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Using Hip Hop Culture to Motivate Millenial Students

November 17-18, 2006
University of the Sacred Heart and the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras
San Juan, Puerto Rico

Jon A. Yasin, Professor of English, Linguistics, and Religion, Bergen Community College

Constance Chapman, Assistant Professor of English, Clark Atlanta University

Sherrise Truesdale, Assistant Professor of Corrections, Minnesota State University

Neal Howard, Licensed Clinical Social Worker


Part I: Why Hip Hop?
Jon A. Yasin


Hip Hop is a youth culture with origins in the African American, African Caribbean and Latino, primarily Puerto Rican, communities of the borough of the Bronx in New York City during the early 1970s. Initially, a recreational activity, Hip Hop quickly became an empowering agent for its adolescent and young adult pioneers because they learned and developed certain skills in order to actively participate in creating and maintaining its elements. Eventually, these elements and skills were used to negotiate aspects of mainstream society, especially since mainstream society had begun to appropriate features of Hip Hop after its commercialization in 1979. The primary elements of Hip Hop, taggin’ [graffiti art], deejayin’, emceein’ [rappin’/flowin’/rhymin’/spittin’], b[eat]-boyin’ and b-girlin’ [breakdancing], and knowledge [studyin’] have been embraced by youths globally and are used to address issues of social injustice, and to mediate various mainstream societal institutions, including educational institutions. Because many students bring Hip Hop culture into the classroom in various ways, educators must consider its use as an instructional tool. Moreover, it is imperative that Hip Hop’s origins, rooted in African Diasporic cultural traditions, be understood in order to employ it as an instructional aid because Hip Hop is not “just noise,” as many believe.

The Origins of Hip Hop

In 1967, Clive Campbell, his parents, and his siblings migrated to the United States from Jamaica. Upon their arrival Clive, later known to the Hip Hop community as Kool Herc, the Father of Hip Hop, and his sister, Cindy, known as the Mother of Hip Hop, were greeted with the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, and the beginnings of a response to these Movements, with the federal government’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), and the beginnings of massive gentrification of certain sections of New York City and other urban areas primarily inhabited by Black and Brown people. Shortly thereafter, they were also greeted with a new music called disco, which had appropriated rhythms from Soul and Funk music but disregarded the messages of this music. The Campbell siblings also interfaced with the tags of Taki 183, a Greek American New York City bicycle messenger, who left his signature moniker on the walls in communities where he had made deliveries. Taki’s writing style was similar to that which was first written in the late 1960’s on the Philadelphia subway cars by a young African American man, CORNBREAD, and then taken to New York City by his protégé, Top Cat. (Chang, 74) In the Hip Hop community, this signature is called a “tag”. Other types of graffiti art are the “throw-up,” which is large bubble lettering that is often colored in, and the “piece,” which is a whole scene. Such artists are called “taggers” or “writers”.

Kool Herc was fascinated with taggin’ and developed his moniker, which he began to display around his community, until his father found it on a wall in their apartment building, which another crew had put there. According to Herc, “my father beat my ass. He is from the West Indies, and he did not play that shit.” Dissuaded from taggin’, Kool Herc began devoting more time to deejayin’, an interest which he had shared with his father. At the end of the summer in 1973, Cindy persuaded her brother Kool Herc to deejay a back-to-school party in the recreation room in their apartment building. Many Hip Hop historians cite that party as the beginning of Hip Hop, as we know it. Kool Herc played music on his amplified system that included two turntables, which allowed him to blend one record into another that was playing on the other turntable. Herc brought this technique with him from the dance halls in Jamaica, where amplified systems entertained the entire community with music, a tradition previously found in Senegal, West Africa at movie theaters where the community was entertained with amplified music before the movie began, during the 1960s. At that party and at subsequent parties, Herc’s friend and emcee, Coke La Rock, talked over the music on the microphone, reciting small rhymes and giving shout-outs by calling out the names of people at the party. Continuing to give dances, as members of his crew, Herc introduced twins, Kevin and Keith, b-boys who had power moves and special routines on the dance floor. Others who came to his parties studied Kool Herc’s technique and his crew, and they began to give dances, as well. Taggers were called upon to make signs advertising these dances and parties.

