Here she explains how the use of hip hop and the term ‘relevance’ are important when thinking about how to bring ideas to life in the classroom. She offers questions for further study that you can download and use with students.
In 2018, the rapper and grime artist Stormzy used his platform at the Brit Awards to highlight the lack of government action after the horrific 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, in which 72 people died as a result of poor building practices. Stormzy’s call to politicians (‘Yo Teresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell?’) powerfully demonstrated the role that popular entertainment forms can play in the political process. As a result of his performance and subsequent Twitter posts, over 100,000 people signed a petition encouraging then-prime minister Teresa May to take action over Grenfell. Similarly, when a number of grime MCs endorsed the Labour party in the 2017 General Election, under the banner ‘Grime 4 Corbyn’, they showed how hip hop and related cultures can bring social and political debates to audiences who might feel alienated from the discussions happening in the media and elsewhere. These examples show how hip hop, as a diffuse cultural form deeply entwined with histories of social and political injustice, can serve as a way to make ideas relevant to those who might not otherwise be interested in them.
The term ‘relevance’ has recently been given renewed cache.
Arts Council England’s latest ten-year strategy, ‘Let’s Create’, published in January of this year, positions ‘relevance’ as a key word — set to drive funding agendas over the next decade. Recognising the importance of creating relevant content in order to open up publically funded cultural venues to a range of audiences is, at least on the surface, a positive step in acknowledging the diversity of the British population, and the way that the canon of ‘high’ culture can exclude individuals and groups who don’t understand the relevance of, for example opera, classical music, or Shakesperian drama, to their lives — or who don’t see themselves represented in the country’s major arts institutions.
Relevance is also an important term when thinking about how to bring ideas to life in the classroom.
Bringing subject matter alive is, as most teachers know, an important means of enabling students to connect with ideas and feel ownership over their learning. In other words, when students feel what they are studying is meaningful to them, they enjoy lessons and learn more.
Hip hop might therefore allow students who are new to or under-confident in dramatic and literary analysis to feel a sense of ownership and connection to material.
In the student edition of Kate Tempest’s Wasted, which I have edited and written the introduction to, I use hip hop as a concept to frame the study of the play — a means of making social, cultural, historical, political and literary ideas ‘relevant’ to students who might engage with the text in school, college or at university. This is not because I believe all students are necessarily hip hop fans, but because the prominence of hip hop in terms of its ubiquity in popular culture, from high profile celebrities, to fashion, music, film and even politics (as Grime 4 Corbyn shows), as well as its on-going association with youth culture, makes it a form that students are likely to have some prior knowledge of. As Darren McGarvey argues in his book Poverty Safari, hip hop’s tradition of using local vernacular and telling stories of everyday experiences can appeal to those who feel alienated from high cultural forms, because it ‘reveals the richness of their own experience.’ Hip hop might therefore allow students who are new to or under-confident in dramatic and literary analysis to feel a sense of ownership and connection to material.
My decision to focus on hip hop is of course driven by the context and content of the play itself, as well as by Kate Tempest’s wider canon of work as a rapper and performer.
In an interview I conducted with Tempest in the preparation of the volume, she spoke about the way that hip hop served as a means of survival and expression during her teenage years, in which she felt alienated from the education system, and the world around her. When studying Wasted, Tempest’s sensibility for hip hop offers a means of thinking about the lineage between contemporary and classical verse forms (such as Greek Chorus and iambic pentameter). In the introduction, I draw attention to the work of Akala, a rapper, poet and political activist who has lectured on the similarities between hip hop and Shakespeare. I also pinpoint the way that hip hop has developed as a cultural form throughout recent history — connecting its evolution to issues such as gentrification and the class struggle, which are themes that run through Tempest’s play.
For those thinking about using Wasted in the classroom, I encourage you to consider how you might use hip hop culture to inspire students and teach recent historical events. I offer a set of questions, which might serve as a stimulus for lessons and activities.