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The Tale of the Talent Night Rap: Hip-Hop culture in Schools and the Challenge of Interpretation

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Peter Elliker

on 4 May 2011

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Transcript of The Tale of the Talent Night Rap: Hip-Hop culture in Schools and the Challenge of Interpretation

Fight the Power Hip-Hop Culture in School and the Challenge of Interpretation Hard Core Rap Political Rap Conscious Rap A student's rap skit has the plug pulled early by the Principal, who explained "That was for the old people in the crowd and I don't want things to get chaotic. I don't want a riot." The student is then told "I don't want to hear any cursing or sexual obscenities in your rap...I don't want to hear it." The student feels disrespected. As the opening description of the talent night suggests, concerns about the controversial language and content of a good deal of popular music, film and television also lead to significant tensions between schools and popular youth culture. Rap takes many forms In 2002, creative writing teacher "Tim" developed a performance poetry curriculum that revolves around hip-hop culture and rap music, which culminated in a competitive poetry slam. The tale of the talent night rap stems from the English class. Of the 29 boys in class 22 are African American, 3 are Hispanic and 4 are White. The teachers and administrators are White. "Gerald" frames the incident as a problem of interpretation. But was it? "Gerald" told "Tim" that he wrote out the rap
and underlined any words that he suspected
the organizers would either object to or
not understand. The organizers said the rap must be coducted with the "3-M policy." Mom Minister Me (Principal) The lyrics presented to the organizers, were not the true meanings behind the song. "Street Life"
Yo in the hood (inner city) I love hustling
(swindling individual to obtain certain objects) And with the burner (flames that come out of
my mouth while exhibiting slang poetry) like
I was David Ruffin (Lead singer of the 60's
band The Temptations) Cause I'll put more holes in you than the back
of my jeans (the jeans that I will be performing
in will have a design in the back that looks
like shreds and holes) The following are excerpts taken from "Gerald" rap that were given to the organizers. When the rap was handed out to students in the class,
they fell silent. Because they knew the true meaning
of the words. "Gerald" had coded the rap so the students would respond to a different set of word meanings than those the organizers were interpreting.
The suspicions of the principal about
this student and his rap were validated. As for the fake definitions... Burner means Gun Holes in the back
of my jeans means
bullet holes And I'll give ya man shells, but they not the
kind you find at the beach (usually shells are
found on a beach, but in this case the term shells
was used talking about pasta. Shells mean Bullets This is a story of student resistance to the repressive culture of schools. "Gerald" was compelled to translate himself and his language as a stage of protest against a culture that already positions him as unintelligeible, an outsider and a threat. "Gerald" flips the power balance
by reinventing the rules. The student who is "not going to make it, not smart" outsmarts the organizers. Teacher's tell him he is not smart and will never make it. "Gerald" explains the long African American tradition
of coding meanings through the art of misdirection. SIGNIFYIN' Is the term used to represent fun with
word play in the African American community. "Gerald" admits to just having fun with it, trying to pull one over on the man. HOWEVER... "Gerald" misled "Tim"... A dedicated teacher who initated the spoken
word unit. He encouraged the students to bring the
music they cared about into the classroom and
opened up the topic of language and content
restrictions. By doing this, "Gerald" clearly put "Tim"
in risk of being officially reprimanded. "Gerald" said that he wanted the audience
to reflect on the words and that he never
wanted to offend anyone. "Tim" said that verbal meanings filled with ambiguity can sometimes work against the very thing that one is trying to accomplish. "Gerald" clearly demonstrates some
of the lessons that he has learned from
"Tim's" English class. Interpretations are subjective and multiple. Linguistic meaning is mutable. Explicit and articulate words could
help bridge a generational gap. At the end of the conversation, "Gerald" said that he was sorry and never meant to cause a problem. "Tim" said "Misunderstandings
are always shared" and that the
question left was "What would
I do differently?" "Tim" suggested "Gerald" write a poem
about being labeled and misinterpreted. "Gerald" took it to heart and presented
this piece in the next poerty slam competiton. Cry
Misunderstood is the definition of cry.
Stab my guilty conscious until my sins die.
Ask why...our world is filled with hatred.
Misconceived notions.
That float across the oceans leave others hoping and praying.
That one day God will stop the killing and slaying.
Leave night alone and just bring day in.
Let me talk to you. No more I'm just saying...
As tears roll down the side of my cheeks.
Another innocent kid is left in the street.
No man is in the hospital for weeks getting weak.
No degree in philosophy but when I talk, I teach.
Some men, talk with heat not their life is lost.
I'll build a bridge with words...just to get my point across.
Food it cost, and some people have no money.
They have to steal just to satisfy their tummy.
Wishing the days were sunny, but they are cold as ice.
Filled with evil in their souls like a poltergeist.
You on cloud nine,he on cloud seven.
A million lives went to heaven on September the 11th.
Would somone please stop these tears!
I don't know what to do! All I know is I did it for you.
Admitted to you, that I was afaid to live...cause I know I would die.
Raced against death, ended up in a first place tie.
I want to leave this bitter place but my heart acting shy.
Who on earth is to say the limits the sky???
And you ask why? Why do you think I'm crying you bastard.
It's cause I'm at your funeral putting flowers on your casket. "Gerald" has switched genres, moving from the gangsta rap
genre with its playful, hardcore flocabulary, to the slam poetry genre that is often politically provocative, critical and self-reflective. After the events that took place at the talent show
and the conversations with "Tim", as well as the Hip-Hop
course, "Gerald's" eyes were opened to a more complete
and complex interpretation of words and relations. "Language is a more powerful tool than a gun." "Tim's" response to the talent show
is a powerful example of the absolute
value of directly addressing the politics of
popular representations as part of the curriculum. Tim helped turn the classroom into a space
for exploring politics and ambiguity of both
text and life by confronting the talent show
controversy head-on. The accounts of the talent show were
only one of many wide-ranging discussions in the class on politics and language. Other topics included: The tensions between freedom of expression in the slam and the need for mixed audiences. The historical and contemporary politics and dynamics of the N-word. The challenge and possibilities of parody and who might feel misrepresented. "Tim's" decision to build a curriculum around rap
and spoken word culture meant that the disconnect
between African American youth and mainstream
schooling became part of the lesson at hand. History 404: Topics in American History
The Hip-Hop Generation
Professor Greg Carter
This is a class that is offered at UWM
every semester.
http://www4.uwm.edu/letsci/history/faculty/carter.cfm David Omotoso Stovall, PhD | Faculty Associate

David Stovall received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2001. Presently he is an Assistant Professor of Policy Studies in the College of Education and the Department of African-Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is a member of the design team at the Greater Lawndale/Little Village High School for Social Justice, which opened in the fall of 2005. He also serves as a social studies teacher at this school. His curriculum investigates the power of hip-hop
and the culture that it incorporates. Popular culture and especially hip-hop,
will always exist in some kind of tension
with school culture. Schools are historically
structured around White middle-class ideologies
that often marginalize African American youth
and other minority youth from working class
families or living in poverty. There has always
been tension and a social gap in understanding,
but neither side wants to budge and both ignore
the potentially productive quality between
hip-hop culture and schools. With the help of
"Tim", Dr. Carter and Dr. Sovall, we are
bridging the gap one song at a time.
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