Frantzy Luzincourt, 19
Born in Brooklyn, New York, to Haitian immigrants, Frantzy Luzincourt has dedicated his life to justice, service, and the empowerment of youth voices. Luzincourt discovered ways to champion social justice when he was 15 years old and he served as the founding president of his high school’s Black Student Union. It was Luzincourt’s first leadership experience and he attributes his participation and passion in this club to his mentor and teacher at the time, Mr. Maurice Blackmon. To fight the resistance in the school community (predominantly white and affluent) to having a Black Student Union—and to educate his community on the historical significance and universal benefits that a BSU contributes—Blackmon advocated for more black male teachers, and led efforts to bring social justice into school curricula. Blackmon's example empowered Luzincourt to organize panels and workshops with similar goals and messages. After two years of engaging the opposition with friendly debate and open invitations, the Black Student Union is consistently the most popular and well attended club on campus. Luzincourt has served on the Department of Education's Borough Student Advisory Council, eventually becoming the Chairperson of the Chancellor's Student Advisory Council, representing 1.1 million peers.
Luzincourt currently serves as the Director of Policy for IntegrateNYC, an organization that fights to integrate NYC public schools through student voice and advocacy. As a leader, Luzincourt recognizes the importance of youth and amplifies their voices and writing to create just and accurate policies that benefit all. His own writing tends to be conversational and indicative of the bold passion mirrored in his physical voice. Luzincourt has been published in the Department of Education’s Chancellor Connections with a piece that highlights the importance of student voices and its crucial role in policy making in the education sector. He hopes that his actions inspire others away from their complacency. Luzincourt believes that if people were more active and participated in every facet of their lives, we would have a world where every demographic was engaged, politically and civically, which would encourage a cohesive and progressive planet.
Luzincourt is a Macaulay Honors student at The City College of New York, studying Political Science and Legal Studies. He plans to obtain a joint Juris Doctor and Masters in Public Policy degree in order to pursue civil rights litigation and be an advocate for those who feel voiceless, as well as work with the Department of Justice and improve the criminal justice system.
Hip Hop Pedagogy: From the Booth to the Classroom
by Frantzy Luzincourt
Audience: My intended audience includes educators who are looking to include a culturally relevant education within their curriculum. This is a paper designed for educators to recognize Hip Hop as a viable tool to engage, enrich, and enlighten their students.
Traditionally, Hip Hop has been viewed as unprofessional, and designated to not have a place in academia. However, people often forget that Hip Hop actually birthed from a social justice movement spearheaded by black and brown youth. So, in a sense, the expressive art that black and brown youth utilize to describe the conditions that surround them are in turn being described as unprofessional – and that is problematic. Hip Hop is what can be described as Culturally Relevant Education, or CRE. CRE is a pedagogy that recognizes the cultures of the students and the experiences that come with that, using them as a tool of strength in the classroom, rather than a cookie cutter formula that is often used. Hip Hop is actually a global, youth-led, social movement that influences language, has history, traditions, and other attributes of an almost religious like culture. Many of its aspects, such as writing lyrics, performing, and DJ’ing, all contribute to multiple intelligences that enrich a student’s education. The sooner we recognize Hip Hop’s value as a culture, and the educational translations of many parts of that culture, the sooner we can teach “Education as the practice of freedom as opposed to the practice of domination” (Banks). In this paper I am going to argue that Hip Hop is a social justice movement that should be valued, is a culturally relevant pedagogy that can be applied in classrooms for an enriching experience, and teaches multiple intelligences that are useful in a plethora of fields.
The constant commercialization of Hip Hop and the way it has been in the media over the last decade changed the spotlight on the culture as a whole. The trend decided that Hip Hop as a culture is centered around the most popular artist, personifying it rather than acknowledging the larger cultural and community-centered ideals that Hip Hop generally stands for. The foundation of Hip Hop started in the South Bronx, NYC during the 1970s, and is referred to as the creation of “something from nothing.” That is because those who were most vulnerable with no opportunities, black and brown youth in economically castrated neighborhoods, were able to create a culture that is globally recognized today. As a result of the conditions that the youth were subject to, those environmental conditions were also reflected in their music. Now a common criticism, in an attempt to delegitimize Hip Hop and its cultural significance, is that the music of today reflects what Hip Hop stands for – over usage of profane and offensive language. However, Daniel Banks, Ph.D., a theatre director, choreographer, and educator responds to this well in his essay titled “Hip Hop as Pedagogy: Something from Something,” where he argues that Hip Hop pedagogy is a crucial component of the classroom. Banks mentions that, “misogyny and greed, for example, are not unique to Hip Hop; they are omnipresent in consumer culture and have appropriated Hip Hop’s voice, beats, and rhymes to sell products” (Banks). What we fail to understand is that the current faults of Hip Hop do not change or alter the fact that it was created as, and still is, a social justice movement that is culturally relevant.
