Archive for the ‘hip-hop’ Category

Our poetry and rap group started out with about 35 students.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t select everyone to perform in our final ceremony. 😦  Here I am in a picture with the infamous Dr. C (a.k.a Colleen) and the fabulous, the spectacular final group of Wuhan poets and rappers.

If you recall (or maybe not), in session 1 we focused on literary poetry.  In the sections below, I’ll go over some of the method to the madness of our Wuhan rap workshop.

Working Out the Kinks

Session 2 of the Wuhan Poetry and Rap Workshop was all about the beats and rhymes of urban poetry . . .  or rap, as it is widely known.  This was my first time doing a rap workshop for ELLs (English Language Learners), so I’ll go ahead and admit that I was kind of nervous.  I mean, I had a bunch of *great* ideas in my head, but theory and practice don’t always mesh so well, ya know.  So how did I deal with my uncertainties, you ask?  I experimented a bit with some of my regular classes during the day 🙂    In our regular English through American music culture class, we have a section on hip-hop where I cover the Nas song, “I Can”.   We talk briefly about issues of race, class and urban communities in the U.S. to give context to the social climate that inspired the song.

Establishing a Rapper Identity

James Paul Gee is an expert on sociocultural aspects of teaching and learning (Shouts to Gee, a beautiful mind).  I took a cue from him when he said that in order to actively participate as learners, students must feel that some part of their identity can mesh with the identity required to engage with the content.  In other words, I don’t want to learn science if I don’t feel that I fit in with the community of people who can be called scientists.  I knew that several of my students might have misgivings about seeing themselves as rappers, so that’s where we started – creating our rap identity.

I introduced myself as MC Free – unable to be confined, a lover of liberation and self-expression.  Okay, well it sounded “deep” to me at the time. 🙂   We talked about the rap alias or nickname and how central it is to the goal of expressing one’s individuality.  I showed a slide with some examples of rapper nicknames from the U.S. and yes, right here in China (of course!!).  We also explored the meaning of MC prefix and how it has faded as a popular convention in U.S.  hip-hop communities (but is thriving worldwide!!).  Here were some of my favorite nicknames that students chose in the rap workshop:

Big Ha Ha

MC Candy

Mr. Bullet

Dr. Smooth

MC Sleepy

The Rhyme Cipher

After a little background the hip-hop practice of doing Ciphers, we did our own rhyme Cipher.  The students learned how to follow a rhythm of 4 beats per line (or bar) and say one rhyming word on the first beat.   Like this  . . .  cat – 2- 3- 4, bat – 2 – 3- 4, etc.   After they got it with simple counting/clapping, I turned out a rap instrumental and put them to the test.  It helps for ELLs to prepare their rhyme lists in advance.   Then 8 students came to the front and had to say one rhyming word when it was their turn.   They got it on the first try.  It’s always fun to see who will be the last man/woman standing after the others get eliminated for running out of rhyming words.

Writing Your Own Bars

After the Cipher, it was clear that the students understood the basics of rhyme and the four-beat counts of hip-hop lines.  Cool.  So now we’re ready to write our own bars.  The goal was to write at least four bars.  Some students wrote as many as eight.   I guided them through the first two by showing my own simple example (don’t clown!):

My name is MC Free and I’m busy as a bee

If you’ve never heard of me, check your local magazine

Here are some examples of bars the students came up with:


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Finding hip-hop in Shanghai was relatively easy compared to finding it in Wuhan.  After chasing a couple of leads, I was just about ready to give up.  As resourceful as my students are, they are not big hip-hop fans.  Some of them didn’t even think that Wuhan had hip-hop.  This made it hard for them to help me in my persistent (and probably annoying) requests for someone to please help me find local hip-hop.   Angela Steele’s incredible work on hip-hop around China was the assurance I needed to know that hip-hop MUST exist in Wuhan.  Right???

On last Thursday evening, I was chillin in my PJs when I get a call from one of my students – “Hey, there’s a hip-hop benefit concert tonight.  Do you wanna go?”   After I got past my initial bafflement over how she could have possibly gotten my phone number, I savored this good news and accepted the invitation.

Let me say that my decision to go to this show was among the best I’d ever made.  Flows, camaraderie, energy and rhythmic delight stand out as memorable aspects of the performances.  In addition to the veteran, MC Big Dog, Wuhan has produced a new and energetic pair of rap crews – Deep Fire and Free Warz.  One thing is for sure, all parties involved are dedicated to the craft and know how to deliver a quality show.  Hospitality is also another one of their strong suits.  Shortly after we walked in, my student, Flora, initiated a chain of friendly introductions that felt more like meeting up with old friends rather than strangers.  My only regret was not bringing my better camera.

More to come (including video) from the Wuhan show.

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