college travels

Monday, May 26, 2008

Reaching Our Youth Through Hip Hop

Youthworks College has intensive teaching blocks at the beginning of each year prior to the beginning of Semester 1. During these intensives I was teaching Youth Ministry 1 – a subject outlining the principles and practices of ministering to young people in churches. Each year we get extra students as well as our full-time students who just pick up the intensive.

The intensive at the beginning of this year was excellent, great group, stimulating discussion. During the course we shared ideas and resources. Again I was reminded of how important music is to many young people. We had a Mum in the course, who had children who are moving into adolescence. She had taken up the challenge to begin a ministry for young people at her church and she particularly wanted good music for her own children and the young people that she will serve.

As we talked about this I shared an issue that arose in one of the churches where I was youth minister. I’d visited a family who were concerned about the attitude that their son had toward them as parents, particularly to the mother. They felt that some of the hip hop music that he was listening to was very derogative toward women. They wanted his attitude to change and asked me what to do about it! They’d tried banning him from listening to one particular Hip Hop artist.

(N.B One thing that will not work for a 16 year old is banning! For example, Les Murray, the Australian poet once was asked how to get young people enthused about poetry. He said “Ban it!”.)

I said that I think redirecting interest away might work. So the next Friday night we had a “Culture Vulture” segment where one of the leaders promoted a hip hop/ roots CD by Michael Franti called “Everybody Needs Music”. Franti is not Christian, but going with the principle that we can use certain things in our culture that God has given us generally through people’s creativity, we were happy to promote this CD. And it worked! It’s a great album with more depth than some Christian albums.

As I got into listening to “Everyone Needs Music” I found I was uplifted. Most importantly he speaks well of women as opposed to some of the other Hip Hop singers. At the time I was also reading G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. I read an interesting assessment of the popular expression of poetry that was coming out in his day and made a connection, all be it obtuse, to one of the songs on Franti’s album.

In Orthodoxy there is an essay called "The Slavery of Free Verse" in which Chesterton is weighing in heavily on the new poetry that emerged in the late 19 century – i.e. Free Verse, which is uncadence or unrhyming. The call was to free oneself from the strictures of poetry that held to cadence and structure. Chesterton didn’t agree. Even though the effect or the content of the poem may be good, or even be impacting, he upheld some eternal principle in the order and the rhyme. He had a way with words and found that trusting in the ‘fag-end rather than the principle’ was abhorrent. (Reminded me of a T.S. Eliot line but that's another story...). Rather than being liberated by such free verse, he felt it was enslavement. He said that if humans were truly free, we would talk in ‘rhythm and even in rhyme’.

I wonder what Chesterton would have said of hip hop and Franti’s style of music and poetry. Franti sees himself as a poet and hits the spoken word circuit at times. So reading Chesterton and the line ‘I have always had the fancy that if man were really free, he would talk in rhythm and even in rhyme’ reminded me of this line out of Franti’s song ‘If I were the words, then everything that everybody said would rhyme’.

Here are the first couple of verses from the song for anyone who is interested:

What I Be - Michael Franti off “Everyone Deserves Music”

If I could be the sun
I'd radiate like Africa and
Smile upon the world
Intergalactic love laughter and
If I were the rains, I'd wash away the whole world's pain and
Bring the gift of cool like ice cream trucks on sunny days and
If I was the earth I'd be like mountains bountiful
And if I were the sky so high, I'd be like wind invincible and
If I could be a seed, I would give birth to redwood trees and
If I were the trees, I'd generate the freshest air to breathe in

What I be, is what I be
What I be, is what I be
well, well, well, movin on!
well, well, well, movin on!
Do you love someone? Do you love somebody?
Love that one!

If I could be the leaves, then like jade I would stay evergreen and
Spread my limbs out wide and pull love so close to me and
If I could the roots, I would dig deep like ancestry and
If were the fruits, you'd make the sweetest cherry pie from me and
If I could be the night, my moon replace all electric lights and
Magic music would transmit from outer space on satellites
If I myself could be the ocean, you would feel emotion all the time and
If I were the words, then everything that everybody said would rhyme

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  • Great Post! I truly believe that hip hop can be used as a tool for motivating the youth. I'm working on a book about the subject.

    I teach the youth how to create their own hip hop songs and I steer them in a positive direction. At least I encourage them to be honest about what they have to say.

    People tend to forget that hip hop was created by the youth. A youth looking to avoid the negative activity surrounding them. A youth looking for a voice to express themselves.

    With guidance, I believe the voice of the youth can be used to speak truth to power, as the saying goes. Keep up the great work!

    DLUX: The Light
    The Spoken Word Hip Hop Poet

    By Blogger DLUXTHELIGHTblog, at 3:16 pm  

  • Hi Jim,

    I love how music is such a powerful tool. If it's used well, a well crafted song can completely change our attitude or mood. It can help us to remember things (I can't help but remember Samuel L Jackson's character in 'Long Kiss Goodnight'), and drum home concepts ('Get down low and go, go go!').

    Like any tool, we have a responsibility to use it well, as using it badly is either being wasteful with what we've been given, or just plain wrong.

    On that note, I think I should go and buy some more Michael Franti, and take some notes...

    By Anonymous Peter, at 9:51 am  

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