Two prominent pioneers, who were in the parties given by Deejay Kool Herc and observing his techniques, were Deejay Grandmaster Flash and Deejay Afrika Bambaataa. Flash, having studied at Samuel Gompers Vocational High School in the Bronx, used his knowledge of electronics to introduce additional technology to the craft of deejayin’. The Furious Five, Flash’s emcees, having begun by reciting poetry and short rhymes and giving shout outs over music on the microphone, by 1977 began to pronounce each word syllable in time to the beat or a portion of the beat of the music being played by the deejay. (Yasin 213) This was the innovation brought to the art of communicating spoken messages over music and the origins of flowin’/spittin’/rhymin’/rappin’/emceein’ as it is known in Hip Hop culture.

The other pioneer, Deejay Afrika Bambaataa, contributed to this culture in many ways but probably his most noted contribution is empowering the early Hip Hop community with self-discipline. After Kool Herc announced to the gangs in the Bronx that they could not rumble at his parties, Bam, the leader of the notorious Black Spades, one of the Bronx’s many gangs, instrumental in brokering a truce, organized all of the gangs into the Universal Zulu Nation, now an international activist organization. Now non-physical, gang members began to challenge each other in battles on the dance floor as b-boys and b-girls, on the turntables as deejays, on the microphone as emcees and so on. More than thirty years later, the truce still holds and Zulu, now a global organization, is working internationally fighting for social justice and assisting youths in bringing guidance and direction to their lives. Having been inspired by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Last Poets, Afrika Bambaataa, moreover, added knowledge as the fifth primary element of Hip Hop culture. Bam began to consciously campaign for the Hip Hop community to study and with knowledge to promote Hip Hop’s positive roots. This has been his reaction to commercial emcees who began to rhyme about thug life around 1990 with the advent of gangsta rap, the use of explicit lyrics, and the denigration of women, all of which the music industry has continuously supported for financial gain. Many people in the Hip Hop community attribute Afrika Bambaataa with being the one person who saved their lives. Bam’s Zulu Nation is the one Hip Hop organization that has consistently fought for social justice for the all peoples.

The Empowerment of the Hip Hop Community

Production of the elements of Hip Hop brought young adults of various ethnic and racial, political, religious, and social backgrounds together and organized them into a common culture. Raymond Williams wrote that “there is not a special class, or group of men, who are involved in the creating of meanings and values, either in a general sense or a specific art and belief….[C]ulture [is] the way of life of a people, as well as the vital and indispensable contributions of specially gifted and identifiable persons…and…the idea of the common element of the culture [is] the community”(34-35). Active participants, that is those producing the music, the rhymes/spoken messages, the dance, the art, and the venues for such expression, have had to empower themselves with certain skills in order to maintain Hip Hop culture. They had to discipline themselves to learn about their specific art and its production; they had to learn how to perform their art; they had to develop certain interpersonal communication skills in order to organize events-parties, dances, battles. Through event organizing, they learned about handling money, recording the performances of the events and selling audiocassette tapes of such performances. Specific skills learned by emcees, for example, include how to write lyrics to rhyme, how to articulate those rhymes is a meaningful way, how to present themselves at the microphone and on stage, how to work with the deejay and others organizing an event, and after mainstream society took notice of this culture, how to interact with journalists, how to protect themselves legally when approached about business deals, and so forth. These participants in Hip Hop culture acquired certain skills, all of which empowered them and which they use to negotiate and to mediate mainstream society and its institutions. In fact, according to Chuck D, the emcee for Public Enemy, Hip Hop was a million dollar community business before its commercialization. However, mainstream society began to appropriate features of Hip Hop culture after 1979, when Hip Hop went commercial with the recordings of “King Tut” by Fatback and “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang. Thereafter, the community has not completely controlled its common culture, nor the revenues.

