Chuck D urges educators to understand and utilize hip-hop

Posted Jul 3 2006

Article about Hip Hop and Education Institute at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Clevelan. Click here for the original version.

PREVIEW: Elevate! Using Hip-Hop to Educate

What: Public interviews conducted with hip-hop legends as part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Summer Teacher Institute.

When: Kool Herc speaks at 7 tonight.

Where: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, 1 Key Plaza, Cleveland.

Tickets: The interviews are free; RSVP by e-mailing or calling 216-515-8426. Limited seating. For details on how to sign up for the remaining day session online, go to or call 216-515-1510.

Chuck D lounged in a black- leather desk chair across a coffee table from interviewer Daniel Gray-Kontar in a scene you could have called "Inside the Rappers Studio." With James Liptonesque prompts from Gray-Kontar, the rapper dropped his knowledge Tuesday in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's fourth-floor theater. The small audience of teachers, students and fans listened attentively as he spoke about the origin and evolution of hip-hop.

"It is very hard to explain what was in the air before hip-hop and rap music came to be," Chuck D said about the on-the-verge-of-something-great feeling before the emergence of the first DJs and MCs in the late 1970s.

"It was a form of creativity spawning from the urban environment," said the co-founder of Public Enemy, one of the most revolutionary and politically aware rap groups of the 1980s and '90s.

The live interview was part of the Rock Hall's Summer Teacher Institute program "Elevate! Using Hip-Hop to Educate," a weeklong conference teaching educators how to incorporate hip-hop music, themes and culture into curriculum. The organizers hope to arm teachers with the resources to combat the music's association with violence, drug use, promiscuity and misogyny.

"You have to be able to understand that this is part of American culture and history," said Chuck D, whose real name is Carlton Douglas Ridenhour. "You have a problem with a social dynamic in a country that claims to be equal and free. I believe that education should at least be able to explain culture before it gets in the hands of corporations that are dictating what it is and what it should be."

It's essential for teachers to have a proper education and understanding about the music and its history before it can be used effectively in classrooms, he said.

"What's used for entertainment and what's used for education are two different degrees of hip-hop."

Before the rapper's appearance on Tuesday, teachers and students learned how other educators have used popular music effectively in their lessons. Daniel Zarazua of Unity High School in Oakland, Calif., demonstrated how a critical analysis of songs by Tupac Shakur or Destiny's Child can be used to explore gender roles and sexism.

Lecturers also showed how hip-hop extends beyond just a tool in social studies. Gabriel Benn, the artist behind the theme song for the "Boondocks" cartoon series, demonstrated how the Hip-Hop as Educational Literacy Program takes lyrics from artists such as Big Daddy Kane and uses them Mother Goose-style to teach lessons in phonics, vocabulary, writing and reading comprehension. Rock Hall education program manager Jason Hanley showed how stu dents who want to make beats with computer programs can apply math and science concepts to equalizers, sound frequencies and amplitude.

The conference continues through Friday. Tonight, the Summer Teacher Institute will feature a live interview with original beat master and hip-hop pioneer Kool Herc.

"It helps the teachers to see people like Chuck D and Kool Herc," said Hanley. "It's important to see the guys who are the innovators and who are standing up with a political conscience."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 216-999-4876


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