Hip hop - beats, rhymes and life
by Matt Hine
The ‘Hip Hop – Beats, Rhymes and Life’ course came about partly through the work of the blended learning team at the Sheffield College, along with close collaborative work with a performance group of students from the United States. The course was designed in a similar way to a traditional outreach program, and aimed to attract learners who may have traditionally rejected formal education by giving them the opportunity to create their own music and explore a culture important to them: ‘Hip Hop’.
Our central aim was to bring these disenfranchised learners into college, and to provide paths for progression back into formal education. The course is delivered face to face in the classroom. The majority of the work takes place on computers, as learners construct their own beats and rhymes while going through the process of producing and recording their sounds. We aim to develop the students' IT skills via digital music production; their literacy level through the composition of raps; and their cultural understanding through the social studies aspects of the course.
The course is currently in its fourth implementation, with around 60 students having participated. The course runs for 30 hours with around 12-15 learners attending the sessions. Sessions are divided between the theoretical and the practical elements of the course.
It became clear that the key to success was designing topics and activities that ‘plugged into’ the students' own knowledge base. Hip Hop culture - through lyrics, beats, dance and art - has become something of a global phenomenon. The course aims to use this culture as a vehicle to:
- help students realise the importance of literacy and education;
- present urban youth culture as a vehicle for positive social change;
- present rap as an art form that requires traditional (and in this case digital) literacy;
- enable young people to express their creative talents.
As a digital medium, the course requires the effective use of audio software and digital editing programs to compliment the lyrical compositions. The digital literacy component of the course aimed to allow learners to create beats and rhythms to compliment their lyrical composition. Students develop both the IT skills required to use the software effectively, and general IT literacy to support their continued education.
Through the medium of rap, learners can begin to develop a mastery of language, implementing a variety of literary devices and strategies within the process of composing lyrics. Within the cultural component of the course, the wider issues related to Hip Hop, and its past and current social standing are explored. It is perhaps in this section of the course that learners' knowledge base comes to the fore, with opinions and ideas being expressed with little or no prompting.
What was fascinating to observe during the practical musical composition stage was the manner in which the learners showed an implicit understanding of the general structure and style of Hip Hop music. Using examples in the classroom to illustrate certain aspects of the music genre (such as party style, gangsta style, the break, the sample and the scratch), learners were able to quickly adapt this learning to their own work, and at the same time bring their own understanding, likes and dislikes, to the creative process.
The course has had a real impact on the students involved. Many of our learners have remained in college and are now taking courses within the mainstream curriculum. Students have re-integrated with the traditional college environment, and are more aware of opportunities for their own progression and development that they may not have considered previously. Some of our learners have gone on to achieve well in GCSE level with some even moving towards A-levels and GNVQ qualifications in media and performance.
The course as described here has become an established part of the English Department’s course of study. Additionally, the course has now been embedded within the Foundation Studies programme at the college (the Pre GCSE level programme of study).
Lecturer in English and Communications
The Sheffield College
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