of young adulthood that is presented in commercial Hip-Hop and compare it to the role that young people played in the civil rights movement.  Teach our young people what the Freedom Riders were doing as 21 year olds.

5. Track 29 Dee-1 “Walking Revolution” provides a list of rules embodied by Dee-1 and the movement behind his music.  Look up some of the rules or creeds developed by organizations that were involved with civil rights.  Have the students develop their own set of rules that they must agree upon as a class for a movement to empower themselves.  Also check out Dee-1’s “American Dream” and discuss the feasibility of achieving an “American Dream” from an “Inner City Nightmare”

“A man without a mission is in mental prison, no bail”- Dee-1