To echo the late essayist, Stanley Crouch, nothing says I want to live more than hip-hop. This street-born culture has saved lives—literally.

As hip-hop culture celebrates its 50th birthday, Toby S. Jenkins, associate professor of education at the University of South Carolina, has penned a hymn showing how hip-hop has enhanced American education over the last half-century.

According to the scholar, hip-hop-based education began making its way into the classroom during the early 2000s, mostly through English courses. As an example, Joquetta Johnson, a library specialist for Baltimore County Public Schools,  juxtaposed Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” with Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First.”

This isn’t far from Michale Eric Dyson referencing the late Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z to Pluto and Socrates or writers connecting hip-hop to larger issues such as global activism.

This type of teaching is known as hip-hop pedagogy, described by Jenkins as “incorporating the elements and values of hip-hop culture into the full educational experience. This includes not only the classroom environment but also teaching techniques, student-teacher relationships, and subject matter,”  she writes for

In fact, Marc Lamont Hill released his opus, Beats, Rhymes, and Classroom Life: Hip-Hop Pedagogy and the Politics of Identity, where he showed, among other things, how conversations on keeping it real in hip-hop language can be connected to larger topics.

Hip-HopPhoto of Queen Latifah Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Outside of classroom curricula, hip-hop has inspired new schools and community organizations, Jenkins writes. In St. Paul, Minn., The High School for Recording Arts, a public charter school, teaches music, art, entrepreneurship, and dance to students who have been expelled or removed from school. New York City’s Cyphers for Justice is a 15-week program where incarcerated youth learn to use hip-hop as a way to engage with racial justice and other policies.

Also, Howard University became the first university to offer a hip-hop course. The genre has inspired dissertations, inspired the research of educator Christopher Emdin, also known as the “ratchemdic educator.” Hip-hop has even been credited as transforming gritty street guys into Ivy League students.

Decades ago, Malcolm X said, “Anytime you see Blacks marching and singing “We Shall Overcome” the government has failed us…It’s time to stop singing and start swinging.

Well, the government has failed us whether or not we sing or rap. Hip-hop, like jazz and blues, has proven to be an effective form of not only education, as Jenkins has shown, but also a collective space for Blacks to engage with self-improvement as well as social and political issues.

With scholars like Jenkins and her contemporaries, as well as artists like Lupe Fiasco, Kendrick Lamar, among others, and listeners who do not view hip-hop as a form of entertainment, but as a space to practice self-didacticism, the genre will continue to educate, inspire and empower generations. 

This content was originally published here.

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