Guest Editors' Introduction

Jomo W. Mutegi
Associate Professor of Science Education and
Director Urban Center for the Advancement of
STEM Education (UCASE)
Indiana University, IUPUI, Indianapolis

Vanessa R. Pitts Bannister
Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education
Florida A&M University
Tallahassee, Florida

A Critical Analysis of Hip Hop Pedagogy

This special issue “A Critical Analysis of Hip Hop Pedagogy” was conceptualized in response to a substantial growth in what is often characterized as hip hop based pedagogy (e.g., Biggs, 2011; Cermak, 2012; Emdin & Lee, 2012; Hill, 2009; Jenkins, 2011; Petchauer, 2012). The growth of hip hop based pedagogy (HHBP) is reflected in a range of both position papers and empirical studies, including explorations of (a) the role of hip hop in shaping the pedagogical practices of African American male teachers (Bridges, 2011), (b) the role of hip hop as an interpretive framework through which ethnic minority students make sense of racism in their daily lives (Pulido, 2009), and (c) the utility of hip hop as a vehicle for elementary and secondary curriculum development (Stovall, 2006). 

The body of work that comprises HHBP scholarship rests squarely on a set of foundational assumptions about culture, about socio-political advocacy, about African American youth (which is often conflated with urban youth, or minority youth), about ownership of music, and even about hip hop itself. We will present four of the more pervasive assumptions as exemplars. One foundational assumption that pervades HHBP literature is that hip hop represents the culture of urban youth or hip hop is a reflection of African or African American culture. One example of this idea is found in an essay by Emdin (2010a) where he points out that hip hop is “a reflection of African-American and Latino/a culture” (p. 5). Similarly, Callahan & Grantham (2012) point out that, “To understand and appreciate the role of hip hop in the lives of gifted males, it is important to explore its evolution” (p. 200). The authors go on to argue that it began in the Bronx in the late 1970’s and has traditions that are actually West African.

A second foundational assumption is that hip hop is a source of profound social commentary. One example of this notion is found in the work of Akom (2009) where he presumes “a long history of socio-political conscious[ness] in hip hop…” (p. 54). Akom goes on to point out that hip hop pedagogy “starts from the premise that hip hop is an important lens for socio-political analysis and representation of marginalized communities” (p. 55). A third foundational assumption is that violence, misogyny, materialism and similar themes represent only a small, insignificant, or otherwise acceptable part of hip hop culture. This idea manifests itself in HHBP scholarship in multiple ways. In some instances, scholars characterize these types of themes as authentic representations of the various demographic groups who are purported to embrace hip hop as a musical genre (e.g., Baszile, 2009; Irizarry, 2009). In other instances scholars argue that these types of themes are aberrations from the norm. Emdin (2010b) refers to them a “thin slice.” However, the strongest manifestation of this foundational assumption is the deafening silence wherein scholars do not address the presence of these themes in any substantial way (Alim & Pennycook, 2007; Petchauer, 2012).

A fourth foundational assumption is that hip hop belongs to urban (or African American or minority) youth. This assumption is very similar to the first. Although it is not articulated as clearly as the others, it rests at the core of a central argument made by many HHBP advocates. So Powell (1991) suggests that the genre “emerged from the streets of inner-city neighborhoods as a genuine reflection of the hopes, concerns and aspirations of urban Black youth...” (p. 245). She goes on to assert that it is, “…part of a tradition of oral recitation that originated in Africa many centuries ago” (pp. 245-246). Similarly Abe (2009) asserts that, “…the Black American experience provides the theoretical framework for hip-hop’s origins (p. 264). This particular foundational assumption is probably strongest in its implication. “Since hip hop belongs to urban youth (or African American youth) and since it is their culture, educators should draw from it in educating young people.” This argument is made by several advocates of hip hop based pedagogy (e.g., Baszile, 2009; Emdin & Lee, 2012; Ladson-Billings, 2013; Stovall, 2006) and it is foundational to this area of scholarship. 

Although advocates of hip hop based pedagogy (HHBP) periodically make reference to “critics,” we have found relatively little scholarship that presents a substantial and substantive critique of the foundational assumptions on which this growing body of work 1.  That is the purpose of this special issue. Guided by an ethos of race liberation for people of African descent, each article in this special issue explores (and to some degree challenges) a different aspect of the foundational assumptions of hip hop based pedagogy. 

