Dee jays and producers spend hours digging through record crates, looking for just the right break beat, bass-line, or sound bite to use. In this sense, teachers are much like dee jays because in order to find just the right text, they spend enormous amounts of time doing research. Through proper research, rap music can be placed in its historical and political context and lead us to a more complete understanding of its meanings and aims. From there we can dig up specific examples to be used in our classrooms in informed, relevant, and developmentally appropriate lessons. But be warned: Much of this genre is sold by huge, multinational, media conglomerates through sex, violence, and exploitation (of artists by companies, of women by male artists, of images by commercial interests, etc.) You have to be prepared to hear plenty of “bad” in order to find the “good”, but think of it as just like trying to find that perfect excerpt or article to use in a lesson: time-consuming, but worth the work.
Here is a short list of rap albums and other hip hop related resources that could be used in a classroom. All of the albums have strong lyrical contents and styles. If you are a first-time listener, I would suggest Spearhead’s Home, or Digable Planets’ Reachin’… to ease you into the genre
and give you a taste of the possibilities that lie outside of the all-too-popularized gangsta style of rap. Outside of these particular groups, I always encourage people to listen to more “classic” groups like: Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions/KRS One, the Jungle Brothers, the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, Queen Latifah, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest. In addition, I have found the World Wide Web to be of tremendous help in researching rap lyrics. There are many dedicated hip hop fans out there who spend their time listening to songs and putting the lyrics onto their web sites, but unfortunately none of the web pages are stable enough to provide lists of them for you here. Just search for “hip hop or rap lyrics.”
Bahamadia(1996). Kollage (LP, Cass, CD). New York: Chrysalis Records.
Bahamadia’s debut LP displays her mastery of metaphor, rhyme, and rhythm. She dances through her lyrics, playfully toying with line and syllable breaks, making it an excellent album. Little cussing, low to non-existent violence.
Boogiemonsters(1997). God Sound (LP, Cass, CD). New York: EMI Records.
Although a little preachy at times, the Boogiemonters represent a resurgence in politically-charged hip hop. Jazzy musical flavors are backed by strong lyrical skills. Medium levels of cussing.
The Coup(1993). Kill My Landlord (LP, Cass, CD). New York: Wild Pitch Records.
(1994). Genocide and Juice (LP, Cass, CD). New York: Wild Pitch Records.
The Coup is one of the angriest, most politically-charged rap groups ever. They are unrelenting in their political analysis of world politics and community issues. Lots of cussing, low to medium violence.
Digable Planets(1994). Reachin’… (LP, Cass, CD). New York: Pendulum Records.
(1995). Blowout Comb(LP, Cass, CD). New York: Pendulum Records.
Considered a breakthrough for their use of jazz in rap music, Digable Planets were never embraced as the political group that they actually are. Both albums are very friendly to those unfamiliar with rap, and they deal with serious issues like abortion and Black liberation. Low cussing, low violence.
Fugees(1996). The Score(LP, Cass, CD). New York: Ruffhouse/Columbia.
This trio holds the pulse of the city. Their radio-friendly remake of Roberta Flack’s “ Killing Me Softly” has put them at the top of the charts, but they also deal with police brutality and poverty among other issues. They showcase a contemporary remake of Bob Marley’s classic, “No Woman No Cry.” Low cussing, low violence. (Note: First album is mediocre at best.)
The Goats(1994). Tricks of the Shade (LP, Cass, CD). New York: Ruffhouse/ Columbia.
The Goats’ first album, Tricks…, deals with issues ranging from abortion, to colonization of the Americas, to international drug cartels, to abuse, to police brutality. Here you follow Hangerhead and his brother as they tour Uncle Scam’s Carnival and Creep show. Lots of cussing, low violence. (Note: Do not bother with their second album, where they’ve changed their focus.)
Organized Konfusion(1994). Stress: The Extinction Agenda(LP, Cass, CD). Hollywood, CA.: Hollywood Basic.
Organized Konfusion is a healthy mix of lyrical genius and street mentality.
This album is a mixed bag. For instance, “Stray Bullet” is a brilliant personification piece about being inside of a stray bullet. Also it graphically expresses the tragedy of getting killed by one as well. Lots of cussing, medium to high violence.
Spearhead(1994). Home(LP, Cass, CD). New York: Capitol Records Inc.
As mentioned in the article, an excellent pick for those unfamiliar with rap music. Softer tones, sweet melodies, celebrations, and serious politics are what this album is about. Medium cussing, little or no violence.