It seems to be a standard in classrooms- when we start talking about music and the importance of music to our students, we default to classical. Every preschool and elementary classroom I've ever been in has lovely sets of cards and books and CDs that highlight famous, significant (and almost entirely male and white) classical composers. And while that's certainly an important part of cultural education, and while I'm certainly not going to pretend I don't have an entire unit dedicated to Tchaikovsky and 'The Nutcracker', it shouldn't ever be the be all and end all of musical education.
Even in classrooms I've been in that are conscious of creating diverse and inclusive environments tend to fall apart a bit when it comes to musical education, and defaults back to European masters like Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. At most, I've seen some more progressive teachers include some cards about jazz musicians and composers (including Black artists) - also giving the impression that jazz is a bygone historical genre, rather than an evolving and very much current form of music. And that is pretty problematic, because hip hop is a movement that provided a voice for a marginalized community and centres the experience of being Black in America - which matters. We can't keep talking about how representation matters, and ignore representation in music.
So. How can you combat this? Thankfully- pretty easily!!! There is a growing library of books that feature hip hop artists and this one, about the birth of the movement, is pretty significant and also, thankfully, excellent.
"When The Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop' by Laban Carrick Hill is a longer picture book (I wouldn't read this at story time in one go- I would, however, read it a couple pages at a time over a few days with my kinder students) about Clive Campbell, more popularly known as DJ Kool Herc, the man credited with creating hip hop. The story follows him as he moves from Kingston to the Bronx and starts going to neighbourhood parties with his mother. One day, his father buys a sound system with huge speakers that don't work, and Kool Herc spends days fiddling and "plugging things into other things, until one day the sound was BIG."
All he wanted to be was a DJ, and so he throws his own party with his sister, and officially becomes known to the world as DJ Kool Herc. He recognized that dancers were most active during the breaks in songs when lyrics ended, and so he set up two turntables so that when one record ended a break, he could flip to the other and play it again. He made breaks last for minutes, allowing dancers to really get moving. He brought in talented friends of his to rap over his DJing, and eventually gathered a crew of people he called MC's (Masters of Ceremony- as they toasted and acknowledged dancers and others during the breaks of the songs), and eventually they became known as the Herculoids. Soon, hip hop moved beyond the Bronx, to the rest of NYC, and started influencing music and culture across the nation.
As the author writes in the historical notes and timeline at the end- "Hip hops rhythms, raps and its sense of play...have also become the background score for the twenty-first century." Representation should matter in all areas of our classroom, not just on our bookshelves or in our geography areas.
While it may seem hard to introduce music that is, admittedly, often full of profanities and references to violence, there are ways to do it. Using censored radio edits in elementary classrooms, along with discussions on how some words are not necessarily appropriate for school would be one way. Using short excerpts from particular artists is another- Kendrick Lamar, Gift of Gab, Binary Star, Aesop Rock, Busta Rhymes, and Missy Elliott is a brief and very random sampler list of artists who have songs that you can (relatively) easily find non-profane excerpts from. You could even include in our beloved poetry folders pieces by Tupac, who is arguably one of the 20th century's greatest poets.
More books, such as "Hip Hop Speaks to Children" by Nikki Giovanni and "It's a Hip Hop Hip Hop World for Every B-Boy and B-Girl" by A.D. Largie, highlight the history and development of a genre in a way that is easily accessible for children.
I'd love to hear ways that you've diversified your music area in your classrooms and homeschools!
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