Early on, mainstream society’s appropriation of Hip Hop culture included the fashion industry’s copying of the oversized clothing worn by b-boys and b-girls. Before the industry took note, beat boys and beat girls bought clothing several sizes too big in order to cover the padding they used for their knees and other joints. According to Melvin McLauren of Brooklyn, they used clothesline rope to hold their too-large pants up and bought shirts that were oversized to cover the bulky clothesline belts. The fashion industry appropriated this style and it was duplicated worldwide. In addition, during the early 1990s, Naughty By Nature, emcees from East Orange, New Jersey rhymed about the soft drink, Sprite, on a television commercial, and in 1993, when the New York Knickerbockers were in the National Basketball Association finals, NBC’s New York affiliate, Channel 4 aired two emcees rappin’ about the Knicks. Moreover, words and phrases coined by Hip Hop emcees and other participants, like “thugged out” and “boo,” have entered the Oxford English Dictionary. Even President George Bush borrowed from Hip Hop discourse when he once commented that Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, had “dissed” Vice President Cheney. This appropriation of features of Hip Hop culture has facilitated the acceptance of this youth culture in mainstream society, allowed the voices of participants in Hip Hop culture and the community to begin to be heard, and acknowledged the Discourse of Hip Hop.

The Discourse of Hip Hop

According to James Gee, “[a] Discourse is a socially accepted association among ways of using language, other symbolic expressions, and “artifacts”, of thinking, feeling believing, valuing, and acting that can be used to identify oneself as a member of a socially meaningful group or ‘social network’…”(131). Gee identifies two types of Discourses, secondary and primary. Secondary Discourses are those learned by people when they become part of groups after their early home experiences. Churches, gangs, businesses, and schools are examples of groups for which one must learn a secondary Discourse. For its pioneers, Hip Hop is a secondary Discourse because when they began to create elements of this culture, they were no longer children having certain early home experiences. However, those pioneers who had young siblings at home contributed to their early socialization processes by introducing their young brothers and sisters, and other young children in their communities to elements of Hip Hop. Doug E. Fresh, who introduced the human beat box in the 1990s, for example, was influenced by his older siblings who were active in Hip Hop culture. Also, Bakari Kitwani identifies those youths born after 1965 as the Hip Hop generation. (4) For this generation, especially the African Americans, Hip Hop is a primary Discourse.

Primary Discourses are those to which people are apprenticed early in life during their primary socialization as members of particular families within their socio-cultural settings. Primary Discourses constitute our first social identity, and something of a base within which we acquire or resist later Discourses. They form our initial taken-for-granted understandings of who we are and who people ‘like us’ are, as well as what sorts of things we (‘people like us ‘) do, value, and believe when we are not ‘in public’. (137)

Because we use our primary Discourses to learn secondary Discourses and because for many of our millennial students, Hip Hop is a primary Discourse, and because it already is on campuses and in our classrooms, Hip Hop can be an excellent instructional tool.

Hip Hop as an Instructional Tool

Our students use Hip Hop to study. An alumnus of Stanford University told me that in order to pass a calculus course, he wrote all of the calculus formulas and equations into a rhyme and learned them that way. Our students use Hip Hop to complete homework assignments and projects. One of my students took a rhyme that he had written and turned it into an academic essay for a writing assignment. Our students use Hip Hop in personal ways within the academy. Students have written me notes on which they tagged their names for signatures and tagged my name in the salutations. Students sign attendance sheets with tags and they tag their names on assignments which they submit. Several years ago, while writing the essay section of his entrance placement examination, a student at Bergen Community College asked if his response could be a rhyme instead of an essay.

