Posted on 28/01/2010
Alumnus Paul Edwards thinks rap should be taught at schools
It can be argued that rapping, like Marmite, is something you either love or hate.
In recent weeks it has come under the spotlight after ex-Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion, warned teachers of failing to stretch pupils, often by confining their reading to one kind of poetry. “Poetry is a house of many mansions. It does pupils a disservice only to tell them things they already know. Rap has its own challenges and opportunities - but so do many other kinds of poetry, many of which are neglected in schools,” said Sir Andrew Motion, Professor of Creative writing at Royal Holloway, University of London.
But leaping to Hip Hop’s defence is author Paul Edwards, an alumnus from Royal Holloway. Paul, who has written ‘How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC’ believes people underestimate the complexity of rap due to their own poor grasp of the art form. He describes rapping as “poetry set to music” and calls it a vocal percussion, worthy of being taught at schools just like creative writing or prose.
“Maybe if people were better versed in rap’s creative complexity from multi-syllable rhymes, elaborate rhyme schemes, varied cadences, lavish word play, witty braggadocio, and evocative imagery, and the elements which make rap so popular and well respected by poets such as Dana Gioia and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney, who praised Eminem for his verbal energy, they would be arguing for an increased focus on it in schools and universities,” he says.
Paul argues more goes into rapping than many people may think. “I do think there is a perception from people unfamiliar with rapping that it is simply talking over music and that anyone can do it. To be successful you need skill, this can be learned and developed, just like playing the guitar, piano, or singing, but it helps to have a good sense of rhythm and timing, a strong vocabulary, the creativity to come up with interesting word play, topics, and stories, clear enunciation, and a strong vocal presence. There is a huge level of craft and skill involved but people will always be ready to dismiss things they haven’t yet explored.”
He says not only does rapping help to stretch children’s vocabulary but can be a valuable way of helping them to express their feelings and assert themselves.
“It’s definitely an effective way of expressing yourself, often in a very direct way as well, because the style of lyric writing is usually closer to actual conversation or a public speaking style than other music genres—some rappers’ deliveries remind me of a Martin Luther King or Barack Obama speech in the way the words are given certain emphasis with precise pausing and timing for greater impact. Hip-Hop lyrics can be very profound, touching on topics such as politics, relationships, and philosophy.”
Paul, who studied English at Royal Holloway, and then went on to complete a Masters in Postmodernism, Literature, and Contemporary Culture at the College, says his studies set the scene for his book. He said, “Royal Holloway was the ideal environment to do the research and work that formed the foundation for ‘How to Rap’. I had incredibly knowledgeable and innovative lecturers such as Robert Eaglestone and Adam Roberts. The social atmosphere at Royal Holloway was also fantastic—there were so many people to learn from and everyone brought a lot of passion, creativity, and variety to the table.”
He believes part of the problem with teaching rap is that teachers and lecturers are not familiar enough with rap to know how to use it effectively in the classroom, and are not aware of a wide enough array of examples and artists to successfully pick out the pieces which would be useful.
“Too many teachers think rap is limited to just Eminem, who, although great, is only the tip of the iceberg, and that it is all drugs, violence, and sex – although a lot of classic art and literature has revolved around drugs, violence, and sex,” Paul says.
He hopes his book can help teachers and students discover the diversity of the subject matter by breaking down the art form in the words of rap artists from all areas and eras of the genre.
Paul says, “It’s important to explore all the different facets of rap and the rich variety it has to offer and I definitely agree with the National Literacy Trust′s advice that rap should be studied in schools.”