Rap music is an undeniable force in today’s society. It seems the lyrics and beats of hip-hop songs make more of an impression on our children than a teacher’s lecture or a parent’s suggestion. The sheer entertaining pleasure of rap music allows our children to relinquish their defenses and take in whatever hip-hop music dishes out. Because of this, we need to take advantage of rap’s influence and use it as a tool for instruction. Big name corporations are already aware of the power of rap music. According to Advertising Age Magazine, the McDonald’s Corporation has plans to pay rap artists for mentioning the term “Big Mac” in their songs, as well as using rap music as an advertising strategy to market to young adults. Now, it’s time for parents to jump on the bandwagon as well. Parents can provide their children with many insightful experiences through the use of rap music. The following is a list of educational activities that hip-hop can offer its avid fans.
Provide examples of the narrative form
Most rap artists have a story to tell, and their stories are often ingeniously told in narrative form. Narrative form includes a beginning, middle, and end, accompanied by an overall theme. Narrative writing is one of several types of writing that your child will have to master in elementary school. Therefore, it is imperative that students be familiar with narrative works at an early age. Songs such as Jay Z’s “December 4th” and Slick Rick’s classic “Children’s Story” are examples of lyrics in narrative form. “December 4th” is a recount of Jay Z’s life from birth to now, emphasizing struggle and hardship. Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story” is an account of a young boy’s run from the law, making choices that inevitably lead to harsh consequences. Both songs do an impressive job of telling a story from beginning to end with little gaps in narration, which is what good narratives do. And both “Children’s Story” and the edited version of “December 4th” include lyrics that are neither sexually graphic nor lewd. There are many other rap songs that contain the narrative form, so listen out for them and help your children recognize the form in these songs.
Compare and contrast musicians and eras
Being able to compare and contrast concepts and characters is a skill that students utilize in the first grade. Help your children retain this skill by allowing them to analyze the differences and similarities between two of their favorite hip-hop artists. For example, your fifth-grader could compare the rap style of Snoop Dog and Nelly. Your eighth-grader could compare artists or music from different eras. For example, have them determine the messages in rap music in the ’80s vs. rap music in the 21st century. They may come up with some insightful conclusions.
Edit for standard English
The lyrics in rap music do not always apply to the spelling and grammar structure of Standard American English. Artists intentionally pronounce/spell words differently from mainstream English. Rather than confuse your child with these multiple spellings and grammar mistakes, have fun with them. Print out the lyrics to several rap songs from websites, such as lyrics.com, azlyrics.com, and songlyrics.com, and let your child edit these songs for grammar and spelling mistakes. By recognizing these errors, you and your child can get into a discussion about creative writing vs. academic writing, which is another lesson in and of itself.
Memorize important facts
There is a slew of information that students need to memorize in order to pass state tests and exit examinations. Much of this information includes arbitrary dates and details that many of us have forgotten from our grade school years. To make it stick, have your child create a rap about the information using a beat from one of their favorite songs. Once your eighth-grader has turned 50 Cent’s “21 Questions” into “21 Questions about the Constitution,” he/she will be well on their way to acing that test.
Read and analyze biographies
If VH1’s “Behind the Music” taught us anything, it is that every entertainer has a dark and interesting past?”or not. Since your children are already interested in the lives of rap artists like Ludacris and Lil’ Kim, allow them to carry out further research by reading their biographies online or in hip-hop publications like The Source and XXL. Give your children the opportunity to make connections between artists’ lives and their music. Perhaps they will discover that some rap artist never really had a hard life, but chose to perform hard-core rap because of its popularity.
If your child enjoys listening to rap music, exploit the educational opportunities available through listening to it. Use rap music as a tool for instruction and soon your child will be able to analyze rap music rather than simply mimic it.
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