Because it a part of their youth culture and primary Discourse, Hip Hop can be utilized as an innovative classroom instructional tool. In our writing classes, where we introduce students to the writing process, if there are students who are emcees, we collaborate in instructing the class with the emcees explaining the writing process to the class. Knowing this process intimately, Hip Hop emcees employ the writing process when they create and compose their rhymes. Another example of its collaborative instructional value is to introduce documentation of sources and research to a class with student emcees discussing “why they do not bite other emcees’ lyrics;” that is, why they do not plagiarize the lyrics of others. Put in this context, other students quickly understand why they cannot plagiarize. At the 2005 Conference of the College Language Association held at the University of Georgia in Athens, Kelli Weiss, a doctoral student at Howard University, discussed using Hip Hop lyrics in her freshman writing classes to teach the relationship of the thesis statement to the body of the essay. As an instructional tool, Hip Hop can be utilized in other ways in the writing classroom and in other disciplines, as well. The following articles are examples of using this culture in the literature classroom, the sociology and criminology classrooms, and in counseling groups of students.


Chang, Jeff. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of The Hip Hop Generation. New York: St. Marin’s Press, 2005.

Chuck D. Personal Communication 9 Nov. 2003.

Gee, James Paul. Social Linguistics and Literacies 2nd ed. London: Falmer Press, 1996.

Kitwana, Bakari. The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African American Culture. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

Kool Herc. Personal Communication. 15 Feb. 2006.

McLauren, Melvin. Personal Communication. 15. Mar. 1994.

Williams, Ronald. Resources to Hope. London: Verso Press, 1989.

Yasin, Jon A. “Rap in the African-American Music Tradition.” Race and Ideology: Language, Symbolism, and Popular Culture. Ed. Arthur K. Spears. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001. 197-223.

Part II: The Vernacular in Hip Hop: A Genre Worthy of Exploration
Constance Chapman

While most Americans view Hip-Hop as simply another form of music, we believe that it is laying a foundation for the next major social, political, educational, spiritual and literary movement. Although studies claim that Hip-Hop is a genre that originated in the heart of New York City, over the past thirty years it has spread to include nearly all regions of the world from the Caribbean to Africa. This genre’s worldwide influence has endured venomous criticism for its culture, lyrics and militancy. While our young people embrace this fast-growing art form, many older people abhor its existence, calling the chart-busting genre “rebel rousing” and saying that it only promotes violence and consequently, will never last. But can scholars afford to continue ignoring this genre that has tackled every atrocity in society from racial profiling to “politics as usual”, from AIDS awareness to social injustice? Hip-Hop has taken on burning issues, issues that affect not only black Americans but also minorities all over the world. In fact, this genre is so important that the Norton Publishing Company, well known for the production of literary texts has devoted an entire section to Hip-Hop and the vernacular in its latest edition of African American Literature.

Hip Hop in the Classroom

More and more it is becoming difficult to get young college students to seriously study and gain an appreciation for classic genres, particularly poetry. They are immersed in rap and seem to have little or no tolerance for literature produced by the writers educators identify as masters. This is indeed a tragedy but if we are truly concerned about our students’ growth, we must embark on another tactic.

Many of us have no love for rap. Thus, we ignore what is being said. True, we might think that hip-hop poetry is crude but can we afford to dismiss it outright without examining its elements and how, in some ways, it conforms to long established structures? As Hillard purports, “traditional approaches to pedagogy have tended to be rigid and uncreative [and are] far from exhausting the wonderful possibilities for teaching and learning” (15).

The approach I decided to take was inspired by Sitomer and Cirelli, authors of the textbook, Hip-Hop Poetry and the Classics for the Classroom, who present the technique of comparing elements of classical poetry with similar elements in rap. They explain their goal and methodology as follows:
Our goal is to make the academic study of poetry accessible, relevant, comprehensible and enjoyable to students in our contemporary, multicultural classrooms. Our methodology is to analyze the poetry of Hip-Hop and compare its motifs, themes, and general poetic devices (such as alliteration, rhyme scheme, figurative language, etc. …) in order to teach the core elements of the poetic craft in an appealing, relevant, thorough and accessible manner (2).

