Tag Archives: Michigan State University

Hip-Hop and Transformative Teaching for the Community: Bonus Cut Visits #ULITT2014


By: Daniel Hodgman

On Saturday, Gus and I headed over to Brody on the campus of Michigan State University to attend the Urban Literacies Institute for Transformative Teaching (ULITT), an annual event that supports teachers, educators, students, youth organizers, activists and community leaders that engage in social justice and hip-hop pedagogy. One of ULITT’s most important missions is to explore critical issues affecting today’s youth, and through this ULITT uses spoken word poetry and hip-hop as powerful tools and a lens to explore language, privilege, youth development and community action. ULITT is held by CAITLAH, a campus program organized by one of the directors David Kirkland, dedicated to further understanding teaching and learning through the fields of arts and humanities. CAITLAH works with educators, students, families, communities and schools to better the advancement of language and literacy for life.

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A Bonus Cut Feature: Impact 89FM Interviews Grieves


Last week, our friends over at Impact 89FM interviewed Rhymesayers‘ own Benjamin Laub (aka Grieves). On his way through Michigan supporting his Back On My Grizzly tour, Grieves sat down with 89FM in Grand Rapids.

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Community on a Larger Scale: Why I Have Always Hated Michigan State Riots


By: Daniel Hodgman

On Saturday, December 7th, the Michigan State football team beat Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game. Sealing the deal and stamping tickets to the Rose Bowl for the first time in over 20 years, Michigan State won the game in a 34-24 fashion. What happened afterward was what most people would call a “riot.” This is what I have to say:

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A Bonus Cut Feature: An Interview With Artist and Educator Dylan Miner (Part Two)


By: Gus Navarro

You can view Part One here

Earlier this summer, we sat down with artist, activist and educator Dylan AT Miner (Métis) to discuss how he incorporates elements of hip-hop into his artwork and teaching. Miner is a descendent of the Miner-Brissette-L’Hirondelle-Kennedy families with ancestral ties to Indigenous communities in the Great Lakes, prairies, and subarctic. He has collaborated with indigenous youth and artists to create spaces of reflection and resistance all around the world. He currently holds the position of assistant professor in the Residential College of the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University.

Excerpts from this interview with Dylan Miner were taken on May 17th, 2013…

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A Bonus Cut Feature: An Interview With Artist and Educator Dylan Miner

By: Gus Navarro

Part 1

Earlier this summer, we sat down with artist, activist and educator Dylan AT Miner (Métis) to discuss how he incorporates elements of hip-hop into his artwork and teaching. Miner is a descendent of the Miner-Brissette-L’Hirondelle-Kennedy families with ancestral ties to Indigenous communities in the Great Lakes, prairies and subarctic. He has collaborated with indigenous youth and artists to create spaces of reflection and resistance all around the world. He currently holds the position of assistant professor in the Residential College of the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University.

Excerpts from this interview with Dylan Miner were taken on May 17th, 2013…

Bonus Cut (BC):  When you hear the words hip-hop, what does it mean to you?

Dylan Miner (DM):  For me, hip-hop is an ontology; it’s a way of being in the world. I think a lot of times we think of hip-hop as a form of music or even a lifestyle. I think its both of these things but as someone who grew up involved in hip-hop and punk rock, I also see these as parallel movements of underground, alternative, anti-capitalist movements that have grown up in resistance. For me, hip-hop embodies a way of being in the world that goes against the dominant mode. We know that it comes out of the Bronx, out of New York City with Black and Latino communities in resistance to white colonial rule. If you look at it now, hip-hop is what youth movements are using throughout the world. You go meet with kids in Australia, I’ve worked with aboriginal kids in Australia and they’re listening to hip-hop. Young MCs are producing excellent music.  Everywhere you go kids are making hip-hop as a way of expressing themselves and resisting. So I see the five hip-hop elements as a way of being in the world that connects people.