In the first article, “Pedagogy of the Oppressors: A Critique of the Premise behind Hip-Hop Pedagogy,” Phelps-Moultrie (2014) challenges the idea that hip hop is an authentic voice of urban youth. In addition to traditional scholarly sources such as refereed articles and academic texts, she draws extensively from interviews, archival evidence, and media reports to make sense of the degree to which urban or African American youth can legitimately be considered “owners” of hip hop. In doing so Phelps-Moultrie profiles multiple aspects of hip hop as an industry including its production, distribution, publishing, labeling, merchandising, management, and consumption. After a thorough consideration of these various aspects of the industry, Phelps-Moultrie concludes that “hip-hop is not definitively the voice of Black urban youth…but it is one that is largely influenced, controlled, and owned by their oppressors….” (p 1) 

The second article, “Theoretical Musings on Hip Hop Scholarship from an African Centered Perspective,” challenges the notion of hip hop as a culture for African people. In this article Shockley (2014) juxtaposes selected culture-related claims of HHBP advocates against an understanding of history that contextualizes and foregrounds the enslavement and oppression of African people. For example, he argues that when slave ships left Africa, the people they carried were “Fulani, Asante, Akan, Ga,” etc. and that the effort of modern day Africans to self-identify as African American, Afro Jamaican, Negro or even hip hop (as in “I am hip hop”) is a form of identity confusion. Shockley also challenges certain claims made by HHBP advocates that identify hip hop as central to the long history of Black freedom struggle. As Shockley states, “Black youth are ostracized and marginalized not because they enjoy hip hop, but because they are victims of racism – just like Black adults.”  (p 4)

In the third article, “Tales from the Mic: A Content Analysis of 10 Years of Hip-Hop Lyrics,” Mutegi, Pitts Bannister, Nichols, Priester, Murdock and Richardson (2014) conduct an empirical examination of the contents of hip hop lyrics. They challenge specifically the idea that, “hip hop offers music that is benign (even empowering), and that instances of violence or misogyny in hip hop lyrics are few and far in between”(p 7) According to the authors their study, “seeks to weigh this argument against an empirical analysis of hip hop lyrics”(p 7). The findings of this study reveal that lyrics from a broad range of hip hop music, taken from a fairly extensive time period were overwhelmingly coded into categories that could be characterized as negative by all raters, regardless of age, gender or affinity to hip hop music. The authors conclude with a discussion of the implications these findings have for HHBP research and education practice.

The fourth article, “The Influence of Hip-Hop on African American Youth in a Poor and Working-Class Urban Community and the Use of Hip-Hop in School,” presents data from an extensive ethnographic study of life and schooling in Chester Heights. In this study, Davis (2014) presents a narrative of the myriad ways that hip hop is manifested in the home and school lives of African American middle school youth. While Davis’ study does not set out to challenge any fundamental assumptions of HHBP, his study does identify themes that position the reader to revisit some of these fundamental assumptions. For example, Davis finds that classes of behaviors that are culturally associated with hip hop are frequently enacted by students. One of these classes of behaviors is devaluing intellectual behavior. Examples include: skipping school, or failing classes. Another class of behaviors is over-valuing the ability to entertain. Examples include: glorifying rapping, dancing, graffiti, and playing sports.  A third class of behaviors is over-valuing material possessions. Examples include: inordinate valuation of flashy clothes, shoes, or jewelry. One of Davis’ conclusions is that, “rather than leading to improvement of students’ academic performances or social conditions,” the “…use of hip-hop behaviors by students and adults at Park Middle School reinforces oppressive conditions” (p 21).

In the fifth article, “‘You’re Going to Teach this to Kids’?!: A Beginning Teachers’ Experience Using Hip Hop Based Pedagogy to Teach Mathematics to Urban Elementary Students,” Dowdell & Mutegi (2014) provide a first-person account of Dowdell’s experience as a beginning teacher working to implement HHBP in an elementary-grade mathematics lesson. Dowdell’s account is very informative as it provides a vehicle through which researchers can garner a clearer sense of the pedagogical challenges posed by HHBP. Much like Davis, Dowdell and Mutegi did not set out to identify and challenge foundational assumptions. However, the experience of working to implement HHBP laid bare instances where these assumptions might be revisited.

While these articles have many strengths individually, they are also quite promising collectively. They represent a full array of scholarship with Phelps-Moultrie and Shockley contributing theoretical treatments; Mutegi, and Davis contributing empirical pieces; and Dowdell and Mutegi providing a cogent description of practice. The collection also contributes a deeper treatment of race and racism than is found in extant HHBP literature. These authors are not satisfied that hip hop appears to be a musical genre that is frequently associated with non-White youth. Rather, they consistently interrogate the degree to which this musical genre is liberatory for and in the best interest of Black youth. Finally, the authors are clearly not monolithic in their approach to hip hop or HHBP. Among the authors represented in this collection are those who are avid listeners of hip hop and those who do not listen to hip hop at all. Similarly, the authors vary significantly in their understanding of and approach to HHBP. The benefit of this diversity of perspective is a decidedly authentic critique that prioritizes the needs and interests of African American earners. 