I began with the elements of Focus, Tone, Language, Reference, Main Idea by comparing “If We Must Die” by Claude McKay and “This City is Mine” and Rap poet, Jay-Z. We discussed the two works and students then wrote their comments. They compared the poems this way:

Focus: McKay’s poem was pro-unity. He wanted people to understand the eloquence that African Americans possessed. He was talking to black people with intent to motivate and give them courage. Jay-z spoke about the power that he had over the hip-hop world and how he was the biggest thing happening.

Tone: McKay writes from the perspective of the black resurrection and how we need to rise up and overcome as a people. Jay-Z, however, is arrogant. He could care less about what his own people are doing, because he is going to remain on top.

Language: McKay uses a more professional, conservative language. Jay-Z uses a more harsh delivery to make his statements.

References: McKay refers to different groups by different names. For example, he refers to white people as” mad and hungry dogs” and “monsters” and “the murderous, cowardly pack.” While he refers to blacks as “our accursed lot.” Jay-Z refers to everyone as “niggaz.”

Struggle: Jay-Z is battling street hustlers, while McKay was battling racism. Both individuals spoke of a struggle that was endured. McKay talked about the oppression Blacks received from the white man. He placed emphasis on Black men rebelling against their degradation and standing strong, even with obstacles. On the other hand, Jay-Z rapped about the fame and fortune he received from working hard, and accepting the difficulties one may face in the rap game. The struggle of African Americans as a whole race, as opposed to the struggle of one man (Jay-Z) displays the differences in the two works.

Next we tackled figurative language but instead of beginning with the work of poems like Tennyson, Keats, Frost and others, I decided to use the work of a person I call the master of figurative language, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Our study focused on King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Following are the examples we found in the speech.

Metaphor: “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”

Personification: “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”

Simile: “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Symbol: “I have a dream that one day even the State of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

Anaphora: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed…. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia…. I have a dream that one day event the state of Mississippi….I have a dream that my four children will one day…I have a dream today,”

Hyperbole: “There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.”

Alliteration: “In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check.”

Since the examples we found in King’s work were so clear, it was not difficult for students to find them in Rap poetry. Below are some which they identified:

Artist: Nas
For brothers who died ….
For Will, Bokeem, Bar, Pappy….
For soldiers and troops away with helmets and boots....
For Pac, Biggie and Pun ....
For single mothers ….
For my niggaz in the pen ….

Artist: Will Smith
Bringing the fire, making yo Benz ring the alarm

Artist: Ludacris
My music sticks in fans veins like an IV
Flows poison like Ivy, ....
Now the girls see me and a river’s what they cry me

I believe that this project helped my students to better appreciate poetry and the effort it requires to produce a piece that has both meaning and form.

Hillard III, A. G. “Teachers and Cultural Styles in a Pluralistic Society,” NEA Today.89:7(6) 65-9.

Kitwana, Bakari. The Hip Hop Generation:Young Blacks and the Crisis in African American Culture. New York: BasicCivitas Books. 2002.

- - -. The Rap on Gangsta Rap: Who Run It? Gangsta Rap and Visions of Black Violence. Chicago: Third World Press. 1967.

Sitomer, Alan, Cirelli, Michael. Hip-Hop Poetry and the Classics for the Classroom. Canada: Milk Mug Publishing, 2004.

Westbrook, Alonzo. Hip Hoptionary: The Dictionary of Hip Hop Terminology. New York: Harlem Moon Broadway Books. 2002.