BC:  Growing up as a kid you were involved in the hip-hop and punk rock scene, what does that mean exactly? How were you involved?

DM:  I tried my hand at being an MC and a DJ and wasn’t good at that. I tried breaking and wasn’t good at that either. I also wrote graffiti for a while with a couple of different tags, names and monikers but wasn’t good at that either. I’ve been involved in it in a variety of ways. In punk rock I made “zines” which are alternative magazines and published those and communicated with other people that way. I grew up in a small rural town in Michigan, out in the woods. Punk rock and hip-hop were a way that I was able to connect with people my age and people form other places and I thought that was important. I was involved on a variety of levels in my younger days but I was never anybody that was of importance. So now one of the things I do with my artwork is I work with youth and have a bunch of different projects that use hip-hop as the starting off point and as a way for us to speak of our shared experiences.

BC:  What is an example of how you use hip-hop in your art and with youth?

DM:  One of the more well-known projects I have is called Anishnaabensag Biimskowebshkigewag which means “Native Kids Ride Bikes.” Basically it’s a low-rider bike project that works with urban-indigenous kids throughout North America and takes hip-hop as a shared relationship and goes from there. We build low-rider bikes that allow us to talk about the origins of low-rider cars and bicycles. If you know the history, there are some conflicting histories, but many people say that the origins of the low-rider can be traced to Española, New Mexico. However, other folks say East Los Angeles, California. The low-rider is central to west coast hip-hop if not the east coast. It’s also an automobile and it’s a thing that runs on fossil fuels which is a way of transportation that is built off of the burning of deceased and fossilized animals that is creating a huge systematic climate change. So we have a conversation of hip-hop, a conversation of transportation, think about sustainable transportation and traditional forms of movement. We look at the low-rider bike as something that’s tied to ways that Native people moved in this continent before the automobile. For my community, we had something call the “Red River Cart” which is a two-wheeled cart.  In this part of the continent, people traveled by jimaan, which is a canoe. So this project uses hip-hop and then looks at the low-rider.  We then bring in fluent speaking elders in the traditional languages who impart their knowledge with the youth. We bring in “young professionals,” often times DJ’s and hip-hop artists and MCs. Through that multi-leveled, multi-aged, multi-generational collaboration we put together these low-rider bikes that are based in traditional knowledge, traditional ways of being in the world, as well as ones that are very much about contemporary indigenous lives. For many of these kids it means growing up in hip-hop and being involved in the hip-hop world.

BC:   As you said, hip-hop is being used as a jumping off point to promote collaboration and resistance. What are some of the other projects that use hip-hop?

DM:  That’s obviously the most central one. But as I’ve traveled and met people, I’ve done a little bit of collaborative work with Sacramento Knoxx who’s an Ojibwa-Chicano MC from Detroit. I recently did a project working with Latino and Native youth on both sides of the U.S. and Canada border. I worked with one group in Detroit and one group in Windsor, just across the Detroit River. We put together these mobile screen-printing carts, from bicycles created to function as work tricycles in Mexico, which we retrofit to be mobile screen-printing units. Those are now being used by a group of primarily Latino and Native MCs, graffiti artists and DJ’s in southwest Detroit called The Raiz Up. Southwest is primarily a Latino neighborhood in Detroit that in some ways is gentrifying, that has a large art world. The Raiz Up is an activist based collective of folks involved in hip-hop. Now they’re using this vehicle in community events at Clark Park and in other places in the neighborhood. I don’t see myself as an MC, DJ or graffiti artist anymore but I use the modes, the different elements as a way to influence what I’m doing now. I’ve collaborated with people all around the world. There is this great Sami artist in Northern Norway, in the Arctic Circle, in this community called Trømso. The Sami are the people once known as the Lapplanders, the indigenous reindeer herding peoples through Scandinavia and Northern Russia. This dude, Joar Nango, is putting together an archive of indigenous hip-hop. He’s archiving songs, meeting with artists and putting together a mix-tape. You’ll see these amazing events or moments emerging all over the world.  I don’t know if you or your readership is familiar with A Tribe Called Red, a three person DJ collective out of Canada that is blowing up right now. When I had a show up in Ottawa, Bear Witness, one of the three DJ’s played the reception. My bikes are also traveling as a part of this wonderful show called Beat Nation which is a traveling exhibition of all indigenous artists, primarily from the U.S. and Canada who have made art that was inspired by hip-hop. It’s not just me, but with urban-Native communities and Tribal communities throughout this continent there’s a relationship with hip-hop that I think is really important.

