One of my passions is showing students that hip-hop and literature have much in common. Quite often, rap music is written off for its controversial content. In actuality, however, the rhymes and cadences of this influential postmodern musical form are based on the simple iambic or trochaic tetrameter or octameter feet of many of the canonized poets we study in school.
Recently, I’ve done seminars in Alaska and Nantucket, places that are very culturally and geographically removed from the streets of hip-hop’s birthplace in New York in the 1970s. I love helping students see that poets like Emily Dickinson and Shakespeare wrote in a structure that easily lends itself to the rhythms of the music they enjoy on their iPhones and on YouTube.
In 2012, I teamed up with Henry Jenkins at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. We worked with the RFK-LA high school in Koreatown to teach students about the connections between Edgar Allan Poe and hip-hop. We created a song and music video for their version of his short story the Masque of the Red Death, we premiered the song at this year’s TEDx event at USC. Below is video of my talk and their performance.