Opinion | Put hip-hop in the literature curriculum

Hip-hop, rap, and other musical genres that spawned from poetry should be taught in literature classes to help demonstrate the history being made in our time.


Tate Hildyard

A group of fans jam out to up and coming rapper, Mod Sun headlines at Gabes in downtown Iowa City on Thursday, March 5, 2020. “Mod Sun is like positive hippy rap”- Davenport citizen/Mod Sun fan, Chandler Carpenter.

Zeina Aboushaar, Opinions Columnist

I’ve always had a passion for poetry — from reading Kahlil Gibran in Syria to reading W.S. Merwin — my love grew more and it was as if the words were etched into my mind forever. It wasn’t until high school year in my literature class that I really struggled with connecting to poetry. Every day I walked into class hopeful, only to walk out perplexed and slowly losing the passion I had for poetry. 

We read poets like Shakespeare, Robert Frost, and John Keats. Although they were great poets in their time, centuries later their cultural relevance has shifted — and so should our educational curriculum. Many of the things we are taught as young people fall outside of the school environment. Instead of teaching the same poem year after year, teachers should integrate Hip-hop into their curriculums and utilize it as a culturally responsive foundation that increases social and political awareness. 

Sadly, the academic world recoils to any connection between hip-hop and the ever changing culture of the youth. Many educators reject the idea of hip-hop in classrooms claiming it as un-educational and as a tool that simply promotes profanity and violence. However, by setting boundaries and digging deep into the root of hip-hop, you’ll see that it is rooted with poetry and messages that are so beautiful and meaningful to society. 

Tupac Shakur, whose presence and legacy still lives on to today, claimed that all of his songs begin with poetry. There is a prominent duality present in all of his work. His work was raw and painful and portrayed noble struggle, yet he imagined a future with hope and better days. Hip Hop takes the “real” world and changes it. In his music, Tupac wrote about himself in a way that imagines survival and asks, 

“Did you hear about the rose that grew

from a crack in the concrete?

Proving nature’s law is wrong it

learned to walk without having feet.

Long live the rose that grew from concrete

when no one else ever cared” (qtd. in Walter). 

In this poem, Tupac is imagining a beautiful end for himself. He looks past the thorns of the flower and instead focuses on the vibrant growing petals. Hip-hop has always had an association with the youth, and never seems to out date. It’s always been a response to historical events, politics, living conditions, and injustices. 

Hip-hop music is the “language of the youth”  says author and educator Carole Boston Weatherford. Through hip-hop, students not only cope and channel their emotions, but also find a connection with poetry that reflects a part of themselves. 

The core purpose of poetry is to tell a story, or portray a message, so it would be fair to say that poetry birthed hip-hop and rap. Rappers such as J. Cole and Joey Bada$$ along with the more experienced artists like Jay-Z simply portray their poetry and storytelling through a melody. This melody can be translated differently into everyone’s life which is what makes it so versatile and appealing to the youth. 

I’ve always wondered what the purpose of reading about the Shakespearean times and the past was, and it always felt like it was holding me back from exploring my passion and my role in society. Although it is important to acknowledge aspects of the past, reliving it and learning about it repeatedly will only keep us from evolving into our own identities and making our own history. School is about nourishing the minds of the youth, and accommodating to their needs and changing society they are immersed into. 

The school curriculum should evolve and cater to the needs of the minds that need it the most. 

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.