BC:  We’ve talked about hip-hop as a way of being and as a form of resistance against capitalist societies. However, there is this large presence of capitalism within the pop-culture realm of hip-hop. Why is that?

DM:  I think there’s always going to be those elements. It’s the same thing with any movement, any social movement and I think hip-hop is and has always been a social movement. Hip-hop is important because it’s not simply one aspect; it has five elements to it. It has the visual arts, it has the music, the performative, the lyrical or written word and then of course the fifth element. Depending on who you talk to, the fifth element is what I always talk about as knowledge. Other people talk about it as entrepreneurship or as community development. All of these things together make it an important social movement. Within social movements there’s always moments of cooptation, moments of disagreement, there’s always moments and space for differing voices and different perspectives. When you hear what’s on the radio and see the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine is that hip-hop? It’s an element of it, but it’s not central to it. What did KRS-ONE say about the difference between being a rapper and an MC?  The same happened to punk rock when it became mainstream. Especially with early groups like the Sex Pistols as they came of age and even in the 90’s with things like the popularization of Green Day. Now they have a Broadway show. Is a Broadway show punk rock? Not really but that doesn’t diminish what the roots are because the roots are important. For me, that’s what’s crucial about hip-hop. At the roots, these five elements when you think about them, when you understand them and they become a part of how you live your life, that really is in resistance to the dominant way of being in the world.

BC:  You’ve mentioned punk rock and groups such as the Sex Pistols and how they started out as group that embodied resistance. In a sense, hip-hop and punk rock are similar in that they are about defiance and struggle. Is there a way to group them together?

DM:  For me it’s all about youth sub-cultures. If we look globally and historically, young people have always been one of the most oppressed peoples in the world, especially in the modern nation-state. If you’re not eighteen, you really don’t have any rights. You can’t vote, you don’t have a say in governance, you’re forced to go to school whether or not you want to and in some ways these are meant to protect and create a specific form of society. At the same time, they’re very repressive. I think for me, hip-hop grows out of youth resistance and punk rock grows out of youth resistance. Initially, hip-hop was a black and brown collaborative effort in New York. Punk rock, depending on if you’re looking at it in the States or England, was mostly a white working-class movement. You could even say the same thing about elements of heavy metal. All of these genres are about youth creating a space for themselves in a world where they haven’t been allowed a say. For me, that’s the core that brings them together.

Stay tuned next week for part two of this interview! 

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Organizations That Matter: Impact 89FM and The Vibe


By: Daniel Hodgman

Growing up and living in East Lansing, Michigan for 22 years has shaped me more than I can imagine, and for that I’m thankful. As a kid among thousands, I have grown as close to the city as I possibly could have, and although I’m no longer a Michigan resident, East Lansing will remain close to my heart until the end of days.

For those readers who aren’t familiar with the area, East Lansing is a suburban city located due east of Lansing, Michigan’s capital. It’s home to Michigan State University, which stands on the south side of Grand River Ave., a tree-lined major road that divides the neighborhoods from the campus and also connects Lansing to Detroit. The main drag of East Lansing consists of college shops and restaurants, and despite the consistent shuffling of businesses (the old Taco Bell location WILL NEVER hold a company for more than a year; RIP Barnes & Noble), it serves as the epicenter to events like The Great Lakes Folk Festival, The Art Festival and Michigan State’s homecoming parade. Moreover, East Lansing’s diverse population and mix of residents, teachers and students provides a unique and fundamentally sound environment for anyone.

