Pop Culture

The Poet & The Teacher: Hip Hop Classes I’d Like To See

I'll be Pres-o-dent.

So Dr. Michael Eric “I Use 100 Words When 1 Will Do” Dyson is teaching a class at Georgetown University on Jay-Z this semester. The class entitled “Sociology of Hip-Hop: Jay-Z” focuses on the literary works and genius of our dear Mr. Carter. You know school is fun when Fade To Black is required viewing. (Not for nothing I think State Property could have an entire class in film school devoted to it.) Dyson is no stranger to the wonderful world of hip-hop having written popular yet terrible works on Tupac and Nas and even taught a class at UPenn onTupac. Seriously, Holler If You Hear Me might have been the biggest waste of words on Tupac ever.

Obviously, I’m no fan of Dyson and frankly think his books suck more a** than Jessica Grabbit. I’m also generally against the intellectualization of hip hop. Not because it doesn’t deserve it, but I tend to think that most of the books written about hip-hop by academics tend to be books written by fairly dissociated ninjas trying to sell hip-hop to a bunch of older white fogeys who would never give hip hop a real shot in hell anyway. No matter how much you focus on the poetry and inherent struggle present in SOME of the music, there’s no way to make “Laffy Taffy” an exercise in academia anyway.

But I would take any class on hip hop. Word.Booty. And I do think that people like Tupac and Jay are deserving of some sort of analysis given their accomplishments as people and the medium they chose to use. So despite the teacher, I’m glad these classes exist. And you know what? There are lots of other classes that I think would serve any student population well. Like what? Glad you asked.

Criminal Justice 104: Gucci Mane, DMX, and TI – Rapper Recidvism and the Prison Industrial Complex

This class would study the mentality of rappers who’ve made more money than they know what to do with but somehow cannot stay out of jail for sh*t. Specific blocks of the class would be based on probablity of Gucci Mane returning to jail every year (trick question: 100%) and why DMX seems to LIKE jail. Also, the stupidity of people with the world at their fingertips. See Harris, Clifford “Tip” Required Viewing: Tiny and Toya.

History 376 – The South Rose Again…But Not Like You Thought

This class would look at the South’s meteoric ascent to the top of the mainstream rap landscape with a specific focus on the loss of regionality in hip-hop with every song sounding like a Southern Anthem. New York’s yielding of power to the South would be examined to include an analysis of ASAP Rocky, a rapper from Harlem who seems like a Compton gangbanger who raps likes from Houston. Further discussion into the Southern backlash by northern rappers while making southern rap songs and going to Southern producers for their biggest hits. Required Viewing: MTV Jamz

Psychology 341 – Cam’Ron and DipSet: The Birth of A Nation

This class would look at the influence of The Diplomats on the psyche of America. Cam’ron’s ability to influence an entire nation of masculine dudes to wear pink and purple on purpose. It would also discuss influence of Harlem on hip-hop’s landscape and the DipSet influence in America specificaly from 2001-2006.Required Viewing: All DipSet videos and home video footage of American urban youth during those years

Business 402 – Independent Rap Labels and Trunk Muzik

Focus on No Limit, Rap-A-Lot, Suave House, and the rise of the indy rap labels that spawned a new business model for record companies. Required Viewing: Baller Blockin’, I’m Bout It, Foolish, Choices, Hot Boys

Sociology 119 – The Wire and You

An analysis of the reality versus the fantasy of The Wire and how the representation was a perfect mechanism for illustrating needs for certain social reforms in America’s urban centers. Required Viewing: The Wire…duh

Fashion and Design 224 – From Jansport To The Louis Vuitton Duffel Bag

The rise of the backpack as a fashion accessory of hip-hop artists. The travel bags omnipresent role in hip-hop. The origins of backpack rap and the profession to the to the Kanye West Louis Vuitton backpack accessories and dope boy LV duffel. Required Viewing: MTV Jamz/Sex And The City

Philosophy 843 – WTF is A Wacka Flocka Flame? The Genius and The Prophet

WWWWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACKAAAAA! ABCDEFGHIJK!!! FLOCKA FLOCKA!!!! WAAAAAAAACKA!!! The life and depth of the worst rapper ever to have 3 straight number one songs? Wacka Flocka – idiot or are we the dumb ones? Is Wacka really a genius? All these questions and more answered. Required Viewing: WorldStarHipHop

Those are some of my suggestions. Good people of VSB, show me what you got. What classes based on hip-hop do you think would be dope in academia??

