Great Samples of Writing: "Rap is thought-provoking poetry," Shawn Carter (a.k.a. Jay Z) says. "If you took rap lyrics, pulled them out and stuck them on a wall somewhere, people would say, 'This is genius.'"
The World of Rap Music
One of my favorite genres to use with students is rap music. In the past week, I've played songs by Jay Z, Eminem, Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., and the Blackeyed Peas. These are some of today's greatest poets and the energy the bring to a classroom is contagious.
It is critical to teach our pupils the bedrocks of each style - and my students get plenty of Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, and the other canon authors. It is equally vital to expose students to successful, contemporary writers. Each of my mini-lessons includes about 20 examples of the concept in action. These samples come from famous writers and obscure ones, current and former students, deceased and living musicians.
I incorporate music into my lessons by calling up YouTube videos on my computer, which is connected to a projector. I like to find ones with the lyrics - so we can analyze the writing strategies. I periodically stop the song to discuss the literary techniques they display - which connect to all the lesson I'm teaching.
The opening of "Empire State of Mind" - by Jay Z and Alicia Keyes - goes like this:
Yea I'm out that Brooklyn, now I'm down in TriBeCa
right next to Deniro, but I'll be hood forever
I'm the new Sinatra, and... since I made it here
I can make it anywhere, yea, they love me everywhere
Just this tiny scrap of Jay Z's material is chock full of writing lessons.
a) Bleed on paper - Every word he writes is the honest truth. This is the most important lesson for young writers.
b) Show don't tell. (a.k.a. The Pebbles lesson. a.k.a. Use details) - The proper nouns give it away!
c) Antithesis - "Out" of Brooklyn; "In" Tribeca.
d) Ode - this is a tribute song.
e) Power of I - Poetry frees you to explore your stories. First-person pronoun!!
f) Allusions - To famous movie stars, singers, and songs.
g) Extended metaphor - Mentions Sinatra, follows up with Sinatra lyrics.
h) Interior rhymes -"Anywhere ... Everywhere".
i) Collaborations - I do lessons on how students can and should team up to create writing.
Another example: Eminem's "The Way I Am"
I'm so sick and tired of bein admired
That I wish that I would just die or get fired
And dropped from my label and stop with the fables
I'm not gonna be able to top on "My Name is... "
And pigeon-holed into some pop-py sensation
That got me rotation at rock'n'roll stations
And I just do not got the patience (got the patience)...
To deal with these cocky caucasians
a) Take Risks - Writers and artists of any type must be willing to take huge risks if they are going to be successful. The raw emotions and unfiltered ideas on display here are compelling, powerful writing.
b) Rhymes using assonance - "tired ... admired ... die ... fired ..."
c) Original rhymes - avoid the obvious word - "label ... fable ... able."
d) More fascinating rhymes - "sensation ... rotation ... station ... caucasians."
e) Alliteration - "rotation ... rock-n-roll station"; "cocky caucasians"
f) Bleed on paper, Find Your Voice, Details! and other basic lessons.
I know that sometimes it seems like most of our students are listening to this music. Trust me, this is erroneous. When you play Eminem in your classroom - and analyze his writing techniques - you are showing your pupils something they really haven't seen or heard before. Sure, a few of your students love this genre of music and will be super-excited to see you bring it into your classroom. But, musical tastes span the gamut in any class.
Look what my current student, Ben Z., just did this week - after I taught some of these rap-infused lessons. (Note: this is a young man who had no interest in hip-hop before my class.)