Akom, A. (2009). Critical hip hop pedagogy as a form of liberatory praxis. Equity & Excellene in Education, 42(1), 42-66.

Alim, H. S., & Pennycook, A. (2007). Glocal linguistic flows: Hip-hop culture(s), identities, and the politics of language education. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 6(2), 89-100.

Baszile, D. T. (2009). Deal with it we must: Education, social justice, and the curriculum of hip hop culture. Equity & Excellence in Education, 42(1), 6-19.

Biggs, C. D. (2011). Sung Solecisms: Hip Hop as Non-Prescriptive Pedagogy. [Article]. Scholar-Practitioner Quarterly, 5(1), 39-51.

Bridges, T. (2011). Towards a pedagogy of hip hop in urban teacher education. [Article]. Journal of Negro Education, 80(3), 325-338.

Callahan, J. S., & Grantham, T. C. (2012). “Deeper than rap”: Gifted males and their relationship with hip hop culture Gifted Child Today, 35, 197-207.

Cermak, M. J. (2012). Hip-hop, social justice, and environmental education: Toward a critical ecological literacy. Journal of Environmental Education, 43, 192-203.

Davis, J., Pitts-Bannister, V. R., & Mutegi, J. W. (2014). Hip-hop and mathematics: A critical review of Schooling Hip-Hop: Expanding Hip-Hop Based Education Across the Curriculum. Journal of Urban Mathematics Education, 7(1), 96-106.

Davis, J. L. (2014). The Influence of hip-hop on African American youth in a poor and working-class urban community and the use of hip-hop in school. African American Learners.

Dowdell, T. S., & Mutegi, J. W. (2014). “‘You’re going to teach this to kids’?!: A beginning teachers’ experience using hip hop based pedagogy to teach mathematics to urban elementary students. African American Learners.

Emdin, C. (2010a). Affiliation and alienation: Hip-hop, rap, and urban science education. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 42(1), 1-25.

Emdin, C. (2010b). Urban science education for the hip-hop generation: Essential tools for the urban science educator and researcher. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers

Emdin, C., & Lee, O. (2012). Hip-hop, the "Obama effect," and urban science education. [Article]. Teachers College Record, 114, 1-24.

Gosa, T. L., & Fields, T. (2012). Is hip hop education another hustle? The (ir)responsible use of hip hop as pedagogy. In B. J. Porfilio & M. Viola (Eds.), Hip-hop(e): The cultural practice and critical pedagogy of international hip-hop (Vol. 56). New York: Peter Lang.

Hill, M. L. (2009). Wounded healing: Forming a storytelling community in hip-hop lit. Teachers College Record, 111, 248-293.

Irizarry, J. G. (2009). Representin’: Drawing from hip-hop and urban youth culture to inform teacher education. Education and Urban Society, 41, 489-515.

Jenkins, T. S. (2011). A beautiful mind: Black male intellectual identity and hip-hop culture. [Article]. Journal of Black Studies, 42, 1231-1251. doi: 10.1177/0021934711405050

Ladson-Billings, G. (2013). "Stakes is high": Educating new century students.>cite> Journal of Negro Education, 82, 105-110.

Mutegi, J. W., Pitts-Bannister, V. R., Nichols, B., Priester, D., Murdoch, Y., & Richardson, L. (2014). Tales from the mic: A content analysis of 10 years of hip-hop lyrics. >cite>African American Learners.

Petchauer, E. (2012). Sampling memories: Using hip-hop aesthetics to learn from urban schooling experiences. Educational Studies, 48(2), 137-155.

Phelps-Moultrie, J. (2014). Pedagogy of the oppressors: A critique of the premise behind hip-hop pedagogy. African American Learners.

Powell, C. T. (1991). Rap music: An education with a beat from the street. Journal of Negro Education, 60, 245-259.

Pulido, I. (2009). “Music fit for us minorities”: Latinas/os' Use of Hip Hop as Pedagogy and Interpretive Framework to Negotiate and Challenge Racism. [Article]. Part of a special issue: Hip Hop and Social Justice Education, 42(1), 67-85. doi: 10.1080/10665680802631253

Shockley, K. (2014). Theoretical musings on hip hop from an African centered perspective. African American Learners.

Stovall, D. (2006). We can relate: Hip-hop culture, critical pedagogy, and the secondary classroom. Urban Education, 41, 585-602.


1 Two notable exceptions can be found in the works of Davis, Pitts Bannister & Mutegi (2014) and Gosa and Fields (2012).