For example, during the radical movements of the late 1980s we have seen Black nationalism seep into Hip Hop culture with music created by Public Enemy, KRS ONE, and Paris. According to Professor Kamau Rashid, of the National-Louis University in Chicago, in his essay “Start the Revolution: Hip Hop Music and Social Justice Education,” the political movement within Hip Hop does multiple things: “reflects an appropriation of the ideological tenets of Black radicalism in the 60s-70s and signals the totalizing nature of capitalism in opposition” (344). Professor Rashid acknowledges the integral part Hip Hop played during radical social movements, as it served as an artistic, organizational, and institutional voice of “postindustrial urban Black [and Brown] communities” (344). Furthermore, Hip Hop’s contributions were witnessed on a global scale as they often worked with and had the same ethos as the Afrika Bambatta Universal Zulu Nation (another cultural movement from Africa), and the United Nations recognized and ratified the official Hip Hop declaration of peace in 2001. With all the credentials that Hip Hop has throughout history, that recognition should and must permeate to the current day. On that platform and foundation of being a legitimate, globally recognized social justice movement led by the youth, I am proposing that we can learn from it – the same way we learn from various other cultural and social movements in history. We cannot be duped into assuming that just a few commercialized artists and songs represent Hip Hop and cannot use that wrong assumption as a basis for rejecting an entire cultural movement and preventing it from being recognized as legitimate in educational settings and other public spaces.
The cultural weight of Hip Hop translates into the pedagogical needs of students as there are multiple intelligences aligned with Hip Hop elements that students can learn a lot from. Harvard Professor Howard Gardner defines an intelligence as “a biopsychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture” (Banks). Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences mirror Hip Hop elements and Daniel Banks, breaks down this relationship. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, or MI, consist of seven core intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. Theses seven intelligences work hand-in-hand for persons using them to understand the world and applying them to solve problems. Hip Hop elements are creative responses to an oppressive marginalizing society. For example, the art of writing lyrics to describe the circumstances that the writer faces on a day to day basis. That Hip Hop element of writing is parallel to one of Harvard Professor Gardner’s multiple intelligences, “intrapersonal,” where it is necessary for an MC to have intrapersonal skills in order to describe their own experiences, philosophies, and responses to their surroundings which are revealed in their lyrics. These parallel relationships are consistent with multiple intelligences and Hip Hop elements, with MC’ing and the linguistic intelligence, B-boys and the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, and several more – the below table by Daniel Banks describes the rest in detail:
A professor from the pinnacle of standard American academia developed a theory describing these seven core intelligences that people use in order to understand the world around them. And Daniel Banks was able to match up all of these intelligences with vital elements of Hip Hop, justifying the usefulness and pedagogical relevance of Hip Hop. While the idea of hip-hop fostering multiple intelligences may come as a surprise to some readers, it shouldn’t. And if it does, it reflects the very problem I’m addressing, which is the fact that we have for too long assumed Hip-Hop and its communities to be inferior, illegitimate, and unintelligent compared to mainstreamed culture. The tie between culture and academics are apparent in this relationship pointed out by Banks. The best medium for students to fully grasp the world around them is through culture, hence the push for a Culturally Responsive Education, and what better way than a culture that is of the students and created by people that are in similar positions as them. With this in mind, we can already begin to imagine how Hip Hop pedagogy brings culture into the classroom to enrich the learning experience.
Because Hip Hop has been founded on socially conscious material, it can fit into curriculums as a medium to help facilitate discussion on those same social issues. Some of the most prominent socially conscious rappers are Joey Bada$$ and his newly released American political commentary album All Amerikkkan Badass (2017) and Kendrick Lamar, and his critically acclaimed album To Pimp a Butterfly (2015), which talks about issues pertaining to race, colorism, religion, and even the artist’s own relationship with substance abuse. Professor of Literature Brian Mooney draws a connection with those issues, and the topic of oppression being discussed in his college literature class in his education-driven blog, titled “Why I Dropped Everything and Started Teaching Kendrick Lamar’s New Album.” Even though he takes the traditional route and introduced these themes with classic texts such as The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Professor Mooney recognized that the issues in Kendrick’s album were parallel with those in Toni Morrison’s novel – critiques of white supremacy, and inspiration of the Black is Beautiful cultural movement during the 1960s. Songs on his album include lyrics such as “I love myself” and “light don’t mean you smart, bein’ dark don’t make you stupid” (TPAB). The hip-hop song lyrics that were being studied by the students now served as a resource for the students when writing their essays, and the Professor acknowledged this by including the album into the prompt – “How is the influence of the “Black is Beautiful” cultural movement of the 1960s visible in both Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye (1970) and Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)?” The introduction of Hip Hop to study the same topics pushed the students to actually work harder because it was a medium that is culturally relevant. As Mooney explains, “more than half my students opted for that prompt, even though it requires more work.” (Mooney). But, it is important to note that Hip Hop application in the classroom stems beyond just the social sciences and liberal arts, there is place for it within STEM classes as well. In New York Times writer John Leland’s article, “A Hip-Hop Experiment,” rapper GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan teams up with a Columbia University Professor Christopher Emdin to use hip-hop in order engage students of color, who usually are not engaged, in STEM fields. One of the main elements of hip hop is the cypher where participants stand in a circle and take turns rapping, supporting each other’s rhymes; building off the previous person’s ideas and incorporating them into their own. According to Dr. Emdin, “A hip-hop cypher is the perfect pedagogical moment where someone’s at the helm of a conversation and then one person’s stops and another picks up” (Leland). From there, rapper GZA led the students from a local Staten Island school into a hip-hop cypher based on science, using some songs from his album on the cosmos, and the results, according to teacher Mr. Fisher is that “my students became invested in physics, able to identify terminology or vocabulary and is able to use that to apply scientific formulas” (Leland). Hip Hop has a place in the classroom not only through the concrete content of certain songs, but also because of the practices within Hip-Hop that are a key part of the learning experience. As we can see in just this one example, students were more engaged in the classroom which lead to more learning overall.
