Monday, May 7, 2012

Intergalactic by The Beastie Boys

Yo MCA, thanks for helping me teach my students about rap music. 

Rap music is a difficult thing to teach 5th graders. The vast majority of rap music contains lyrics that are not age-appropriate and is about subject matter that holds no place in a school classroom. I’m not complaining about the use of language in rap music. Some of the best rappers use language that reflects their experience and surroundings, which I appreciate on an artistic level. It’s just that I can’t bring those words into my classroom.

Last year I taught two rap songs, “Keep Ya Head Up” by Tupac Shakur to my 6th graders and “Intergalactic” by The Beastie Boys” to my 5th graders. Both units went well by the latter really connected with my students and taught my students many great things about the artistry and the depth of rap music.

The Beastie Boys have always been part of my musical life. I grew up watching these guys on MTV and marveled at the musical growth through the years. The album Hello Nasty really captured my imagination and their hit single “Intergalactic” is one of my favorite songs.


Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA do their thing. They boast and brag about their skills using references to other music, science fiction with clever rhymes. I have my students analyze the back up vocals, the rhyming scheme and teach about poetic devices like alliteration. The students analyze the lyrics and look up words they don’t know. Then we learn how to rap the verse.

Does this song have any deep meaning? No, but it does teach something very important about our culture and what rap music truly is all about. My 5th graders have more illusions about rap music than facts. Most of them don’t see the connection between poetry and rap, and the science of working in and around the beat.

Most of all they don’t see rap music as a genre filled with diversity. For many of them, rap music is simply about African-Americans raised in the ghetto talking about gangs violence and drugs. The Beastie Boys are something very different.

Here we have three Jewish boys who went to private schools. These are guys who are married and have kids. And the Late Adam Yauch (MCA) is more famous for fighting for the human rights and the freedom of the Tibetan people, than hanging out in a club.

Adam Yauch didn’t die from a gang-related shooting, he died of cancer.

Look, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that my students have a view of rap music that is African-American-centric that reflects life in the lower-class neighborhoods, but for them to think that it is only that does not accurately reflect the diversity in the wonderful world of rap music.

It’s going to be different teaching about the Beastie Boys speaking about the late MCA, Adam Yauch. I don’t really know how much I will go into his death, but I think I am going to spend more time on who the Beastie Boys were not so much as rappers but as men. Adam Yauch opened up my eyes not only to the possibilities of rap music but the injustices in Tibet and I think it’s time to pass that along to my students.

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