In 1954, America reached the landmark decision to strike down “separate but equal” school desegregation with Brown v. Board of Education. While many critics argue that schools are still segregated, Brown v. Board of Education and affirmative action have played major roles in propelling a number of minorities from poverty to middle-class status. Despite this ruling, many schools in urban spaces still lack resources like laptops, guidance counselors, school psychologists, up-to-date textbooks and tutors, all of which are instrumental in expanding one’s thought process. This is where hip-hop plays a role.
Yes, rap music serves as a field of merriment, but inner-city youth have a deeper connection to hip-hop. With songs like “They Schools” (dead prez), “School Spirit” (Kanye West) and “Revelation” (D 12), emcees expressed unsatisfying experiences with education, leading hip-hop to fill in the gaps that schools, parents, and teachers can’t supply.
VIBE plucked out a few lyrics that touch on the underserved black experience with education.
1) Kendrick Lamar — “Pride”
Lyrics: See, in a perfect world, I’ll choose faith over riches/I’ll choose work over b***hes, I’ll make schools out of prison…”
The Break Down: The ACLU continues to disrupt the growing national trend that’s funneling children out of school to juvenile and other criminal justice systems. Zero-police rules that schools have adopted have affected the lives of numerous minority children for minor infractions (one of the reasons that private prisons are getting people’s pockets fat with money). On “Pride,” K.Dot is simply saying that he’d like to reverse this trend and educate kids as opposed to sending them to jail.
2) Kendrick Lamar — “Momma”
Lyrics: Tossin’ footballs with his ashy black ankles/Breakin’ new laws, mama passed on home trainin’/He looked at me and said, “Kendrick, you do know my language, you just forgot because of what public schools had painted…”
The Break Down: Yes, formal education is very important—schooling can change lives. However, marginalized students fail to learn the many systemic practices that create a culture of poverty and crime such as drug sentencing laws, redlining, policing, among other systemic issues. And unless one is naturally inquisitive, formal education can blind one to the some causes of crime and poverty.
3) J. Cole — “4 Your Eyez Only”
Lyrics: They sent your pops to prison when he needed education.
The Break Down: Prisons aren’t meant to serve as a tool for reformation. If prisons and schools educated men and women on how and why the culture and crime exist in poverty-stricken areas, one could make better decisions about life and better combat the temptations of the underworld.
4) Hopsin — “Fly”
Lyrics: I was taught education is the only way to make it/Then how’d I get so much money inside my savings/My teachers never saw the heights that I’m f**king aiming
The Break Down: Hopsin lets listeners know that if you’re passionate about something that doesn’t require a college education, just go for it. Educate yourself.
5) Nas — “What Goes Around”
Lyrics: Schools where I learned should be burned, it is poison.
The Break Down: Nas has been a voracious reader of literature on the black experience such as Marcus Garvey’s The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, among others. Given Esco’s organic intelligence, far-reaching book knowledge and having defeated poverty, it’s not surprising that Nas—an eighth-grade dropout—would have ill feelings toward formal education. Based on his experience, schooling did nothing to augment his curiosity and creativity.
6) Ab-Soul — “Threatening Nature”
Lyrics: Way back when I was in grade school I learned about his-tory/But what about her-story, did anybody ask?
The Break Down: Ab-Soul is an abstract thinker. His lyrics encourage fans to think in ways that are foreign to their ideologies. On “Threatening Nature,” Soulo tackles gender inequality by suggesting that schools should pay more attention to women’s issues.
7) Scarface — “Black Still”
Lyrics: Our kids educated by the enemy/And they don’t know sh*t about their history/Cause they ain’t teaching that in schools.
The Break Down: Other than the repetitive stories about historical figures like Dr. Martin Luther King and Frederick Douglass that bombard our social media pages and classrooms during Black History Month, students do not gain a deep understanding of other black pioneers.
8) Lupe Fiasco — “Hurt Me Soul”
Lyrics: They bomb my village, they call us killers/Took me off they welfare, can’t afford they healthcare/My teacher won’t teach me, my master beats me/And it hurts me soul
The Break Down: Lupe Fiasco is a profound rhyme-slinger. His raps are always thought-provoking and cover a wide range of topics. Here, Skateboard Lu not only raps about under-qualified teachers, which is a grave issue in America, but he touches on African militia groups, welfare and health care policies (all of which have been shaped by racism) and other outside systemic forces that create a culture of poverty and violence.
9) Kendrick Lamar feat. Pharrell Williams — “good kid”
Lyrics: Mass hallucination, baby/Ill education, baby/Want to reconnect with your elations?/This is your station, baby
The Break Down: Ill education—specifically coming from Kendrick Lamar, who grew up in a Piru [Blood] neighborhood—covers everything from unfulfilled parenting due to tireless work habits, gang culture, television, social media and, yes, even school.
10) J. Cole — “School Daze”
Lyrics: But some of my n***as will probably never make it/The S.A.T. sh*t man I doubt they ever take it, cause instead of tryna send a n***a to a tutor/Them guidance counselors tryna introduce us to recruiters, it’s a set-up
The Break Down: Everyone learns differently, whether it’s by reading, watching, repetition, being super creative or working one-on-one. But poorly funded schools aren’t financially able to deal with the many needs of underprivileged students.