Part III: Educating the Gangsta’
Sherrise Truesdale

The Achievement Gap
Minority k-12 grade students are under-achieving in American schools, and creative strategies for learning should be implemented. Education has proven to be the most significant means to improve an individual’s life chances, but African American students on an average are performing worse than European Americans (Muhammad, Davis, Lui & Leondar-Wright, 2004; Center for Education Policy, 2001). There are several facts concerning this achievement gap. The National Report Card indicated that the achievement gap has been persistent overtime. For example, African Americans by the fourth grade are more likely to be two years behind their peers, specifically concerning reading. Similarly, African American eighth graders have lower scores in mathematics than their white peers, but by this time they have fallen three years behind their peers. By the twelfth grade, they are four years behind their peers. Tests are primarily used to measure progress toward standards in educational achievement. However, these standards are often reformed, which also re-establishes a level of expectation for students. From this, African American students are more likely to be disproportionately harmed by test standards because most public school systems make a direct link to graduation: those who do not make the score will not graduate (Center for Education Policy, 2001). Students who perform below standards are more likely to drop out of high school and they are less likely to attend college.

The achievement gap between African Americans and whites exists prior to starting school. Research showed that white and Asian children outperformed African American children enrolled in preschool and kindergarten in certain areas. When African American children start out behind in the early stages of their education, the likelihood that they catch up is slim. The gap only widens as the student moves through school. This is frustrating for African American students in particular because they often complain that teachers believe that all Asian American students, for example, were viewed as the intellectuals, while African American students were viewed as hoodlums and disinterested in learning.

Academic Abuse of Certain Students
In response to this issue, several scholars have posited that significant attention should be given toward the educational progress of minority youth in urban communities in particular (Lopez, 2003; Kincheloe, 2004). However, very few scholars are able to provide approaches for motivating these urban youth in the classroom, particularly the youth participating in gang activity. Miron (2004) argues that educational inequalities encourage students to resist the current educational system because of its denial of minority students to access a quality education that creates possibilities for social mobility. In particular, African American males are perceived as problematic students in the schools because teachers fail to understand their cultural norms. Schools are typically focused on two primary functions: promoting and structuring the intellectual development of students, and socializing youth for roles and responsibilities in society (Davis & Jordan, 1994). African American males are often slighted in this perspective because many schools have failed to meet the social and developmental needs of African American males. The schools are, in short, academically abusing them.

The cultural composition of these youth academically at-risk is that a growing number of them are participating in gang activity. In fact, according to a report by the National Criminal Justice Reference System (NCJRS), there are approximately 31, 000 identifiable gangs in the United States, operating with over 800,000 members and participating in crime and delinquency (2005). In 1999, reports indicated that there were 580 juvenile gang killings compared to 809 in 2003 (NCJRS, 2005). The proliferation of gang activity in American communities has ignited a crisis within our school systems. According to the United States Department of Justice (2005), students ages 12-18 urban schools were more likely to report the presence of street gangs at their schools. More specifically, 37% of Latino and 29% of African American students were more likely than white students (14%) to report the existence of street gangs in their schools. This phenomenon was more prevalent in public schools (22%) than in private schools (4%). A significant reason why troubled minority students are underachieving academically is that there is disconnect between the youth’s cultural reality and their education. Therefore, the operative question is how should teachers integrate what students experience in their communities culturally with what they may learn in the classroom? To this aim, teachers should create a classroom environment of cultural understanding, so that an academic connection can be made between the students’ cultural reality and what they are attempting to learn in the classroom.

Hip Hop: Cultural Reality in the Classroom
In the field of social sciences, teachers may re-channel students’ classroom experiences through creative writing, assigning students the task of writing a Hip Hop rap, for example to express a social, political, or economic position. This assignment encourages students to engage in written communication, expressing points of view that are academically, socially, and morally constructive. For example, Project South (2003) published a learning toolkit for students seeking a deeper understanding of the prison-industrial complex. Included in this toolkit is the Prison Industrial Complex Timeline, which includes economic, government policy, and popular movement history. An assignment for high school and certain college students may be to have them explain gangs and sentencing laws in the context of economic, government policy, and popular movements. What the teacher uses as a basis of evaluation is dependent upon how the student shapes his or her discussion within the rap lyrics. Of course, students who attempt this assignment must have clear understanding of the historical movements present on the timeline (i.e. general economic expansion, police forces militarized, social contract expansion and decline, rise of gangs, civil rights movement, sentencing laws, and so forth). Below is a completed project of such an assignment, a set of Hip Hop lyrics, a rap written by Maurice Pendleton, a student at Minnesota State University at Mankato.

