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The Message

by Jose Vilson on December 4, 2007

Rap in ClassroomPart 2 of The Hip-Hop in the Classroom Series:

The mainstream rap of today continues to perpetuate the same themes of sex, drugs, and violence we’ve heard almost ad nauseam since the ealy ’90s. Yet, the gems that often redeem and exalt rap into the hood’s champion comes from the oft-ignored B-sides of the most popular rappers in the hip-hop culture. Just like looking for an alternative curriculum to what the school or district supplies a teacher with, it takes a little research and some word-of-mouth to find some of these gems.

It’s stereotypical to just use math raps in the class or try and analyze the similarities and differences between rap and poetry, but I’m using them anyways as an ice breaker. We can kick up the creativity a bit. My first example comes from the prolific Slick Rick, arguably the greatest storyteller of all time. In the excerpt I’m providing next, Slick Rick demonstrates a descriptive narrative (for the rest of “Children’s Story” off the album The Adventures of Slick Rick, click here):

“He said ‘I need bullets, hurry up, run!’
The dope fiend brought back a spanking shotgun,
He went outside but there was cops all over,
then he dipped into a car, a stolen Nova,
Raced up the block doing 83,
crashed into a tree near university,
Escaped alive though the car was battered,
rat-a-tat-tatted and all the cops scattered,
Ran out of bullets and still had static,
grabbed a pregnant lady and out the automatic,
Pointed at her head and he said the gun was full o’ lead,
he told the cops “Back off or honey here’s dead”
Deep in his heart he knew he was wrong,
so he let the lady go and he starts to run on … “

The rest of the song probably set the precedence for rappers like Ghostface Killah, whose “The Forest” and “Shakey Dog” all borrow elements of heavy chronicling from that rapper.

The next verse comes from Jay-Z (as if you didn’t know that was coming). This was buried deep within Blueprint 2, panned by many critics as a waste of an album. However, this song stood out for its dual metaphor of the street dealer and the soldier in Afghanistan / Iraq. Check the verse.

“You lost him mama, the war’s callin him
Feel it’s his duty to fall in line with all of them
He’s a soldier
Rose through the ranks as the head of your household
Now its time to provide bank, like he’s supposed ta’
Now just remember while he’s going to November
There’s part of him growing up
His shirts soaks up your tears as he holds ya
Your heart beatin’ so fast speeding his pulse up
Yeah I know it sucks,
Life ain’t a rosebud
A couple of speed bumps, you gotta take your lumps
Off to boot camp, the world’s facing terror
bin Laden been happenin’ in Manhattan
Crack was anthrax back then, back when
Police was Al Qaeda to Black men
While I was out there hustling sinning with no religion
He was off the wall killing for a living …”

Because of this and many other verses, Jay-Z has been put on a celebrity watch list by the FBI, and it catered especially towards those who speak out against the government. So not only is this good for English / Language Arts, it’s also good for Social Studies / Civics class.

Moving on, Rakim, who whenever there’s any rap conversation I’ll namedrop a plethora of times, once said that he raps in sync with jazz’s tempo. In the verses, he’ll rap, but even within the lines, there are secret rhymes, alliterations, and assonances you’d miss if you weren’t grooving so hard so the song (for the rest of “Follow the Leader” off the album Follow the Leader, click here):

“Follow me into a solo
Get in the flow – and you can picture like a photo
Music mixed mellow maintains to make
Melodies for MC’s motivates the breaks
I’m everlastin, I can go on for days and days
With rhyme displays that engrave deep as X-rays
I can take a phrase that’s rarely heard, FLIP IT
Now it’s a daily word
I can get iller than ‘Nam, a killin bomb
But no alarm – Rakim will remain calm
Self-esteem make me super superb and supreme
But for a microphone still I fiend …”

Even more new school rappers not known for their math have moments of weird brilliance that we can use. The next verse comes from Cam’ron, whose zany rhymes have usually taken me aback, but this time, he might have gotten it right (for the rest of “The R.O.C.”, click here):

“Dude think doublin’ is turnin’ 5 to 8
I turn 8 to 20, 20 to 100, 100 to 1000
That to 100,000, in front-a housin’ …”

We can plot these numbers on an x-y plot, or compare the rate in which his competitor that doubled from 5 to 8 did versus Cam’ron, who had a much higher rate of productivity. Then, we can look at the consequences of drug trafficking and if the long-term benefits work in favor of drug pushers. It’s a long-term project, but it’s also cross-disciplinary.

