Hip Hop in the Literary Lens
Faith Diaz Contributing Writer
Post-Doctoral Fellow in Digital and Public Humanities, Stephen Grandchamp, will teach ENG 377: Hip Hop History and Culture, for the Spring 2020 semester. The course is offered as an English and Music History Course and will be an examination of the history of the genre and a cultural analysis of the music and its effect on American history.
Grandchamp also intends to explore the genre’s evolution. “You might get more misogynistic party tracks in there but then you might get tracks in there from more female assertive rappers like going back to MC Light or Lauryn Hill, up to contemporary rappers like Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Megan the Stallion, City Girls.”
He wants to clarify the cultural understanding of the genre as he said, “We’ll put all these different treatments of a theme side by side and talk about how they are relating and making connections and try to figure it out. Because Hip Hop is not monolithic in that it has one take on everything.” He continued, “I want students to be aware of some of those voices that have been marginalized.”
Students will also be exposed to the voice of a local underground rapper, Chris Brown, whose stage-name is Yung Breeze, and who is also the younger brother of Vanessa Brown, a UMF senior and TA for the course.
“I first talked about my brother and his music to Steve last semester during the New Commons course, and from there I sent some of his music along,” Brown said in messages. “Steve thought it’d be a great idea to talk about my brother as a local underground rapper and to have him be a part of the curriculum.”
“I thought it was awesome that [Grandchamp] brought that idea up,” she continued, “mainly because my family and music are so intertwined, and to watch and celebrate my brother’s hard work in an academic setting is an accomplishment in itself.”
The course is intended to breed further discussion on the cultural effects Hip Hop has had on the American society as a whole. “One of my main arguments about Hip Hop,” said Grandchamp, “is that you need to view it as a regional United States genre where in the local scenes of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, New Orleans, Miami, Atlanta, Memphis, all of these different places have really vibrant hip hop scenes that have unique characteristics that differentiate them from all of the other ones.”
To better understand the unique principles and craft of each scene, students will create their own Spotify playlists based off of those scenes that will serve as a one to two hour premier for the general listener. Students will submit an essay alongside the playlist to explain why they chose these songs, the implications of those inclusions, and key themes.
The course’s main challenge lies in altering students perceptions of Hip Hop and its place in modern academia. “I would say it’s as controversial now as it’s ever been because of its willingness to take on taboo subjects in a really direct way, so race, class, gender, and politics. These are issues that are at the surface of Hip Hop music and we are not going to steer away from that,” Grandchamp said. “You have to get students to buy in to applying literary analysis processes to contemporary Hip Hop lyrics.”
Grandchamp is excited overall for the course. “If you take the class, be ready to listen enthusiastically. One of the main tasks of the course is just to get students to listen to the primary text which are the recordings of the genre to better understand it.”
Another goal of his is to prepare students to, “meet the music on its own terms. In that, Hip Hop is an art form that was birthed out of African American culture. So its is inextricably linked to African American culture. So I am going to ask students to meet that culture on its own terms. To try to confront it directly, analyze it directly, and really try to figure out where this artistic movement came from and whats the engine behind it.”
Brown hopes to aid students’ engagement with the music and culture by acting “not only as a sounding board for thoughts, ideas, and other things. . .during discussions and projects,” she said, “but also engage and share experience and/or my music insight from the hip-hop world.”
This course is now available for pre-registration on My Campus.