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Honors course on Hip Hop

Honors students get hands on with Hip Hop

English classes teach classics and culture. They take students into a deeper look at a time and place by studying the words that make up novels and poetry. St. Cloud State University professor Dr. Michael Dando does that by exploring the modern poetry of Hip Hop in his Honors course “Hip Hop Cultural Studies”.

Hip Hop is a cultural force that is embedded within American society as well as an art form. It goes way beyond music, Dando said.

A student presenting during a 2019 class“This course looks at what Hip Hop teaches us and how people have made sense of their lives and how they communicate with each other using Hip Hop,” he said. “It is everywhere – in our words, in fashion, how we walk. It’s a global phenomenon.”

St. Cloud State University Honors Program saw the value of Hip Hop and worked with Dando to create the course in 2019 as a way for students to study the cultural impact of Hip Hop critically.

Hip Hop is a legitimate form of study. There are programs of study at Harvard, Duke, Princeton, Notre Dame and elsewhere, Dando said.

“Writing and art and music have always had a place in the academy including new ways of thinking about those types of things that haven’t been thought about before,” he said.

Hip Hop and graffiti haven’t been seen as higher art forms historically due to power structures. They were created as a way for people who weren’t given a voice to speak out about that structure and were criminalized or marginalized by those in charge of those power structures, Dando said.

“Who gets to decide what art is? What graffiti is?,” he asked his class last fall.

Last year students in Dando’s class explored those questions. They studied how people communicate through music and art. They created their own Hip Hop artifacts by creating a SoundCloud virtual exhibition of their art and music along with a book of artwork and a vinyl record.

Students in the class did graffiti art, lyrical composition and beat making, said Eric Weis, Honors student.
They studied the history of Hip Hop from its start in the 1970s in New York to how it has developed into a worldwide art form today.

Student Sarah Brown said the class gave her a chance to step out of her comfort zone and a new appreciation of the art forms in Hip Hop. Learning how to write rap let her see how complex it was with inner rhymes and end rhymes and making beats let her draw on her band experience.

Student artwork on displayBrenna Lindstrom was already into classic Hip Hop when she joined the class, but she enjoyed learning about that history and how people built Hip Hop by weaving into it what they did every day.

“It was an outlet for people who didn’t have a voice,” she said. “It came from people who just wanted to get their words out and if they couldn’t speak they could dance, do art or make beats.”

That is what Sunny Moua took from the class too.

“It opened up my eyes to how Hip Hop can also be a form of self-expression to speak out your words that often won’t be expressed out there,” Moua said.

Madison Midas and Jesse Blackwell are both Country music fans, but took the course as part of their Honors requirements. They felt the class opened them up to a new genre of music they wouldn’t otherwise have experienced.

“This class allowed me to explore a new genre of music and really listen to it,” Blackwell said. “It gave me a better understanding of it, but also an appreciation of it.”

Honors students are exploring the origins of Hip Hop and its influence on culture again this fall.