Now of course, there are going to be staunch opposition to several of the points I have made within this paper, with the ground belief that what they, the opposition, are arguing is in the benefit of a proper education which is taught with integrity. This claim from the opposition assumes that Hip-Hop is not “proper” and cannot be taught with integrity. It is imperative that we do not let the consumerist current manifestations of what we call Hip Hop cloud our judgement as to what the pillars of Hip Hop are – which include social justice, community, and activism. It is often the case that whatever is most prominent in social media or any type of media that it becomes the “face” of whatever their platform is. I am not blaming the media (completely, at least), but rather highlighting that the Hip Hop that serves as a social movement and voice for those who would otherwise have not been listened to does exist in the current day if one just knows where to look (i.e. Kendrick Lamar). Now I am not calling for educators to throw out all of our other approaches and include a whole bunch of the latest rap songs. What I am trying to do is break down problematic stereotypes that dismiss an entire cultural movement, and that there are actually plenty of examples from Hip Hop worthy of inclusion in today’s educational approaches.
Those who oppose my argument may also question the relevance of a Culturally Relevant Education and the multiple intelligences that Hip Hop teaches with the impending standardized test scores that are still demanded at the end semester. To that, I would look at the aforementioned “A Hip-Hop Experiment” article by John Leland in The New York Times, and how the relationship between science and Hip Hop encouraged minority participation in STEM fields, when their representation has been at an all-time low. But even then, that is not satisfactory to those who are sympathetic to the idea of Hip Hop pedagogy as long as they still have to operate within the confines of the systems that demand x amount of results. They feel that Hip Hop CRE and the corresponding multiple intelligences are a sort of luxury that can’t be afforded, especially by the same minorities that it is supposed to help. At this point, I would say the argument turns into what you as an educator feel is the best thing for your students in the long run, preparing for them to excel at the system, or perhaps providing them with the tools to one day change it. Of course, I would choose the latter, but educators all have to make that sort of introspective and moral decision about what they believe is best for the nation’s future. I just hope that this opened a lot of eyes and put new tools and possibilities on those educators’ plates.
Although it is indeed in the hands of the educators to decide to use Hip Hop within their curriculum, there are several points that I need to make clear for those reading this paper. Hip Hop is not something to pushed to the side as trivial or “something that kids do in their free time.” This is a culture, a movement, and a force that has influence culture across continents. Additionally, this is a movement that was birthed from the voices of the oppressed, so what does it say about us as a society when we try to silence Hip Hop or brand it as something other than what it is - accurate representative voices that reflect societies that they experienced? Furthermore, Hip Hop is understood as a culturally relevant pedagogy. Here in New York City, 70% of students are ones of color. Why not include a culture that they can relate to, one that often reflects the conditions that they are in, in a curriculum, and their day to day presence within a classroom. But speaking of all students as a whole, allowing them to access Hip Hop teaches them various intelligences that can be replicated in any pedagogical or academic setting. Whether it be STEM, an English class, or even at a workshop – the elements and practices of Hip Hop are useful. If educators truly want what is best for their students, and to provide them with complete authentic educations, especially those who are most vulnerable, then Hip Hop needs to have a space within that, and to be recognized for its true worth to academics and society as a whole.
Banks, Daniel. "Hip Hop as Pedagogy: Something from Something." Theatre Topics vol. 25.3. 2015 pp. 243-59. 06 Apr. 2017. Web.
Lamar, Kendrick. To Pimp a Butterfly. Top Dawg Entertainment, Aftermath Records, Interscope Records, 2015. CD.
Leland, John. "A Hip-Hop Experiment." The New York Times. The New York Times. 17 Nov. 2012. 06 Apr. 2017. Web.
Mooney, Brian. "Why I Dropped Everything And Started Teaching Kendrick Lamar’s New Album." Brian Mooney. Wordpress, 28 Apr. 2015. 06 Apr. 2017. Web.
Rashid, Kamau. “Start the Revolution”: Hip Hop Music and Social Justice Education.” Africology: The Journal of Pan African Studies vol.9 no.4 pp. 344. July 2016. 06 Apr. 2017. Web.