Talk to me.


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Damon Young

Panama Jackson is pretty fly for a light guy. He used to ship his frito to Tito in the District, but shipping prices increased so he moved there to save money. When he's not saving humanity with his words or making music with his mouth, you can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking her fine liquors. Most importantly, he believes the children are our future.

  • Iamnotakata

    Psych 411: The reality of Hip Hop Music Videos

    This course would discuss all the elements of Hip Hop music videos and what’s really going on to make these guys look like real thugs and ballers…Lesson 1 would start with appearance of excessive popping of bottles…video girls and the extensive procedures they went through to look the way they do i.e(air brush, surgery lots of make up), Rappers like Rick Ross are indeed not thugs, explanations about how Lil Wayne and Drake don’t actually own the 5 Rolls Royce and 6 lambos in there videos and so on and so on

    • http://ccooper929.wordpress.com/ Chad C.

      Now that’s the kind of class I would sign up for. There’s a need for a lesson to explain the artist behind the music. Some sort of table to identify who’s really gangster vs. a studio gangster.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      I feel like Interscope would put the kibosh on the class and little tiny men in Black suits would come in and whisk the professor away never to be seen again until 20 years later hugging onto a volleyball he named RuPaul.

    • http://www.ifiruled2011.wordpress.com Mahogany Princess

      Ha…good one!

    • O_Oawok

      What abt a class on the influence of Scarface/Godfather/Goodfellas on Hip Hop?

  • Mo-VSS

    Soooo…yeah. Definitely gonna just comment on the comments cuz I got nothing.

    Oh, one thing. DMX needs to be medicated. That is all.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/XylinaChapman Lina

      I guess self-medication doesn’t count lol

    • http://www.twitter.com/IluminatiNYC Todd

      Well, he’s admitted a bipolar diagnosis, so that’s not out of line.

      • Mo-VSS

        I know and that’s why I said it. Unmedicated bipolar sufferers have a very hard life. With meds, it’s MUCH better.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      The interesting thing is that DMX has recently said that he’s off that powder. Now, I can’t say that I believe him, but I cant lie…I’m fairly certain he’s going to go back to jail at least once.

      Hell, in a recent interview he said he could go back for 20 years and still come out and be a dope rapper. I ain’t saying it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy…but errrrrum…

  • http://zekjevets.blogspot.com Zek J Evets

    The academization of Hip-Hop is nothing new. And sadly, no improvement have apparently been made between Berkeley’s Tupac course in ’97, and this latest development.

    Now, while I’m loathe to admit that my adventures in higher education were still worthwhile, I’m a firm believer that where we truly learn is not always in a classroom, but can be in the public library, on-the-job during lunch hour, and even on the bus with some headphones on.

    Hip-Hop is distinguished from Rap music because it’s NOT something you can codify, juxtapose, and fit neatly into a syllabus for easy consumption by suburban kids just waiting for their next Dixie cup filled full of Natty-Ice.

    True Hip-Hop is far too revolutionary for that.

    However, if they ever offer a class discussing the obscure references of Aesop Rock, you can bet I’ll be front row center with my pencil-box.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      You’d be in that class alone. Btw, I never really got into Aesop Rock. I know he’s supposed to be dope and all. Just couldn’t really do it.

      Also, while I know the academization of hiphop is nothing new, I’ve never been a fan. I remember meeting Tricia Rose some months back and I really just wanted to ask her if she really felt like she added anything to the discourse b/c I thought her book blew chunks. I didn’t know. I respect my elders. And she got a donk.

  • Dc1913

    Psychology 317: Genius vs. Insanity: a study in what the hell happened to lauryn hill and research on how to reverse the process.

    • http://ccooper929.wordpress.com/ Chad C.

      That sounds like a good research project for someone like myself who will be entering grad school soon. If I can only secure some grant money, I could introduce some breakthrough research to the world, write a book, have a sit down interview w/ lauryn hill, and parlay that into a professorship. Or I’ll go insane in the process of trying to find the truth.

