Professor Michael Eric Dyson Defends His Jay-Z Course at Georgetown University

Movies & TV

By: Vibe / November 4, 2011

In a recent article in the Washington Post, sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson has blurred hip-hop into academia, examining the intellectual, theological and philosophical impact of Jay-Z in a new course – SOCI -124-01 or “Sociology of Hip-Hop — Urban Theodicy of Jay-Z.” – at Georgetown University.

“This is not a class meant to sit around and go, ‘Oh man, those lyrics were dope,’  Dyson said, who is a Princeton-educated author, syndicated radio host and ordained Baptist minister. “We’re dealing with everything that’s important in a sociology class: race, gender, ethnicity, class, economic inequality, social injustice. . . . His body of work has proved to be powerful, effective and influential. And it’s time to wrestle with it.”

The class has already filled its 80-student enrollment cap the first week of the semester, which forced Dyson to relocate into a larger classroom that can hold 140 students. In the lecture hall scheduled every Monday and Wednesday, students gain insight of rap music’s political impact in a different light. Drawing parallels to other prominent figures such as civil rights pioneer W.E.B. Du Bois and the rhymes of rap legend Notorious B.I.G., Dyson’s teachings discusses Jay-Z from his street hustles to ascending to the top, which have sparked many conversations on campus.

In one of his lectures last Monday, he delves into the idea of rap music’s inadvertent political gravity.

“Hip-hop has globalized a conception of blackness that has had a political impact, whether or not it had a political intent,” he said.

While the popularity of the class has prompted several students to occasionally sit in Dyson’s lectures, parents, who sign their tuition checks, are not too thrilled about the course. But Dyson’s specialty is striving to close generational gaps, part of a continuing mission to clean-up the diplomacy between the hip-hop generation and its skeptical elders.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of push-back from some students’ parents,” he says. “But I tell them, ‘Bring your parents in here. Let them see what we’re doing. It might change their minds.’ ”

Regardless of some disapproval from parents, the 53-year-old is serving as a bridge in which ideas about hip-hop can reach a younger audience. Timonthy Wickham-Crowley, chairman of Georgetown’s sociology department, supports Dyson’s course by arguing that the study of Jay-Z’s work is a valuable tool for sociological examination.

“When [Dyson] comes out of the classroom, he has students in tow and there are these animated, engaged conversations going on,” he said.

Dyson offered his first university-level hip-hop course in 1995 at the University of North Carolina. Since then, he has taught at Columbia, DePaul and the University of Pennsylvania, where he used Tupac Shakur’s 2002 book, “Holler if You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur,” as the primary textbook for a course. –Eric Diep