Hip-Hop Hits College Classrooms

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Hip-hop music isn't just playing in college dorm rooms. It has also reached some classrooms. One Stanford University professor is attempting to introduce college students to the socio-linguistic aspect of hip-hop music.

H. Samy Alim, graduate student and professor of linguistics at Stanford University, teaches a course called "The Language of Hip-Hop Culture"at the California university. He said he examines humanity, society and communications, as well as interacting with hip-hop performers such as J.T. The Bigga Figga and Tha Comissiona.

"I describe it as an introduction to discourse analysis, meaning we cover the various linguistic approaches to the study of discourse language and communications," Samy said. In other words, the course is a cultural study of African-American society as reflected in hip-hop music.

"The study of hip-hop culture gives us an insight to society as a whole and culture as a whole. It gives us different lenses to view this phenomenon," he said. "We are not just studying the music or the lyrics or the videos. We are making a real-life connection."

Hip-hop as we know it originated in New York City in the early 1970s, Samy said, "and then progressed from NY to other areas."

However, he intends to look at hip-hop, not as a new trend, but as an extension.

The course, which consists of approximately 30 students, is "very popular," Samy said.

"We have people coming to the class who are not even registered. They come and sit in. It is so popular that after the class sessions there are hip-hop rhyme ciphers that are happening right after the class," he said.

Samy explained that a rhyme cipher is "where you get together with a group of MCs - MCs are rhymers - and it is just free-style rap. You have to come with lyrics that are not rehearsed, and it is a group activity."

"In a cipher, an MC really gets to test his lyrical skills by going against another MC or contributing to a rhyme," he said. "We are in the third floor of the Stanford building in the hallway in a rhyme cipher. Somebody is doing the beat box giving the beat and the rest of the MCs are rhyming.

"Last week, J.T. The Bigga Figga actually got in the cipher with the students," Samy said. "The type of learning is...phenomenal."

Steve Aiken, communications director for the Traditional Values Coalition, said, "I would not be opposed to intellectually examining any aspect of society including this phenomenon known as hip hop."

However, Aiken said there are some aspects of hip-hop that are not quite valuable.

"The types of dancing and the suggestive dance moves that they do in public that simulates sex has given the hip-hop movement a horrible name and/or reputation," he said. "Now there is a small minority within hip-hop that are trying to clean up their act, but as long as these raunchy ones are going after the almighty dollar it's not going to change because people are buying it."

Aiken added: "If you are going to deal with it on an academic level, of course, it's worth studying and looking at. If you are trying to promote the virtues that hip-hop has heretofore represented, then as a father who has a daughter in college, I'd have a real problem with what my money is being spent on."

If you are a student at Stanford University looking for an easy credit, then "The Language of Hip-Hop Culture" might not be the right course.

"The class is really intensive. I designed it that way, because I feel that the hip-hop culture itself is so complex that it requires a knowledge of so many disciplines," Samy said.

The course includes a mid-term paper, final oral presentation, weekly writing assignments and a final project that looks at a hip-hop topic from a linguistics standpoint.

"I don't want to overburden people, but at the same time I want them to come away with something they can grasp onto and use for their other courses and for their life," Samy said.

The Stanford University course counts as both a linguistics and African and Afro-American Studies credit.