An approach to “Lyrical Analysis” in the classroom to avoid “Drowning” in controversy

The link below is to a story about a middle school music teacher who was suspended for administering a homework assignment to his 6th grade students to rewrite Kodak Black’s verse from the song “Drowning” in order to make the lyrics positive.

Here are 5 points to think about and consider when integrating lyrics into your classroom activities

  1. Develop criteria for what is “Thought Provoking” when listening to music. In teaching with lyrics for over 20 years, some lyrics that resonate as positive to some students can be viewed as being so negative to a teacher or parent that they find the lyrics repulsive.  You can look at Blooms Taxonomy of higher order thinking and strive to use lyrics that creatively analyze a subject in a way that you can foster a dialogue to get your students thinking about the issue being addressed and the manner that the artist addressed the issue in their lyrics.
  2. Understand the difference between “listening” and “hearing.” Many adults will hear profanity and not take the time and energy to listen to the possible context or message that lies beneath.  Many students will hear the beat, the hook and delivery and not pay attention enough to listen and evaluate the lyrics in the verse.  As an Educator you have to listen and be able to speak to varied audiences to help them to listen to the lyrics as well if you want to use them in your class.
  3. Understand the content of the lyrics you are introducing to your class.  Many school districts send information home about their sexual education curriculum and provide the parents an opportunity to select whether they want their students to participate.  With this in mind, be careful of using songs that contain blatant over sexualized or violent lyrics in your classroom without being able to explain the lyrics to your students and create a “teachable moment” with your students to discuss the social commentary within the lyrics.
  4. Selecting a Hip-Hop song solely based on its popularity isn’t prudent. As Educators we teach our students to evaluate the credibility of the source of the information when doing research and or reading media.  This premise must be applied when identifying songs for the classroom solely because they are constantly on the radio, have thousands if not millions of views on YouTube or you hear your students singing the hook at various times in class or in the hallways at school.  Make sure you have a reason for selecting a song that will resonate with your students and the various stake holders inside and outside of the school walls.
  5. Context is everything: There are several questions that you should ask yourself as you plan to introduce a Hip-Hop song into your class.  Here are a few of them; what are you attempting to achieve through the inclusion of the music? Are you seeking to develop and or enhance a student’s cognitive or non-cognitive skills?  What is your classroom environment? What subject do you teach and does the song align?

Hip-Hop music and pedagogy can be powerful additions to your curriculum and the learning experiences of your students but they must be integrated in a manner that takes into consideration the concerns that many people have with the content and messages contained in a lot of the music they hear or the videos they see.  Hip-Hop is a science that must be studied to understand it as a culture and as curriculum tool.  You can increase your Hip-Hop competencies by engaging with #HipHopEd on twitter every Tuesday from 9-10 pm EST, by following @TheRealHipHopEd and reaching to

Timothy Jones is an educator, writer, Hip-Hop pundit and the Chief Visionary Officer of #HipHopEd.  Follow Timothy @tdj6899