Along with a good chunk of my friends and residents of the Lansing area, I’ve seen things come and go, especially in the music scene. Some of the first records I bought were at Tower Records on Grand River and CD Warehouse on Abbot; my first local show was in middle school at The Temple Club, a venue that brought in acts like KRS-One, Story of the Year and Mustard Plug; and one of the first articles I ever wrote in college targeted Small Planet and its resurgence in Chandler Crossings and its eventual closing. While all of those venues are no longer a part of the Lansing area, new ones have surfaced to fill the gaps.

Most important about all of this however is that despite some venues’ fall, there are organizations and companies that have been here from the beginning. One of these is The Impact.


Impact 89FM is Michigan State’s student-run radio station that broadcasts on 88.9FM and streams online. It has been named “College Radio Station of the Year” 11 times by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, and has also been nominated by CMJ and mtvU.

During the day, the station shares the latest alternative, indie and rock music along with old cuts and classic tracks. Cuts like “The Top Five at Five” make daytime listening worthwhile because not only does the station share music with listeners, it actively seeks out to include them by giving away prizes and concert tickets. During the evening The Impact switches gears and provides listeners with speciality shows such as Sit or Spin, Accidental Blues and The Asian Invasion. One of The Impact’s speciality shows is The Vibe (FKA The Cultural Vibe), a program that has not only stood the test of time, but has challenged its listeners to dig into crates for raw and important hip-hop cuts.


On Saturday’s from 8pm to midnight, The Impact presents The Vibe, a speciality show that features hip-hop, soul and funk  in grand fashion. Highlighting both mainstream and underground songs that matter, DJ Riddle does an excellent job at showcasing the diversity and message hip-hop brings all while retaining flair on the radio. Unlike other hip-hop stations you’ll hear, The Vibe shares actual hip-hop, instead of the greased up gloss that parades the mainstream media. And this right here is why The Vibe and programs like it are important to our society.

These days it’s become increasingly evident that national media and news outlets have opted to go for extreme bias instead of presenting a clear-cut path of righteousness down the middle. In fact, its come to the point where companies like Fox News, CNN and CNBC have to pick sides as they present news, instead of reporting on the real. In addition to this, no matter what stance these companies take, they still present stories without fully giving us all of the evidence. To me, the news is slowly turning into the digestive slime our politics has slowly become. With national radio stations it has become the same thing. We see the same stuff get churned in and out every hour on the hour, and it’s a one-sided affair. They will give you one side, but you sure as hell won’t hear the other.

So how does all of this play out with hip-hop and Michigan and The Impact and The Vibe? Well, because everything is intertwined and everything is cyclical, and the fact remains that if there are still programs and organizations like The Vibe and The Impact around the country, then there’s still hope for truth. What both The Vibe and The Impact present is more than just good music; they shower us with content from all sides, further enriching our lives with everything from everywhere, and the fact that they’ve stood the test of time is a testament to the notion that the good always outweighs the bad.

Last Saturday, Bonus Cut co-creator Gus Navarro was lucky enough to sit down with DJ Riddle for a few hours during The Vibe and discuss hip-hop with him face-to-face. As a longtime fan of the program it’s an honor for Bonus Cut to interact with The Vibe, and it’s a wonder why there aren’t more programs like it.

Simply reading and writing this isn’t enough, and it’s important that when we actively seek out information and news we do it so we’re presented with all of the facts. Furthermore, it’s important that we continue to explore all realms of each story so that we know the truth from all sides. Like The Vibe, a program that gives us everything from mainstream to underground, we can better ourselves by spreading the full picture.

You can visit Impact 89FM’s website and radio stream here.

For more information on The Vibe click here.