Yet, with lyrics like this, and a deluge of other rappers’ lyrical dexterity, it poses the question of the literary legitimacy of hip-hop’s music and takes a proverbial dump on it. Granted, we can’t depend on Soulja Boy, Plies, or Akinyele to give us lessons on anything besides sexual degradation with half-written-on-napkin raps, but the list of popular rappers whose lyrics we can use in the classroom (depending on grade level) grows just as much.

Just like any genre of music, rap has a diverse pool of rappers from which to start your lessons. But the most important part of using rap in your lessons is that the discussions and lessons stay authentic and honest. What I mean is that the teacher conveys that they want the student to think critically and use rap as a vehicle of communication rather than to disparage it because it’s the “black kid’s” music.

And to think, I didn’t even get into Immortal Technique, Common, Eminem, or Queen Latifah.

Your thoughts?

jose, who knows someone’s gotta bring up Nas, Lupe Fiasco, David Banner, Trick Daddy, or KRS-One …

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Follow the Leader

by Jose Vilson on April 12, 2007

I wrote this a few weeks ago in another site in response to someone’s inquiry as to why I believe Rakim’s the greatest rapper of all time. It bothers me a little that he doesn’t have an official website, and the last time someone tried to pay homage to him through a site, it was taken down. Yikes. Rakim’s the greatest. Timeless …

rakim

Venturing onto Jamaall’s blog, I noticed a comment by my homie Kika, who asked, “What makes Rakim the best rapper ever?” I thought it was a valid question, and one that I could respond to while Jamaall was coming up to on his own time. Rakim is the greatest rapper of all-time for 3 main reasons:

1) He is the absolute embodiment of a Master of Ceremonies in terms of presence and confidence behind the microphone

2) He achieved and continued to achieve at least some commercial success without selling his own message and agenda of P.E.A.C.E. short, which means that people are bending to him, and not the other way around.

3) He was a revolutionary when it came to rap flow. Rather than stick to the simple subject matter and rap flows that were popularized by his predecessors, he used tons of alliteration, alliteration, and other techniques that many rappers hadn’t even thought of to that point, and did it with such ease, that every rapper after him thought they could somehow emulate that.

To this day, people still can’t touch his combination of flow, charisma, and omniscient. Even his worst rhymes have often been favored by true hip-hop fans versus the more contemporary artists. He’s had the greatest influence of any hip-hop artist, living or dead, just off fact #3, and he also made it cool for rap lyricists to jump on an R&B track, now a staple for many rap and R&B albums for collaborations.

Jamaall went on to call him the Wilt Chamberlain of rap; I guess that’s an OK analogy, but I would more readily compare him to Muhammad Ali or a Malcolm X in his later years: awesome storytellers and lyricists, who didn’t necessarily have a “team” around them, and who people regarded highly in their respective populations. Then again, I would more compare him to Malcolm in his later years only because people only talk about him as part of the Nation of Islam, and not when he founded his own organization and spoke of peace after coming back from Mecca. Even those are weak analogies to the god MC, whose legendary status was sometimes ignored by younger rap fans.

By the way, that “Classic” with Kanye, Nas, Rakim, and KRS-One is nice, but honestly, they could have all hit harder. Maybe it’s because it became part of a Nike promo.

Updated: For more Rakim, you MUST listen to:

“Follow the Leader” by Eric B. and Rakim
“I Ain’t No Joke” by Eric B. and Rakim
“Microphone Fiend” by Eric B. and Rakim
“Don’t Sweat the Technique” by Eric B. and Rakim
“Eric B. is President” by Eric B. and Rakim
“Paid in Full” by Eric B. and Rakim

features he’s done:

“The Watcher 2″ with Jay-Z, Truth Hurts and Dr. Dre
“NY State of Mind” with Alicia Keys and Nas
“R.A.K.I.M.” off the 8 Mile Soundtrack (*** HIGHLY SLEPT ON ***)
“Militia II” with Gangstarr, and WC

Whatever happened to P.E.A.C.E.?

PEACE PEACE PEACE!!!

jose, who tells competitors to not sweat the technique …

p.s. – Anyone that mentions Lil’ Wayne, Juelz Santana, or (insert random rapper who doesn’t even belong in the same paragraph except with the word “not” in between) needs to check themselves before they wreck themselves.

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