A History of Rappers in College Classrooms
When it was announced earlier this week that Harvard University had developed a fellowship in honor of legendary Queens MC Nas, it sent minor shockwaves through an industry that may have felt somewhat shunned by higher education in the past. But as we celebrate Nas and the Nasir Jones Fellowship, we took a look back at the recent history of rappers embracing higher education. From a course on feminism and Lil' Kim at Syracuse University to 9th Wonder teaching specialty classes at Duke and Harvard to Questlove teaching a course on classic albums at NYU, the past decade has seen hip-hop breaking into college classrooms in unprecedented ways. Check out our history of rappers embracing higher education.—Compiled and written by Chris Mench, with additional reporting by Christine Werthman
Lil' Kim Course, Syracuse University
In fall 2004, Professor Greg Thomas introduced the dopest course ever to grace the English and Textual Studies department at Syracuse University. Students of Thomas' Hip-Hop Eshu: Queen Bitch 101 class learned about gender, sexuality, hip-hop and African diaspora through the music of Lil' Kim. Songs throughout her discography were given the poetry explication treatment, and Kim was examined as a modern-day Eshu, the trickster deity in some West African religions. Critics balked at a college-level course giving the floor to a woman who refused to play by the patriarchal lady-in-the-street rules, but as Thomas showed, the petite spitter from Brooklyn had big things to contribute to the conversation on sexual politics.
Ludacris, mtvU Stand In
In 2007, Atlanta legend Ludacris participated in a show for mtvU called Stand In, in which he surprised a college classroom by replacing their professor for a day. Luda would go on to say that he hoped to take students “out of their book for a chance to learn from those making history today.”
9th Wonder, North Carolina Central University, Duke University, Harvard University
North Carolina-bred super producer 9th Wonder has spent the majority of the last decade transitioning from the rap world to the academic world. In 2007, he became the Artist In Residence at North Carolina Central University, teaching a class in hip-hop history. Since then, he has gone on to teach courses at both Duke and Harvard, and has been quoted saying he hopes to leave music behind to pursue a career in academia.
Bun B, Rice University
In 2011, the former UGK member became a Distinguished Lecturer at Houston’s Rice University. While there, he helped develop and teach a course called Religion and Hip-Hop Culture for the school’s Humanities department. The course proved to be extremely popular amongst students, doubling in size from 125 to over 250 by semester’s end. He went on to tell MTV: “I feel like being able to teach at a college university is a perfect example of showing how hip-hop can influence the minds of the next generation.”
GZA, Columbia University
The venerable Wu-Tang Clan MC recently partnered with Columbia University and Rap Genius to bring hip-hop into the science classrooms of New York City schools. The program uses elements of hip-hop—including cyphers and rhymes—to help underperforming minority schools teach kids about math and science (fields where teachers are severely underrepresented) through the scope of music. The kids’ best rhymes are then put up on Rap Genius’ website next to their favorite hip-hop artists.
Questlove, New York University
The Roots’ drummer/front man Questlove currently teaches a class called Classic Albums at New York University in tandem with Universal Music’s Harry Weinger. The class is offered at the Clive Davis School for Recorded Music at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and looks at important albums (Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall, the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique) in music history and their ability to stand the test of time.
Nasir Jones Hip-Hop Fellowship, Harvard University
Earlier this week, the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University announced the groundbreaking Nasir Jones Hip-Hop Fellowship, a scholarship for incoming students who show academic excellence. Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the director of the Du Bois Institute, explained, “Nas is a true visionary, and he consistently shows how boundaries can be pushed and expanded to further the cause of education and knowledge.” In a prompt reaction to the news, Nas went on to say, “It is a true honor to have my name attached to so much hard work, alongside great names like Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and W.E.B. Du Bois and to such a prestigious and historical institution, and all in the name of the music I grew to be a part of.”
Migos Host a Class on Culture at New York University
Migos have definitely left their mark on hip-hop, so it's only right that the exploits of the trendsetting ATL rap trio are studied in an academic setting. Recently, the "Bad and Boujee" performers revealed their plans to make sure that happens. On Saturday, Jan. 28, the group will curate a college course examining their impact on music and the pop culture world abroad. The one day lesson, which is set to take place at New York University's Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Film Center, will be hosted by 300 Entertainment, Quality Control, Nue Agency, and the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music and will feature at least a few special guest appearances.
OutKast Class to Be at Georgia's Armstrong State University
OutKast was one of the first acts to let the world know the "South got something to say," so it's only natural that a college professor would try to learn the new generation on what the ATLiens have been saying their entire career. Recently, Dr. Regina Bradley, who's a professor of Languages, Literature and Philosophy at Armstrong State University, announced that she would be taking on that task. For the Spring 2017 semester, Dr. Bradley will begin instructing her course, "OutKast and the Rise of the Hip-Hop South," an upper-level english class focusing on "“ideas about the South and southernness seep into other Southern writers.”
Dr. Bradley hopes to create a learning environment conducive to educating rap fans and those who are more unfamiliar with the genre. “For the folks who are just as in love with Outkast as I am, I also want them to feel like they can contribute to the class — that’s particularly important,” she explained in a recent interview. “I also don’t want to overlook or shun the folks who aren’t familiar with hip-hop at all.”
Georgia Tech Gets Course Dedicated to Trap Music
Around the same time Armstrong University's Dr. Bradley announced that she'd be teaching a course on OutKast, Georgia Tech's Dr. Joycelyn Wilson revealed that she'd be teaching a rap music class of her own during the Spring 2017 semester. The class, titled “Exploring the Lyrics of OutKast and Trap Music to Explore Politics of Social Justice,” will study the evolutionary journey of trap music while also examining non-ATL legends like Chuck D and Tupac Shakur. Seems pretty solid.