Top Five Emcees (Rappers) Who Are/Were Classroom Teachers
As I stated in a previous entry, many educators are in professional education because of the education they received through their hobbies, passions, or cultures. Either as appreciators and practitioners, sometimes educators don’t even separate what they do in a classroom from the actual passion itself. The passion from outside the classroom flows into the classroom, and the classroom flows outside into the passion. Personalizing this statement, I think my next project Our Battle Raps is the best representation of the synchronicity between what I do in the classroom and what I do on the mic. With that being said, I know I ain’t the first! There are many emcees that I personally know that are in education (peace to the big homies Skribe, Varyus Waise, and J Hustle!) whose Hip-Hop sensibilities, articulations, and content bleed through the class room in a demonstration of trying to live one life, as opposed to being an energetic emcee during the night and then a khaki-oppressed teacher by day. Not only do I know some personally, but some emcees that I and many hip-hop connoisseurs grew up listening to are classroom teachers currently or were classroom teachers. Here’s my list for Top Five Emcees Who Are/Were Classroom Teachers (College Included):
#5: Sadat X
Sadat X is one third of the seminal rap group Brand Nubian. This dude’s approach to rhyme is wild unique, and is often slept on for his original approach. Growing up I heard only a little Brand Nubian, but as a young teen I got more familiar with Sadat X as a solo artist, starting with the classic song “1-9-9-9.” Blew my mind. Found out he was a teacher when he said “my kids type me on the internet, where I teach at/ ‘Where do you do that Mr. Murphy?’ THEY WANNA KNOW!” on Hangar 18’s first LP. He was a full time Special Education teacher in New York, and didn’t conceal the person he was outside the classroom. According to an interview I read a while back, he was the same boom bappin’ Five Percenter that he had always been. Very unapologetic, and I’m sure his kids appreciate/appreciated it.
M1 partners with stic.man in the duo dead prez (I posted their song “They Schools” in an earlier post). Your reaction to M1 would be a good gauge for whether or not you really would have been able to handle Malcolm X’s unbelievable honesty and bold stances if you lived during that time period (because some of us blindly romanticize him). When I first heard the song “Hip-Hop,” he and stic man became the first emcees that I thoroughly listened to that fully described systemic racism. I know they have way more material, but Revolutionary But Gangsta Grillz with DJ Drama was tough too. M1 was certainly snappin’ (translation: performing passionately and exceptionally) on it. He applies his political and cultural values outside of the mic in many ways, including becoming a Scholar-Artist in residence at Haverford College. There, M1 was responsible for providing lectures and workshops regarding the hip-hop creative process. The final product? In addition to providing workshops, he was responsible for producing an innovative multimedia project called The Africana Digital Project. Talk about practicing what you preach!
#3: Bun B
So I’ll admit, I was one of those dudes that was not into southern hip-hop at all growing up (save Ludacris). It took me a while to understand how valuable and well-crafted the majority of the emcees are. The moment when that began was when I read a Bun B interview on AllHipHop.com, and I was blown away with the things he was sayin’ without rhyming. I immediately (and illegally) downloaded a lot of UGK, revisited his “Big Pimpin’” verse, and understood how dexterous he was with rhyme structure, telling stories, and personifying Trill. This dude is one of the greats. It’s clear that he loves emceein, and in a different interview he made it clear that he loves teaching his Hip-Hop and Religious Studies course at Rice University. That is an intense topic when you consider all of the religious movements that ran congruent with Hip-Hop’s genesis, and all of the adaptation of Hip-Hop from religions later on. I can only imagine the knowledge getting dropped in that classroom straight from the P.A.T. legend.
This brother here is one of my favorites of all time, classroom teacher or not. Not only is GZA a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, but he is one of the most respected emcees in the group, and highly honored by the other group members. Both RZA and Ghostface Killah have listed him in their T5DOA (translation: Top Five Dead or Alive, Favorite Rappers) without mentioning other members in the group. His first solo album Liquid Swords changed the way I thought about hip-hop sonically and lyrically, as I noted in my song High and Lows (To Unfold) “GZA’s Liquid Swords would be me into fencing.” He elevated the art of conceptual rap (see “Animal Planet”) and is a wordplay surgeon (see “Queen’s Gambit”), all while not having more than 10 words in a line. He taught me a lot from his records, and taught many Ivy League scholars about physics and hip-hop during his course lecture series. He also teamed up with a Columbia University professor to revolutionize high school science curricula by fusing hip-hop with the scientific disciplines. Yea, that sounds about right.
While I like and listen to GZA more, my #1 slot for Emcee/Classroom Educator has to go to this underground king (sorry Bun). He’s #1 on my list because a) he’s super nice with it (translation: he’s very talented) and b) it’s very clear through his style and content that he has experience teaching in a public school setting. He managed to establish himself as a credible emcee in New York City and beyond while he was teaching English in Brooklyn. An English teacher that serves his people through hip-hop philosophies AND through pedagogy. As an English teacher/emcee, how can I NOT have the most admiration for this guy’s work and his expression as a whole person? I’ll admit, I didn’t even know that brotherman came out with an album this year, but his All of the Above album was crazy, and I enjoyed The Hear After, and loved his joint on Jazzy Jeff’s album called “Practice.” It has to be noted though that the song “Welcome to Brooklyn Public pt. 1” from The Hear After was a song that assured my place in becoming a professional educator as a change agent, black male, and hip-hop head in a profession that often frowns upon such backgrounds. That song needs to be heard by every urban educator, period. They’ll see then that there it isn’t an intellectual gap that is causing the achievement gap, but instead the cause is a cultural understanding gap. J-Live wouldn’t be who he is or do what he does if there was an intellectual gap. Neither would many black and brown hip-hop educators.
Notice that this list specified emcees that are classroom educators. I had to specify because every single emcee is an educator of sorts. In many ways, we learn behavior, world views, preferences, and information from artists who didn’t write their songs like lesson plans, but they still educate us and mold our thinking (this can be problematic, we’ll get to that later). These artists that I mentioned understood that their art was educational one way or another, and decided to manifest knowledge and foster the education process through more than one modality. They are doing this without Superman/Clark Kent conversions because they understand how information forms identity and how identity shouldn’t be split (a mental illness), even when the information or presentation of the information must vary. In other words, reserving parts of your identity for outside the classroom promotes reserved learning inside the classroom. It makes sense. How can you dichotomize information from the self? Maybe that is challenge #445563232 for education. Peace and Progress!
Runners Up Include: Skribe, T.I. (taught a class on success for returning convicts), J Hustle, John Forte (City College, Music Therapy), Varyus Waise, and David Banner (grade school teacher)
This list did not include producers who are/were classroom teachers like 9th Wonder and Swizz Beatz, while they get much respect!