For more organizations and friends of Bonus Cut click here.

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Lost in Translation: Misconceptions from the outside on hip-hop, language and culture

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By: Harry Jadun

Not too long ago in a Maize and Blue (University of Michigan) galaxy far, far away, student government candidates Mike Proppe and Bobby Dishell performed a publicity stunt in order to get votes. They hired Da’Quan (a Michigan student and YouTube sensation) to film a video. In the video, like many of his others, he exploits common stereotypes that hound both Black and hip-hop culture in order to gain attention while simultaneously endorsing Proppe and Dishell. The public outcry that resulted from the video was harsh, as many student organizations complained to the University, which forced Proppe and Dishell to take it down and apologize for uploading such a racist video.

A comedian’s job is to push the envelope of what’s acceptable. If a comedian isn’t doing this, he or she probably isn’t successful. From Tosh.0 to Dave Chappelle, funny men habitually feed off racial stereotypes and misconceptions that have formed in the minds of Americans in order to generate entertaining content. In the case of Da’Quan, University of Michigan students Mike Proppe and Bobby Dishell obviously wanted something geared towards a younger audience that would generate publicity, no matter if it was positive or negative. Clearly, the negative aspects outweighed the positive, as they were forced to apologize for making the video because it was found to be inherently racist. I do believe that this video has many racist qualities to it (such as the name Da’Quan). Despite that, Da’Quan’s language is in no way, shape, or form improper or uneducated, and this is important because it is a microcosm of the lack of respect for hip-hop culture as a whole.

The way that Da’Quan talks (although he takes it over the top) in the video has become synonymous with hip-hop in today’s world and is often labeled as broken English. This idea could not be further from the truth, as the way Da’Quan talks is recognized by linguistic experts across the globe as an independent language, commonly referred to as Black Language or Ebonics. Michigan State University professor and distinguished scholar on Black Language, Geneva Smitherman, shoots down all of the misconceptions that constantly hound Black Language in her book, Talkin That Talk:

“Ebonics is emphatically not ‘broken’ English, nor ‘sloppy’ speech. Nor is it merely ‘slang.’ Nor is it some bizarre form of language spoken by baggy-pants-wearing Black youth. Ebonics is a set of communication patterns and practices resulting from Africans’ appropriation and transformation of a foreign tongue during the African Holocaust” (Smitherman 19)

This makes sense, as the dictionary defines a language as “a body of words and the systems for their use common to a people who are of the same community or nation, the same geographical area, or the same cultural tradition.” That definition of language, along with Smitherman’s point that Black Language has unique syntactic and phonological features, makes it clear that Black Language is its own individual language, as it originated from a group of people with a common cultural tradition.

On paper, the existence of Black Language sounds legitimate. The problem is that those who have not studied linguistics do not respect it as such. It is commonly referred to as “street slang” or other less than endearing names with negative connotations. This is due to the fact that the language originates from Black (as well as hip-hop) culture. Because of the dominant culture of white supremacy and “standard English,” Black Language fails to garner the respect it deserves. “Standard,” “proper” or anything along those lines are only arbitrary titles that the powers that be (White America) put on a certain way of speaking. Just because these words are not found in the Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t mean that they are not respectable or intelligent words. Fuck, a red line still appears under the word “frindle.”

Stanford professor and renowned linguistics expert H. Samy Alim articulates this concept a lot more elegantly than I can:

“The fact that is the language and communicative norms of those in power, in any society, that tend to be labeled as ‘standard,’ ‘official,’ ‘normal,’ ‘appropriate,’ ‘respectful,’ and so on, often goes unrecognized, particularly by the members of the dominating group” (Alim 57).

In this case, White America has completely ignored and demeaned an essential part of Black/hip-hop culture, and has punished blacks for not conforming to their standards. According to Wichita State professor William Thomas, “The way a person talks, a person’s language, is part of him, part of his culture, part of his self-pride, and part of his very identity” (4). From that viewpoint, it is easy to understand why hip-hop artists proudly use Black Language in their songs: Black Language represents their individuality, history and pride.