A Critical Pedagogy for Educating the Gangsta’

Maurice Pendleton

Now I don’t have a degree, but I could show U how to educate a G X 4.
I’m about to explain how gangs went from good to bad.
And now the government set ‘em right up in a trap.

1967 came FBI programs COINTEL PRO
Made to prevent the rise of organizations made by “negros”.
Sametime dropped welfare N the hood
Now every black person on welfare N the hood.

1974 a man named Larry Hoover made a gang
called the Gansta Disciples, a nation thang.
Main goals were to make sure kids go to school
Open gas stations, supply local food, fought against inequality, and segregation
not getting jobs, discrimination.

There was also a war on drugs
guess who had us labled as “thugs”?
We all got guns at war with ourselves.
Families addicted so we at war with ourselves.
How they gonna slam Hoover 4 selling drugs N getting his
when the CIA been selling drugs 4 over fifty years.
The system wants you to put the drugs in UR system
So you can do something stupid and end up right in the system.
It’s all a trap.

And that’s why they give us all that crack
definition of money is the kitchen 4 da black man
dead or in jail is the definition of a black man
at least that’s what they want it to be
But I’m ma prove prove’em wrong if they want it 4 me.

1973 Rockerfeller drug laws came along
get bummed with over 2 ounces, so long…
Same year Hoover was sentenced to life
4 the murder of a customer who was using the pipe,
the customer seen something he shouldn’t have seen
went and told the police, the wrong thing!

Throughout the 80’s Hoover was on lockdown,
and still kept his gang on lockdown.

In the 90’s gangs went wild, started killing each other.
Forget all as one, and we all brothers.

’93 Larry renamed to Growth and Development
No more killing each other should’ve been evident.

’95 came Operation Headache, damn
Police stopp’in GD leadership and Hoover’s plans
Now he has life N the penitentiary
Look it up they even got a documentary.

In the end we made to be the clowns,
government will do anything to keep a black man down.


Center for Educational Policy. (2001). National Report Card.

Davis, J., & Jordan, W. (1994). The effects of school context, structure, and experience on African American males in middle school and high school. Journal of Negro Education, 63(4), 570.

Kincheloe, J., & Steinberg, S. (2004). Nineteen urban questions: Teaching in the city. New York: Peter Lang.

Lopez, N. (2003). Hopeful: Troubled girls and boys: Race and gender disparity in urban education. New York: Routledge.

Miron, L. (2003). How do we locate resistance in urban schools? In J. Kincheloe & S. Steinberg (Eds.), Nineteen urban questions: Teaching in the city. New York: Peter Lang.

Muhammad, Davis, A., Lui, M., & Leondar-Wright, B. (2004). The state of the dream: Enduring disparities in black and white. United For a Fair Economy.

National Criminal Justice Reference Service. (2006).

Part IV: Hip Hop as a Counseling Tool
Neal Howard, MSW, LICSW

Using Freire’s Pedagogy in Counseling
Paulo Freire’s ideological and methodological pedagogy outlined in his classic book Pedagogy of the Oppressed has been central to my career identity and development as a clinical social worker. Although his discipline was education, his pedagogy and the values and theory behind it are transcendent. When considering the idea of using Hip-Hop as a counseling tool, his ideas are extremely applicable and supportive of this technique. To briefly summarize, there are two main concepts (of many) in Freire’s pedagogy that are relevant to Hip-Hop based counseling. The first is his fundamental belief that education’s main purpose is for liberation and self definition, both for the teacher and student who are equal participants in a cooperative learning process. Rather than being used as a mechanism for social control and exploitation (of those being taught), education’s first goal must be to set the student and teacher on the mutual course of empowered self determination (Freire, 1970). In the counseling and social work industries, working towards the freedom, equality, and empowerment of clients is central to their values and code of ethics. Hip-Hop is a natural and concrete manifestation of these ideals. Moreover, Hip-Hop is a cultural and artistic phenomenon which materialized from difficult and often bleak urban realities as both a means of expression and of coping. In many ways, Hip-Hop created new opportunities for positive career and social/psychological development where they did not exist before. Thus, using Hip-Hop in counseling attaches the counseling process to a cultural and artistic reality which in many ways is in itself the praxis of self determined liberation.

