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