Calling Black Language improper (or any other adjective along those lines) also implies that the language is uneducated. I understand that Da’Quan takes it over the top (as any comedian would), but the way that he speaks in this video is not uneducated by any stretch. Labeling it as uneducated is practicing language supremacy, which is defined by Alim as the “unsubstantiated notion that certain linguistic norms are inherently superior to the linguistic norms of other communities” (Alim 13). How are we supposed to say one way of speaking is better than others? Is England’s form of English better than ours? Is Arabic superior to Spanish? This is a huge problem throughout America, and instead of disparaging somebody else’s way of speaking, we should be practicing language equanimity, which is described as the “structural and social equality of languages” (Alim 14). Honestly, I hang around people that are very “educated” and are attending some pretty esteemed colleges. Constantly, we pick up phrases that come from the mouths of these so-called “uneducated thugs” because they express our actions and feelings a lot better than “proper” English. Rather than harping on hip-hop artists for their illiteracy, we should be praising them for their ill literacy (shoutout to Alim for the wordplay). Dr. Smitherman put it best when she said: “hip-hop is a barely explored reservoir of linguistic riches” (Smitherman 155).

If anything, the ability to carve phrases and expressions from scratch that replace “standard” sayings reflects the remarkable capacity for creativity within hip-hop culture. What is considered hip-hop language is never constant and ever-changing; it’s flowing. This idea is perfectly summarized by Jubwa of the hip-hop group Soul Plantation when he explains:

“It’s not defined at any state in time, and it’s not in a permanent state. It’s sorta like—and this is just my opinion—it seems to be limitless. . . So, I feel that there’s no limit and there’s no real rules of structure, because they can be broken and changed at any time. And then a new consensus comes in, and then a new one will come in. And it will always change, and it will always be ever free-forming and flowing. . .” (Roc the Mic Right, 14)

This quotation can be attributed to hip-hop culture as a whole, as artists are constantly redefining what hip-hop is. From Anthrax’s contributions to Public Enemy’s “Bring tha Noize” to A$AP Rocky’s collaboration with Skrillex on “Wild for the Night,” the line between hip-hop and everything else is constantly being blurred.

The lack of respect in relation to the language of hip-hop is an issue that plagues the culture as a whole. For example, I remember listening to Kanye West’s “Family Business” in my car and my girlfriend’s mom told me to “Turn off that nonsense.” The fact that Kanye is a “rapper” formed such a negative preconception that she wouldn’t even give the song a chance. What made this so much more frustrating was the fact that “Family Business” is the worst song for her to call “nonsense” because it is an upbeat song reminiscing about all the great memories and experiences that come from having a tight knit family. ‘Ye even touches on the stereotypes that prevented her from understanding the meaning of the song: “I woke up early this morning with a new state of mind/A creative way to rhyme without usin’ knives and guns.” This was a Wesley Snipes-Woody Harrelson moment that happens to hip-hop fans on a regular basis: people unfamiliar with hip-hop listen to the music, but pre-existing stereotypes prevent them from hearing it. Anybody who has been in this situation can certainly relate to the frustration that I felt, as there was nothing I could do to get her to hear KanYe.

This preconceived notion that hip-hop brings nothing of substance to the metaphorical table ruins the experience of hip-hop for too many people. This misconception typically forms from the artists’ language, which is not a logical reason to discard an artist’s voice. I understand that some hip-hop artists’ intellectual ceilings top out at “fucking bitches and getting money,” but that should not prevent people from hearing conscious artists such as Talib Kweli or Kendrick Lamar, especially when these artists are the lone voices blowing the whistle on social injustices that go unnoticed in urban areas across the globe. Although people like Proppe, Dishell and Da’Quan mock the language of hip-hop, we must fight against these stereotypes ingrained in society regarding Black Language, because it is not until the mainstream media and the court of public opinion start respecting every aspect (including the language) of hip-hop culture that the essence of hip-hop can truly flourish.