The second main concept in Freire’s pedagogy is that educational curricula be developed in cooperation with the students who will be benefiting from them. This means that an educator’s first assumption must be that the individuals he or she is engaged with are the experts on what it is they need to learn/examine in their environmental realities that will enhance the quality of their lives. Since the consumers know before anyone else what is relevant in their lives, curricula designed to further liberate and enhance their lives must be developed with their equal input, at the very least (Freire, 1970). In counseling work with urban adolescents and young adults, understanding this concept is extremely important. Traditional counseling strategies such as ego psychology or psychoanalysis, for example, were originally developed by and for European/Caucasian middle class communities and could not consider the realities and cultures of the modern generation of urban youth. Thus, the concerns many traditional counseling mechanisms are designed to address and the methods through which they seek to address them are not applicable to many urban youth of color. Traditional talk therapy strategies are often very ineffective in engaging urban adolescents in therapeutic dialogue which can help them process and cope with the difficult cultural, environmental, and individually specific realities which they face.

Hip-Hop music and culture, on the other hand, is culturally specific to this population and is itself a natural dialogue on the personal and environmental realities which affect the mental and behavioral health at individual and communal levels. In individual and group counseling contexts, Hip-Hop lyrics can be effectively used to create highly analytical and reflective dialogue on a multitude of relevant topics. Because many urban youth have difficulty directly discussing their personal emotions and vulnerabilities, engaging in Hip-Hop lyrical analysis with such clients is very effective in starting them on a culturally and environmentally specific dialogue which can be very healing and liberating.

The Human Brain, Learning, and Emotional/Spiritual Experiences
It is commonly understood that learning/understanding occurs on the emotional as well as intellectual level. In counseling, this is a very important principle. Victims of sexual abuse, for example, may understand intellectually that they did not do anything wrong, that they are victims, and that it is “not my fault”. They may emotionally, however, feel confused, ashamed, damaged, responsible, etc. Thus, learning and healing in a clinical therapeutic/counseling context requires reaching both the intellectual and emotional (and I would also venture to include spiritual) levels. The arts in general have been strong components in treatment modalities in the counseling and social work industries. Play therapies, drawing, dance, poetry, and music have been used as very effective diagnostic and treatment tools in a variety of ways.

In their book, Why God Won’t Go Away, Andrew Newberg, Eugene D’Aquili, and Vince Rause (2001) offer a compelling theory as to why. In this book, they explain their theory, which is that religious and spiritual faith and practice will always exist in humanity because the brain is designed for spiritual/transcendent experience. Through their research on brain activity at the time of transcendent experience, they assert that specific activities cause the brain to function in a way where emotions are felt in enhanced and transcendent fashion. Such activities include (but are not limited to) rhythmic physical motions, and repetition (both in movements, spoken/heard words, and thoughts). This is how they explain the powerful mental and physical sensations experienced in a variety of activities such as prayer, medication, attending a worship service, listening to music, listening to/reciting poetry, etc. The repetitions and rhythms involved in Hip-Hop music, lyrics, and dance can trigger the brain’s activities which enhance emotional awareness and transcendent experience. When Hip-Hop lyrics are presented to clients and to students for analysis and reflection, theoretically enhanced is the access of the content being addressed from merely intellectual but to emotional (and spiritual) as well. Emotional healing, learning, and reflection are vital in the process of counseling.


D’Aquili, E., Newberg, A., & Rause, V., (2001). Why God won’t go away. NewYork: Ballantine Books.

Freire, P., (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

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