Students Will Rap to Academics
As you walk by John Grasser’s classroom, you may be surprised by what you hear: the rap beat of Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and Nasir Jones.
All in the name of academics.
This summer, Johns Hopkins University is offering a new course, “Rap as a Contemporary Poetic Form.” Taught by Grasser, a lecturer for JHU Writing Seminars, the class will be offered at the Montgomery County Campus. It is open to high school juniors, seniors and college undergraduates.
“When students hear ‘poetry,’ they think boring and elevated utterances,” Grasser said. “My goal will be to break down those preconceived notions, and listening to music will be a big part of that. They’ve been listening to rap as music on their headphones or on their way to work.”
Students in the three-credit class will study traditional rhetoric as well as poetic sources and forms. They will critically examine the works of classic authors such as Lewis Carol, Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes. Then they will turn their focus to Eminem, Kanye West and other rap musicians.
“They’re really not doing anything differently,” Grasser said of rap and poetry. “They’re using the same rhetoric.” Students will learn, for example, how both rap and poetry use literary conventions such as iambic pentameter.
Grasser said he expects the course to appeal to students interested in writing, music and history.
The course is writing intensive. Grasser likely will require students to submit an original creative work at every other class session. Creative assignments will include the composition of traditional poetic forms, spoken word poetry, and original rap or hip-hop lyrics.
Too often, Grasser said, people dismiss certain types of art as high art or low art. His goal is for students to recognize that one art form may not necessarily be better or worse than another.
“Poetry written about social and political concerns has largely disappeared from the landscape,” Grasser said. “Poets are wary to take on political or social concerns with their work because they change with time. Rap and hip hop are in a better space to take on those problems.”
The course is modeled after a class offered by Yale University, Grasser said.