    • LadyC

      Postpartum much? He neva let the woman heal, just sayin’

      • http://6monthsto30.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/wait-what/ chunk


    • http://magnetforfoolishness.wordpress.com Magnet for Foolishness


    • http://6monthsto30.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/wait-what/ chunk

      I was going to make a class surrounding this… but it have to include at least one thesis that she isn’t in fact crazy…. some of the acoustic album has some lyrics that make me think she’s anything _but_ crazy…. so this would make a good class!

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      I think that martians are going to be studying this 2million years from now. then somebody’s gonna say, “wait, she kirked out on the Pope…AT THE VATICAN??!?!?”

    • http://www.ifiruled2011.wordpress.com Mahogany Princess

      Didn’t we learn that creative geniuses beget insanity….plus drugs, too many d@@@ kids, and a self-righteous baby daddy.

      • Mo-VSS

        Who denys your kids…yeah, all of that is a recipe for disaster

  • Newnanite

    Women Studies 210: Nicki Minaj (cross listed with Fashion 210: What Not to Wear and How to do It) and Psychology 210: Multiple personality disorders)

    Her “persona” is something else. Between the random growly voices and the clothes and the Barbie doll ambitions, I could spend an entire semester trying to figure her out.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      anybody but me wonder if Nicki Minaj really sits at home reading Tolstoy?? I kind of think that might be the case.

    • Mena

      I had no respect for her until i heard her actually speak and i realized that she could form a complete sentence. She is straight garbage though. I just don’t get it.

      • Be On It

        She is a less revered version of Gaga. Nicki was your standard (semi)attractive wanna-be singer/rapper getting NO LOVE from labels. She realizes that image > content in this music landscape (and society too, sadly) and does the whole barbie thing. She bit Kim (like Gaga bit Madonna and Grace Jones), added some funny voices, pouts about not being taken seriously because she willingly played the sexpot, and tries to ride off her earlier work as evidence that the persona is more than a crazy colored wig and some childish gibberish over heavily sampled beats. I’m not mad at her hustle, in spite of how much I hate that she’s on my satellite radio waves.

  • lotusflower11

    I read an research paper about how young African American women’s views on sexuality are shaped through “scripts” in hip hop culture. Young women take on roles such as the “diva,” “freak,” or “Sista Savior”. Very very interesting.

    • CurlyTop

      ^^^ Class–> Women’s Studies 4311: P* Poppin’ on a Head Wrap

      Focuses of women in hip-hop like Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Queen Latifah, Moni Love, Nicki Minaj etc and women who have had hip-hop/rap in them (i.e. Kat Stacks, etc)

      • http://6monthsto30.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/wait-what/ chunk


      • Nell

        Can we have “Erykah Badu’s Vagina” as an extra-credit elective? I mean, I just gotta know how she’s able to pull negroes like Andre 3000, Common AND Jay Electronica. What am I doing wrong? :-( LMAO!!!!

        • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

          I think this would be the one class every woman at an HBCU would take…and every man would attempt to NOT date her for that very reason. basically, the species would die out.

          • Be On It

            Nah, cuz you forget that dudes have to have a crazy chick at least once in their lives. So all the women in that class just need to throw some crazy…deranged on for a few months and they can snag a dude. lol

  • Anonymous

    You need to go to Duke University then. Professor Mark Anthony Neal teaches many classes dealing with hip hop. One class I took was co-taught by Grammy-award winning producer 9th Wonder and dealt with hip hop and sampling (we discussed everyone from Ray Charles and Michael Jackson to Kanye West, Lil Kim and Beyonce). In this same class, we dissected Erykah Badu’s “Window Seat” video and it’s relation to JFK, and we discussed MJB’s performance of Led Zeplin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” He also taught a graduate level course (open to undergrads) where one of the required readings was Jay-Z’s Decoded. Great professor, great class.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      Okay, I have a question for you and I’m glad you’re here. Are you a like a hiphop head? Or somebody with an interest that gained something from the class. Because here’s my dilemma with some of this stuff. I’m pretty much as deep a hiphop head as can be. I wonder how much I’d actually gain from a class like that. I can’t imagine much and in some ways because of how deeply my own personal research and interests go, I’d worry about feeling patronized in some of those classes. Like I know 9th, and we’ve had discussions about samples etc, and as somebody who lives in liner notes, I wonder what I could be “taught” so to speak. So what did you get out of the class?

