David Akinyemi, an eighth-grader at Irvington’s Union Avenue School, got a fresh new perspective on an art form that plays an intricate role in the lives of millions of other teens like him: hip hop.
Akinyemi and 75 other middle school students --participants in Kean’s five-week partnership with Irvington Schools’ Summer Enrichment program – learned that as consistent consumers of hip hop they bear responsibility for knowing its past and charting its future.
Tyson Rose, a language literacy professor who teaches an undergraduate class about the history of hip-hop at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, drilled home several facets about the music form that many of the students were unaware of during a three-hour workshop session inside Kean’s University Center on July 19.
“Teaching about hip-hop is about meeting students where they are, not a gimmick per se,’’ said Rose, who visited Kean at the invitation of Stacy Schiller, director of Kean’s Holocaust Resource Center and Diversity Council and a classmate of Rose’s in UMass graduate school social justice education classes.
“The point is to engage students with hip-hop and get them to see it within themselves and how they can use it to study the world,’’ Rose said. “It was the social and political environment of the South Bronx that caused hip hop to evolve.’’
Akinyemi, the 14-year-old Irvington student, said he was stunned to learn “how hip hop came from nothing and became something great.’’
“It’s more polluted today but if you search you can find something good in it,’’ Akinyemi added.
While he contends that hip hop is far less “multi-faceted’’ than when it started, Rose makes a point of not denigrating the music’s current status.
“When it started there were more options and you could hear different things,’’ Rose said. “Now, you tend to hear the same thing from the same people. However, I don’t want to set up a good versus bad situation with hip-hop.’’
Nonetheless, Rose acknowledged that hip hop has the propensity to send out both good and bad messages.
“In many ways, hip hop has been like nutrition for my soul,’’ Rose said, his eyes surveying the room of impressionable students. “It has fed me in many different ways. We need to be aware of what we are putting in our bodies and some of the messages that we get from the music.’’
When Rose posed the question of what students could do other than listen to hip hop, he received some amusing answers.
“Read a book!,’’ one young man shouted out, a response that initiated hearty applause from teachers and counselors in the room.
Ultimately, Rose urged the students to become “critical consumers’’ of hip-hop but not to stop listening to it.
“If you don’t like what you hear, become producers and artists yourselves,’’ Rose said. “We are all creative beings.’’
That approach rings true with 14-year-old Alexie Simpson.
“Instead of rapping about money and drugs, I want to hear hip hop about more positive things that happen,’’ said Simpson, an 8th grader at University Middle School in Irvington.
This is the fifth consecutive year for Kean’s Summer Enrichment partnership with Irvington Schools, a program under the direction of Melissa Tomich, an assistant director in the College Of Education at Kean and funded by Title I federal money. Aside from activities such as the hip hop workshop, the middle school students brush up on their math, English and science skills, tour historic sites in the New York/New Jersey area and engage in character building exercises during the program.