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Hip Hop Issues Design Narrative

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Paul Curran
31 March 2015

Title Hip Hop Issues - A Design Narrative


I work as a educational digital media consultant in the community sector in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown, where I live. I was recently asked to design a short course for Transition Year students (aged 16 approx.) about Hip Hop music that touched on some of the social issues they had been covering with another teacher and also allowed them to express their creativity by creating hip hop style music themselves.


I had two sessions each with two separate groups of about 15 students. So four sessions all together but essentially the same course twice. I have 7 ipads that I use for workshops as well as a laptop and projector. For the first session I aimed to discuss different issues that arise when studying Hip Hop; race, poverty, politics, sexism, commercialism, homophobia and drug use. For the second session I aimed to facilitate the learners in creating music themselves using turntable apps, hip hop style samples and acapella lyrics.


Working in conjunction with the Schools Completion Coordinator I aimed to engage the students in social and cultural history in a way that situated them within it and allowed them to partake and be creative within it. We also aimed to discuss particular issues with the students in a contemporary and relevant way.


The two groups were gender specific, a boys group and a girls group. This is the way the year had been divided for this particular term activity and it was not something I designed. It did allow us to discuss particular issues such as sexism in a gender specific way but if I could have avoided this I would have.

We started with the birth of hip hop and the technological invention of turntables. This led to hip hop identity in New York in the 70s. There was very little previous knowledge of this period amongst the students. We continued into political hip hop that drew inspiration from contemporary political movements. The presentation continued to cover issues of race (particularly in Los Angeles and West Coast hip hop), poverty (Eminem's early work) and sexism.

With each issue we would pause and discuss with the students how they felt about it and it's representation in music. The student's level of engagement varied from issue to issue and between the two groups but by and large we were pleased with their ability analyse and criticize cultural representations and theories.

The second session was a creative one. I had explained how hip hop involved making music from other people's music so it followed that the students would try and do so with turbtable apps on the iPad. We used DJay and WhoSampled apps to create new music from other music. I downloaded acapella raps and lyrics as well as instrumental music for the students to use.

Our goal was to engage the learners in a creative process and also to encourage expression based oin the previous discussions. We found the students engaged with the creative process but that very few of them found ways to express their opinions about the issues through the music in the time available. This was not surprising as it takes time to master anything and getting students to express themselves can be difficult even in forms they have previously mastered.


I would say that we were partially successful. We had hoped to have a stronger connection between the issues and the final created product. While each group of students succesfully created a mixed track they did not have any statements or messages. 


With more time a more powerful workshop could be possible. I would target particular issues and particular artists who addressed those issues. I would then restrict the tracks available to students to use for each particular exercise so that they had to work with the original material that an artist used. After a number of sessions using different raw materials (tracks and lyrics) and covering different issues I would allow them complete freedom to create from any track they can find. In thi sway their understanding of history and culture could grow alongside their creative expression.

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Paul Curran
15:34 on 31 March 2015

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Jo Walter
4:41pm 31 March 2015

Hi Paul

This sounds like a really intresting project.  Do you think that the gender separation had a big impact on the outcomes?  I like the duality of creative skills devleopment alongside developing an understanding of history and culture.  Do you think the students found the former something they more willingly engaged with or were there those who found creativity the more challenging aspect?  You seem to have drawn out some sound learning for the future in your reflections and I really enjoyed reading about your project.


Paul Curran
7:33pm 31 March 2015

It's hard to say about the impact as we only did it once but my guess is that certain opinions might have been held back had it been a mixed group.  Hard to say.

The creative aspect had a broader appeal I feel, going by the engagement with the debate and presentation. Some students didn;t offer many opinions. I suppose they could work away in pairs on the creative aspect whereas they had to offer their opinions of the presentation in front of the entire class group.

Thanks for the feedback Jo!

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