Apr 23, 2018

Op-Ed: Using Hip-Hop to Wake Up Kids in the Hood By Mr @NickWestbrooks

Using Hip -Hop to Wake Up Kids in the Hood
an Op-Ed by Nick Westbrooks

Over the past four years, I’ve taught at two high schools in Newark, NJ. They aren’t in the hood, but many of the kids that attended them live in the hood. As an urban educator and lifelong Hip-Hop and rap head (I love both.), I’ve always recognized the impact of the culture and more specifically, the impact the music has had on the youth. From being immersed in it myself and conversing and listening in on my student's music, I’ve observed that most older rappers who are delivering positive messages in their songs don’t resonate with most of them. Of course we can look to the music they consume and see that this is a no-brainer, but many of us older heads have mistakenly assumed that if it’s a rap song that’s fairly new or made by a fairly young rapper that they’re going to relate, but that’s simply not the case.

Let’s look at what kids in the hood are listening to, and I’ll use my students as a litmus test. Of course you have your “mumble rap” and autotune, but that’s not all they listen to. I’ve also heard a lot of drill and trap music. You’ll notice how differently positive rap and popular rap are packaged based on production and lyrical delivery. Some of the most listened to mainstream rappers that I’ve heard in the classroom and hallway are NBA Youngboy, Lil Durk, G Herbo, Young Pappy, Lil Bibby and the likes of them. I’ve also been introduced to a lot of Newark rappers outside of Tsu Surf such as Qua Louie, Big Moose, OTV, BBE Loosebvndz, and HVF. What do all of the above-mentioned have in common? They have similar lyrical styles, rap off of similar sounding beats, and talk a whole lotta gang shit on their tracks. They’re also young men in their late teens to early twenties, the same age or just a few years older than my students.

If this is what they’re mostly bumping every day with very minimal variety, it’s needless to say that they’re missing out on 4:44-esque messages about investing money, wealth-building, fidelity, and Black-on-Black violence. I won’t assume that they don’t want to hear those messages, but I will say positive messaging often isn’t presented in appealing ways, so it turns them off from wanting to listen to positive Hip-Hop. It’s like trying to administer straight up medicine with no candy. You gotta mix the candy with the medicine B! That’s a start, but there’s other ways of broadening the rap music horizons of our toughest youth.

We can expose kids from the hood to young politically conscious rappers who package their messages in ways that they’re used to or already enjoy. 18-year-old LGP Qua from Philly does a good job at this. He raps about social issues such as police brutality, unity, and criminal justice but in the same high energy, rapid fire fashion that his gang-affiliated peers have adopted. We can also momentarily put our personal preferences to the side and meet our youth where they are by listening to their music and allowing them to express themselves and how they feel about it. This may not be an immediate result, but sparking that conversation can certainly get the wheels turning.

After doing these things, you’ll actually be surprised at how much we, in our mid to late 20s and 30s have in common with teenagers when it comes to rap. The commonalities make themselves known by discussing what throwback joints they like and when they put us up on new rappers who spit off of throwback instrumentals. LGP Qua has done this, but I’m also feeling the G Herbo remix of H to the Izzo,”Ibb Mula’s version of Banned From TV, and Glizzy and Sumu going in on Ja Rule’s Clap Back beat on a joint called Live From Da Pil. Again, these serve as conversation-starters and gap-bridgers.


Let me be perfectly clear. I’m in no way lumping all of my kids together in one category. I chose to focus specifically on the ones, particularly my young brothers, who out of all of my kids are the roughest around the edges. These are the young men that society says are the statistics that lack positive male role models, and are the sources of criticism and complaints in social circles. However, I know that they have the potential of becoming the most revolutionary individuals out of their peers as they’re the most fearless. By circumstance and/or choice, they flirt with death on the daily basis, and they’re already filled with a fiery, warrior spirit, which can be awakened through the music. Parents, educators like myself, coaches, mentors, counselors, studio engineers, G’s on the block...whoever...need to use rap music to take another step closer towards the kids in the hood. Do it for the sake of preserving the culture, but do it for the sake of preserving their lives and ours.

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