By Damali Eastmond-Scott – History Teacher at Manchester Enterprise Academy, Wythenshawe
Hip-hop as an umbrella for multiple subgenres has always been my number one. Sharing with reggae, a multi-faceted genre that I grew up to; a sound that brings back memories of sunny days in South London, sitting in my mother’s red Ford Orion bopping my head to the popular urban radio station, Choice FM. Hip-hop allowed me to explore social issues that other commercial genres wouldn’t dabble in. However, there was always one theme that caused listeners to question hip-hop and its intentions; forcing people to validate its sentiment and subconscious messages. This stretches as far as turning listeners away from it. The contentious problem is the topic of love and relationships.
Typically, rap artists convey their feelings towards women and relationships in a negative way. Some boast about their polygamous habits and have women half naked displaying assets which are precious to the female form. There is also a habit in referring to women as ‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’, which spreads like wildfire in creating a self-fulfilling prophecy amongst young women and a casualness from men about berating women. Such themes are prominent in the minds of listeners and spectators when you say the words ‘hip-hop’. In discussion, individuals rarely mention the roots of the genre in breakdancing or emceeing as a cathartic and uplifting expression of freedom for black youth in 1980s New York. Nor do individuals appreciate the universal language that hip-hop has delivered to the world where other less franchised groups have embraced and moulded into a sound which expresses their culture and experience.
I have heard people argue that hip-hop music should take responsibility for influencing young children in adverse ways, although these people tend to be individuals who have not given themselves the opportunity to engage with the genre to understand the perspective of its artists. Such opinions are common amongst those who are unfamiliar with hip-hop, as some of the most popular tracks are club hits which get a lot of airtime on commercial radio and television, which is also the reason children are exposed to some negative discourses surrounding love and relationships. Not a lot of work has been done around the positive influences of hip-hop, particularly when it comes to educating our young people about how to decipher the genre and make sense of its messages.
Hence, I planned a high school lesson exploring the theme of love in two contrasting subgenres of hip-hop: conscious rap and gangster rap. Having the art form compared against two different versions of itself to explore the messages and intentions was insightful as to the plethora of meaning the genre can present. The songs at the centre of this lesson are ‘You Got Me’ by The Roots and ‘Song Cry’ by Jay Z . It is clear from the name, dress sense and rhythm that the two artists have different narratives but both use rap to convey them. The intended outcome of exposing teenagers to these songs simultaneously is to encourage young listeners to seek out and appreciate the various messages that hip-hop emits. Artists like The Roots and Erykah Badu are not typically in the sphere of influence of a modern British teenager; this comes from experience of my employment in a secondary school. Still, for a genre that holds so much currency amongst young people in Britain, as an educator I have the responsibility and the means to broaden their perspective of hip-hop and give them the ability to make sensible interpretations and conclusions about the discourses they are immersed in.