By Emery Petchauer
Research on hip-hop has expanded in breadth, rigor and nuance in the past ten years. Currently, this body of work signals the emergence of an interdisciplinary field gaining notoriety as hip-hop studies. The most recognized area of scholarship within hip-hop studies centers on commercial rap lyrics and their potential moral implications on young people. This area has been most recognizable because such scholarship is often co-opted into the ebbs and flows of moral panic associated with rap music in popular news sources.
In hip-hop studies, however, hip-hop is more than rap music, and its relevance extends beyond the moral realm. Rather, rap music is one element in an interrelated array of expressive practices that are built for youth, by youth from previous cultural traditions — mostly Black and Hispanic. These other expressions include but are not limited to forms of dance such as breakin’; musical production, manipulation, and performance such as DJing; graffiti art; and language particular to hip-hop. This is an important caveat to the field of hip-hop studies.
As scholarship on hip-hop expands and the field of hip-hop studies solidifies over the next few years, it is helpful to recognize that the field is made up of at least three areas of scholarship:
Hip-Hop Based Education: Scholarship in this area explores how different elements of hip-hop such as rap music can be used as educational resources in classrooms. Hip-hop has been used most frequently in language arts classrooms to teach skills such as literary interpretation, but it has also been used to develop critical consciousness particularly among ethnic minority students in urban schools. The recent Hip-Hop Education Guidebook published by the Hip-Hop Association illustrates that hip-hop is useful as an educational resource well beyond the language arts classroom.
Meanings and Identities: Scholarship in this area explores how hip-hop “works” on the ground and in the daily lives of youth and young adults who create and consume it. For example, scholars look at how hip-hop-identified folks mobilize texts to construct racial or generational identity or how hip-hop may function as social or (sub)cultural capital. Importantly, this scholarship is relevant both in and outside of the United States and among many different student populations (e.g., recent immigrants). Research that examines the potential moral implications of rap texts is one thread of scholarship in this area.
Aesthetic Forms: Scholarship in this area explores the habits of body and mind and the ways of doing within situated hip-hop practices. This scholarship draws most heavily on the full breadth of hip-hop activities. With the expressive whole of hip-hop as a guiding resource, researchers explore how learning, practice, community, assessment, and other processes work within hip-hop and their implication on pedagogy, curriculum, and other areas of education.
Here are some resources for further reading:
Alim, H. S., & Pennycook, A. (Eds.). (2007). Global linguistic flows: Hip-hop culture(s), identities, and the politics of language education [special issue]. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 6(2).
Christen, R. S. (2003). Hip-hop learning: Graffiti as an educator of urban teenagers. Educational Foundations, 17(4), 57-82.
Clay, A. (2003). Keepin’ it real: Black youth, hip-hop culture, and black identity. American Behavioral Scientist, 46(10), 1346-1358.
Dimitriadis, G. (2001). Performing identity/performing text: Hip hop as text, pedagogy, and lived practice. New York: Peter Lang.
Forman, M., & Neil, M. A. (Eds.) (2004). That’s the joint! The hip hop studies reader. New York: Routledge.
Rose, T. (1994). Black noise: Rap music and black culture in contemporary America. Hanover, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
Runell, M. & Diaz, M. (2007). The hip-hop education guidebook, volume 1: A sourcebook of inspiration & practical application. New York: Hip-Hop Association, Inc.