For the past few years we as a #HipHopEd community virtually come together and make suggestions of Hip-Hop songs that were released in the current year that we felt were “thought provoking.” We purposely don’t use terms like “educational” or “positive” because these terms can be extremely subjective and limit the creativity and critical thinking skills that are inherent in every true Hip-Hop Educator. “Thought Provoking” is a term that speaks to the collaborative effort between the musical work and the educator to facilitate a teachable moment and or discussion through the analysis and evaluation of the musical work and the issues brought up through the overall interpretation. We strive to not make this a mere popularity contest or a selection of favorites based on aesthetics that negate the creativity and originality of modern day voices in our culture.
It is our hope that this list will be a provocative one that you will find useful for your listening and continued development as an educator. There are some challenges to the process such as the number of followers an individual making a song selection has and the notoriety or lack thereof of the artist being suggested; but its imperfections still capture the human element that makes the list a living document that may look different if the suggestions were reviewed and agreed upon by a panel of “experts.” We simply counted the number (retweets) and (likes) for song suggestions from 9:00 pm Tuesday 12/19/17 to 3:00 pm Wednesday 12/20/17 EST.
I want to thank one of our #HipHopEd collaborators, Joquetta Johnson for creating the play list once the data was compiled. Follow Joquetta on Twitter @accordin2jo
Share your thoughts to the list by tweeting us @TheRealHipHopEd.
#HipHopEd Top 20 Thought Provoking Hip-Hop Songs of 2017
Lets take this list as an opportunity to create lessons, activities and professional development workshops together in 2018.
While traveling back from New York yesterday on the train I was passing time by going through my social media and came across some posts with a free style from Black Thought #FREESTYLE087. I have headphones on so I click on the link with a usual expectation of a great rhyme because it’s Black Thought. Before I clicked on the link my anticipation was heightened because the video was longer than 10 minutes and it was with Flex so this means that the whole time is the rhyme without any interview. So, picture me sitting on the train in the quiet car not knowing that I am about to listen to a lyrical keynote and sermon that inspire me to want to have a Pentecostal pedagogy moment. Here are five take-a-ways from this excellent exhibition of artistry, knowledge and lyricism.
- The Beat: The beat selected for the freestyle is “Burn” by Mobb Deep. Mobb Deep is known for coming with some of the hardest beats that just make your face twist and make even the most docile individual feel that they go hard (at least for the length of the song). This to some may seem like a diversion from the Black Thought that many people know but I think it was masterfully and purposely done. We also lost Prodigy this year and what a way to show homage to a fallen Hip-Hop brother.
- The Cadence of the Rhyme: Black Thought’s cadence as he delivers his rhyme sits in the pocket of the track like a sampled instrument. The ability to remain constant with the flow and slightly breathe to place emphasis on a word or phrase to let you know that you just heard a punch line is nothing short of amazing. I would love to hear this freestyle acapella to fully appreciate the rhythm of the cadence.
- The Repetition Factor: This freestyle rhyme is so dense in many places that it is virtually impossible to hear and appreciate everything in one listen. On one listen you may just be amazed by the fact that Black Thought has the lung capacity to flow for the length of 2.5 songs without his voice breaking from a lack of breath. In the initial listen, you will hear some punch lines that make your face scrunch up and then you go back to listen more intently to absorb the black thoughts of Black Thought.
- The Educational Value: When you begin to dissect this rhyme, you hear everything from Slang, Spirituality, Substance Abuse, Science to Shakespeare. Imagine the conversation starters that are embedded in this rhyme that can benefit us as a community if we simply sat down together and listed to the rhyme and began to converse. The beauty of this work of art is what you hear that moves you is dependent on where you are emotionally, mentally and spiritually as you listen. We can listen together and hear different things and both of us be right in our hearing because the life and power of the words resonate differently based on the condition of the soil of our hearts and minds.
- The Bars that raise the Bar: An estimated 240 + bars dropped by Black Thought (https://songbpm.com/mobb-deep-burn?q=mobb%20deep%20-%20burn 96 BPM translates to a 4/4 bar every 2.5 seconds which is 24 bars every minute so in 10 minutes you would have an estimated 240 bars) has raised the bar of what it means to freestyle and the ability to infuse knowledge in a way that is comprehensive, creative and palatable to the average listener. Jay-Z made a song called “Lyrical Exercise” where he expresses the art of rhyming using physical exercise metaphors. If we extend this metaphor then lyrically we physically witnessed the fitness of one of the best in the business.
Timothy Jones is an educator, writer, Hip-Hop pundit and the Chief Visionary Officer of HipHopEd follow me on Twitter @tdj6899