Lesson Plan Artists: Are Teachers Creating Classic Hip-Hop Albums?
When I first starting scrambling to learn how to be an effective teacher, I was wondering why all the toiling felt so appropriate, felt so promising, and felt so fruitful despite the fact that on average it took 30 mins before I constructed just one idea that may have contributed to an exceptional plan for the classroom. This arduous process required me to spend at least two hours per lesson plan, yet it was worth it. Why? Because it reflected a process I had previously engaged in. How? Before I taught, I was working on my first album as an emcee called Groceries. Groceries was released in the summer of 2010, and I started teaching in the fall that followed. Without realizing it at first, I was essentially continuing the same protocol of artistry through lesson planning that I was when I was formulating an album. I also was expecting for the process to yield similar results.
My sisters and brothers from other Pedagogical Mothers (fellow teachers) don’t need to be musicians to overstand how classic lesson plans are like classic albums, however they might need to be music appreciators. Meditate on one of your favorite hip-hop (or other) albums (mine probably would be Nas’ Illmatic or Common’s Like Water For Chocolate), and then reflect on your best classroom experiences as a teacher or a student. I’m sure that both the album and the classroom lesson(s) share core elements. In my exploration as a music appreciator and an aspiring master educator, I have noticed some consistent thematic overlap. For starters, the best albums seem to do what even the most mediocre lesson(s) are required to do which is ask:
What do I want the receiver of this art/information to understand?
Who do I want to understand my art/information?
How will I provide consistent opportunity throughout this experience to make sure that they understand?
Once the first two questions are answered, the masonry required for the third question can begin. During their brick laying, it is equally important that both artist and educator are speaking thematically, authentically, and creatively if they plan on being taken seriously by the recipient. In regards to the theme, the artist and educator must work on creating a symbiotic flow of interconnected messages, modes of communicating, and sub-themes. Meticulous and relevant connection of thoughts and approaches are key. When it comes to authenticity, neither musician nor teacher can present their message using someone else’s voice and/or personal disposition. If this happens, the receivers almost instantly disregard it, or store it in the memory file labeled “insignificant.” That’s why Guerilla Black didn’t blow (a Biggie sound-alike), and that’s why cookie-cutter modules and lessons given by the state often fail in the classroom without proper adaptation. Along with communicating from an authentic view point, the artist and educator need to be bold and creative in order for the receivers to find interest, which cultivates and maintains the message’s relevance. Thematics, authenticity, and creativity is why Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly has been heralded as a classic by many hip-hop heads, and why my best units and lesson plans have cultivated much academic and personal growth from my students.
Not only do classic albums and great lesson plans have an identical formulation process, but their final products yield similar results. Both classic albums and great lesson plans shape the cultural and intellectual identities of those receiving the message. This identity provides a lens from which the consumers interpret what they view and what they experience. A critical bond between the messenger and message recipient is established, yet the newly evolved identity of the recipient doesn’t become totally dependent on the messenger. In other words, the recipient’s intellectual and cultural identities remain even if the messenger changes what they do (i.e. a teacher that switches schools, or a rapper that retired or changed format (think Nas to “Escobar”)). Most importantly, once a recipient is exposed to either an album or quality lesson plans, they can identify quality work from that point forward, and will have a higher standard for engaging what is presented to them. It’s hard to listen to garbage or mediocrity when you’ve heard the Stankonias, 2014 Forest Hills Drives, Wu-Tung Forevers, and Paid In Fulls, just as it is hard for a student to pay attention during a shotty lesson plan when they have experienced quality teaching.
Both album and lesson creation require a journeyman’s approach. The creators shouldn’t be designing moments of great work, they should be designing momentum for producing great work consistently. I don’t want a one hot lesson every 10 week average. That’s so LAAAAAMMME (“Takeover” Reference, from the Jay-Z Classic Blueprint). Nas didn’t want that reputation for his catalog either (although Jay-Z clearly felt he had that rep). Achieving this momentum isn’t an instinctual achievement for most, so it takes serious study, a growth mindset, and a bravery to try new things. In terms of making my own classic albums and classic lesson plans, I am certainly still learning. Groceries showed I had promise and skill, but wasn’t classic status. With each project since, I have kept thematics, authenticity, creativity, and the three foundational questions in mind, thus allowing each project to come closer to being considered a classic. Hopefully I will get there before Groceries II: I Know Why The Caged Bird Blings. When it comes to lesson planning, my best unit so far has been my “Contemporary Colorism and Historic Racism” Novel unit. The cultural and intellectual impact on the students was powerful, but I know it could be better. Hopefully by next year all my lessons and units will be as potent as that unit if not more. Both of these labors are my art. Mastering both will fulfill the duty that I have to myself, and fulfill the duty that I have for others.
“Ask teenagers, O.G.s, and ask the kids/What the definition of ‘classic’ is/”