Works Cited

Alim, H. Samy, John Baugh and Geneva Smitherman. Talkin Black Talk: Language, Education, and Social Change. New York: Teachers College, 2007. Print.

Alim, H. Samy. Roc the Mic Right: The Language of Hip Hop Culture. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Smitherman, Geneva. Talkin That Talk: Language, Culture, and Education in African America. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.

Thomas, William J. Black Language in America. Vol. XLIX. Wichita: Wichita State University, 1973. Print.

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Hip-Hop and Its Influence: An Interview With David Kirkland (Part Two)

By: Gus Navarro

This is the second half of a two-part interview with Dr. David E. Kirkland about hip-hop and its educational impact. Dr. Kirkland is a professor at Michigan State University and one of the coordinators of ULITT and directors of CAITLAH. In this part of the interview, Dr. Kirkland comments on the transformative power of hip-hop education. For additional context, check out the first half part of this interview which can be found here.

Excerpts taken from an interview with Dr. David E. Kirkland on February 26 th, 2013…

GN: In what ways does hip-hop manifest itself in education and educational circles?

DK: Right, so let me just say there are two things in education. You can talk about hip-hop in education. Some of us have talked about hip-hop in education, ways to use hip-hop to teach other things. And so you can do that. We call it scaffolding or bridging. You can use Tupac in order to teach the classics if you will. You can use Tupac in order to teach literary devices and elements like chiasmus, consonants, and other types of rhetorical literary ideas or entities. You can use rap in order to create a mnemonic device to memorize mathematics, its been done. I call that hip-hop in education. But hip-hop education is the type of education or pedagogy that hip-hop is established in. Hip-hop teaches. It works in the tradition of the African Griot. It works in that oral tradition, it works in the oral tradition of the street press where individuals would come together and they would collect stories and they would collect histories. It works in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History in the sense that it has its own pedagogy, its own moment. So the cypher becomes this space where everyone is equal but at the same time in order to be elevated within that cypher, the cypher is trying you. Its like a cauldron, it invites you in, but it doesn’t let you remain the same, you have to put your energy out there; you have to be vulnerable. So, hip-hop education suggests a vulnerability, it has its own language, its language is rap. And rap isn’t just the science of rhyme; it’s the science of truth. So when we hear hip-hop artists talking about rap, the thing that makes rap significant isn’t just a rhyme, it’s that it gets close to truth. It’s saying things that people realize. This is hip-hop education. Hip-hop education is the element of pedagogy, the element of education that exists within the hip-hop idea. And it’s not necessarily the traditional education that we understand or know.

GN: So going off of that, can hip-hop education or hip-hop pedagogy exist in mainstream schools?

DK: I think hip-hop in education can exist in mainstream schools, but hip-hop education is a school in and of itself. I think schooling should and can be informed by hip-hop. We should do school more like we do hip-hop. We should have cyphers break out that invite people, we should break down the walls of schooling and construct education and the education imagination based on how people understand and live life today. And hip-hop gives us a glimpse into that. So if we think about education and how it’s constructed today we have to go back to history. We have to go back to post-industrial history where you had labor laws that prohibited youth from working. So we needed some repositories to place these kids so we constructed these entities and the architect of these entities were usually the architects of prisons and factories. We also had this really interesting agrarian culture; what to do in the winter? So we set up this thing where you go to school in the winter and in the summer you don’t. So the imagination around how we look at schooling today isn’t necessarily the most effective way to do school for now because it was based on a society and culture that is long past. So there is an argument to re-think education anyhow. But hip-hop gives us this third space, this site of really interesting creation, both pedagogical creation as well as performative creation coming together to inform the ways that people learn; the way that the mind is impressed upon. And I think that’s important.

