Out of the Box – Race, Gender and Hip-hop

Nothing left, he stole the heart beating from my chest.
I tried to call the cops, that type of thief they can’t arrest.
Pain suppressed, will lead to cardiac arrest.
Diamonds deserve diamonds by he convinced me I was worth less.
When my peoples would protest, I tol’ them min’ they business cause my sh*t was com–plex.
More than jus’ the sex.  – Lauryn Hill

Yesterday was the

BlackBrown Feminism's HipHop

BlackBrown Feminism’s HipHop

first day of a new course I am offering in the Winter intercession called Ropes, Rhymes and Women in Hip-hop. Ordinarily a course like this might focus on mainstream music and rap, but I steep my courses in African American social practices and music-making.

For all the planning I do, and I don’ done a lot (lol), whenever I hit the classroom on Day 1 I never know how it’s gonna flow out of me. I’m a pedagogical improvisor at heart. Need lots of scale and harmonic work before hittin’ the band stand. What happens all depends on who’s in the room. I don’t teach academic subjects. I teach emerging adults and I teach from the interface between their 400 years of embodied and intellectual knowledge and my 50. It’s a collaboration from the first minute between my speaking and their listening. Next thing is to entice them onto my dance floor or into an African American sensibility right off the bat.

In the orientation to my teaching style, I emphasized how important it is to shift the accountability from the professor or instructor to the students-as-emerging-adults I presenced the context of a “sustainable” and “ethical” classroom where students are honored and respected as adult. Coming from that place shifts how I think about grading, attendance and participation. I am out to create partnership with students who are single and married, come from all five boroughs and Westchester County, students who are Chinese, African American, Afro-Caribbean, Dominican, Polish, Albanaia, just a name of few of the places the students in the class hail from.

By establishing a lively, interactive, creative and inclusive space, I can talk about musical blackness without all the guilt and shame or confrontational politics that often accompany teaching about social blackness in a predominately white institution. I can’t say “setting” since whites are not the dominant group in my classrooms at Baruch. In fact, it might be better to look at gender or ethnic dominance rather than race.

With all that as a fact of the space, yesterday I was able to have students let go of their fears of participating in a culturally black space and logic. They clapped to the beat. They apprehended differences. They spoke out of turn (a sign of comfort) and asked questions.  They really appreciated learning about black English vernacular politics from my embodied exercise called CHECK ONE. It’s an oral and kinetic mnemonic for learning about musical blackness and its ideals. They were totally immersed without hesitation at varying levels in a musical exercise I crafted from the core premise of my work:

Girls’ games as earliest formation of a black popular music culture among children in black communities [though this is in decay for reasons not fully studied].

The oral-kinetic etude, as I call it, is known as CHECK ONE. It helps them embody and apprehend the essential features of black music-making.

CHECK 1 – individuality within collectivity, step into the cipher
GET 2 THE FLOOR – there is no music without dance
GET 3 – certain black dialects say might say three instead of free, which hear stands for improvisation and freestyle, get loose and get funky.
SYNC IT OFF 4 – rhythmic/metrical complexity, accenting off the final beat, syncopation, RHYTHM!

I’ll record it soon and post here.

Yestersay, I had that culturally and ethnically diverse group of students on DAY 1 moving and singing and grokking musical blackness.

It was a great first day!

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