      • Anonymous

        I don’t know if I would consider myself a hiphop head before the classes I took. However, I definitely would consider myself more “hip hop conscious” after taking the class if that makes any sense. Did I gain anything from the class? I think so. It taught me another way of looking at hip hop music, but it definitely wasn’t a class where I was patronized. It was more so a space where the professor would through ideas at you just to see how you’d respond. And then the class would go back and forth. One question I posted for the class when we discussed Black Diaspora as Intellectual Property:

        The creation of another sector of music, “Afrobeat,” is illustrated in “Power Music, Electric Revival” when Patel discusses how London served as a musical social conduit for Nigerian artist Fela Kuti. It’s obvious that the practice of borrowing and sampling is not solely confined to black music within the United States. In class discussions, Dr. Neal mentioned James Brown borrowing authentic African music (after his trip to Africa) from Kuti to formulate and perfect his own art form, and African influence was further reiterated in Pierre’s Bennu’s montage of black artists and their additions to the musical diaspora.

        With that said, international music tends to have prestige globally, yet the United States is, for the most part, not versed on the success of outside music—especially popular African artists. (Evinced when superstars like Lauryn Hill did not understand the significance of Kuti’s music whose content has its foundations in rebellion, politics, social/class issues, and human rights). What is causing this possible block of entry (or popularity) of international soul music into the United States when artists like 50 Cent, Beyoncé and Jay-Z are pervasive in these countries? Why does the transfer of music seem only one-sided? Are Americans just unresponsive to forms of international music, pursuing a sort of musical Manifest Destiny, or is there a disconnect between black artists in America and black artists in Africa?

        We can discuss this more if you’d like, Panama.

        Now, 9th wasn’t really heavy on his opinions. He just interjected mostly with the intellectual property dilemmas rappers and producers ran into when they sampled music. For example, he talked about how Kanye made no money off “Golddigger.”

    • http://panamaenrique.wordpress.com Malik

      My hate for 9th Wonder has appeared and intensified after reading his Twitter and hearing his opinions.

      • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

        really? why is that exactly?

        • http://panamaenrique.wordpress.com Malik

          Just little things on top of little things. He was recently whining about people not liking Mac Miller because he’s an extremely positive guy. He once said on Twitter that Drake was a great rapper because he enunciated well. ENUNCIATION! He was very glib about his comments concerning the Watch the Throne production talking about it didn’t ‘move him’ to create music. He takes the professor role too seriously for a guy with less than 5 classic beats.

  • http://twitter.com/wavecapwillis Wave Cap Willis

    The Hip-Hop Word Count Project is a real-life endeavor that’s pretty compelling. Its goal is to “lock in a time and geographic location for every metaphor, simile, cultural reference, phrase, rhyme style, meme and socio-political idea used in the corpus of Hip-Hop.”

    Here’s the link: http://staplecrops.com/index.php/hip-hop-word-count-intro-video/

    As for fake-life coursework, I’m going to abstain…for now.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      Well that seems like something that is absolutely interesting and THAT is something you could base an entire course upon. Hip-hop and it’s social and demographic changes, etc.

      how does hip-hop really move? that’s dope. thanks for that.

      • http://twitter.com/tahero Tahero

        @ Wave Cap Willis
        Good looking out for adding my project to the discussion.

        @ Panama Jackson
        If you want to join us and research some of these topics I can send you a log in and create some datavis to go along with your writing.

        I’m premiering the US rapper mentions of Champagne brands datavis on Wednesday at MoMA: http://bit.ly/p6jNYA


  • organiker

    Actual course here:

    Religious Studies 311: Religion and Hip-Hop Culture (co-taught by Bernard Freeman better known as Bun B)

    • LadyC

      I heard! And I kinda love it, good for him ;)

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      I will say that was one class when I heard about it, i was intrigued by the idea because it has no choice but to actually dig into the connection between the two.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/toodrove Advent

    What is this trend of analyzing hip hop albums and artists as part of the school curriculum? What happened to headphones and a long walk home? This “new America” annoys me. I blame this all on Drake.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      I dont know, I think Jim Jones is still the reason why the world might end in 2012…or actually…ain’t it all supposed to end in a few days now since it didn’t happen in like April or May or something???

      • http://twitter.com/#!/toodrove Advent

        It’s quite possible. I could go on about the dipset for hours based on “no homo” alone, but I’ll refrain. I guess it all goes back to looking for deeper meaning in song lyrics, something that’s been done in every other genre. After some reflection, I don’t really think hip hop should be much different I guess.