GN: I think it is too and off of that, what do you do at Michigan State to carry these things out? Is it just in class or are there other programs that you’re involved in within MSU? And what is the approach to these programs?

DK: Well Michigan State University is a hegemonic space. It’s a fairly traditional space with really good people in it pushing against traditions. But there is one thing about dominant hegemony is that they have gravity to them. We can pull up, but we can only pull so long before the thing gets heavy and it falls back in its place. But I have done some things at Michigan State University within my classes because I think it’s important. This goes back to the question of why teach hip-hop? I don’t want to teach hip-hop because it engages youth, that’s important. I can give the youth candy, that will engage them too and it will hurt their teeth. I teach hip-hop because it’s smart to do so. We teach Shakespeare, we teach Dante, we teach all these other people I called “hip-hopgraphers.” We teach them because it’s smart to do so. If in the days of written technology we used print in order to transmit meaning and in the day of digital technology we use music, sound, and visual multi-modo moving imagery to do it. Why don’t we teach that? Why don’t we understand that as a new way of capturing our humanity? I teach it because it’s smart to teach hip-hop. I’m not going to wait until Tupac is dead a hundred years to say, “wow, lets reflect on this.” We need to reflect on it now. Because by reflecting on it, it gives us a way to understand ourselves in powerful and important ways and to re-shape the world that we live in, so that it can be more inviting and more beneficial to more people. So I say that to say, I teach it in my class because I have to, because its what makes us smart by studying and examining hip-hop today. I also created a set of interventions. One intervention is our Urban Literacies Institute for Transformative Teaching (ULITT). It is a hip-hop pedagogy retreat that I brought to Michigan State University. This year is our second year into that, and we’ve seen transformative results. I got an email today from a teacher that told me that one of her participants told her that the event changed her life. That she found healing as well as strategy through it and for me, that’s important. So I’m trying to open up spaces at Michigan State University. I don’t know how long those spaces will be open before the powers that be close them, but for as long as we can keep them open, we’re going keep them open.

GN: Thank you very much, I appreciate you sitting down with me and talking.

DK: Thank you.

It is important to reflect on the purpose of schooling and education. The public school system as we know it comes from the Technological Revolution of the early 19th century. Schools were modeled after factories that were essential to the United State’s economy. Kids get union breaks too, its just called recess. As students move through school they are indoctrinated into the “American Way” and are prepared to enter the work force by the end of their education. Having the skills to find a job is in no way a bad thing, but it may be time to approach this in a different way. With the continual push towards globalization our world cannot function without things such as computers, the Internet and smart phones. Nowadays there are so many ways in which we can express ourselves and connect with people. Using hip-hop as a worldview, as a way of reading the world and interacting with others allows teachers and students to collaborate and learn together. Hip-hop education gets away from the one-size fits all educational model of testing and standardization. Hip-hop education creates a space where students are encouraged to create and learn using multiple disciplines such as writing, music, film, photography, art and dance all while pushing students to develop the agency to navigate the complex society we live in. When we focus on testing, we are not supporting students to be curious and ask conceptual questions about their communities. If we want to use hip-hop education, we have to be willing to change how we do school and how we teach students. To build off Dr. Kirkland’s statement, he is not talking about using lyrics to teach the 50 states. That is hip-hop in education and super status quo. Instead, he is talking about using the worldview of hip-hop to teach students to be curious, critical, vulnerable and to use their experiential knowledge. As Dr. Kirkland explains, “In the days of written technology we used print in order to transmit meaning and in the day of digital technology we use music, sound, and visual multi-modo moving imagery to do it. Why don’t we teach that? Why don’t we understand that as a new way of capturing our humanity?” This is not a traditional model of education, but it is time that we at least consider what this could do for our students as they grow and learn about the world around them.

*You can check out Dr. Kirkland’s blog at davidekirkland.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter: @davidekirkland.

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