I Am...

My photo
Rhymin' since day... curious is a multi-tasking microphone vandal. Hiphop poetry is the dish of the day. Whether served fresh acapella or over baking hot beats, the elements of this feast are best enjoyed raw. Catch a portion of curious online or on stage, spitting like a pig on a spit roast. Check in to keep updated...peaCe

Sunday 22 May 2016

Come Clean - Schools, Hip-hop and White Fragility

Last week at school I jumped into a conversation about music with a couple of PE teachers discussing who would put together the music playlist for our upcoming Sports Day; one of my favourite days on the school calendar. 

Memories from my own school days and those I have been involved with as a teacher over the last 15 years have carved this joy into my psyche. From the tribalism of the banner carrying and cheering for your own form; the timeless subversion of PE kit rules; the 'inclusive' celebration of obese kids anchoring the tug-o-war to the flirting, picnicking and student/teacher relay races, sports day is an organised chaos that hints at a better way to structure the educational experience. 

Music is a big part of any good Sports Day and one that is steeped in its own traditions and that carries its own canon of dead white cultural norms; as much as any subject area of the curriculum. Queen, Spandau Ballet and Survivor are the Shakespeare, Florence Nightingale and Henry VIII of the sports day playlist; songs that many of my North West London ethnic minority students only know from Sports Day and perhaps BBC Olympics coverage in 2012; music as alien to them as the dead white 'heroes' they learn to quote in GCSE essays.

Back to the conversation. I was reluctant to offer my services to compile the music for this event despite itching to do so. The reason for this was that it would not have been the first time I had taken on this task, and last time it literally ended in tears. Not my tears but those of a more senior teacher who was "too upset to talk" at the end of a beautiful day in the sun because despite my greatest efforts, the Dizzee Rascal tune I was convinced had no swear words contained a solitary F bomb that came to represent their entire experience of the day. I brushed it off despite being slightly annoyed with myself for not managing to construct a playlist that both represented the culture and times of our students that also conformed to the squeaky cleanliness that is required for such an event. 

Most of the staff and all of the students commented on how good the music had been, with a few staff merely commenting that it was possibly a bit 'edgy' or 'untraditional'. But the students loved it. I know this from the dancing, gun-finger salutes and exclamations of "SHUT UUUP" issued from their grinning faces when their/our music blasted from the sound system perched atop the school minibus parked like some west coast gangster's lowrider on the side of the school field. Needless to say, I was not asked to contribute the following year and the playlist returned to the canon amongst a selection of top 40 hits that contained an equal level of sexualised, misogynistic, patriarchal messages as anything that had been filling the students ears the previous year did, but with an absence of that solitary 'fuck' that had come to define the entire day's selection in the previous year. A couple years have passed since then and the memory of that 'upsetting' moment has receded to back of my colleagues minds. I bite the bullet and interject,

"I've got loads of music, I can do you a playlist if you like."

My offer is met with looks of relief rather than the suspicion and fear I was concerned it may elicit.

"Ah, could you? That'd be great Chris; I don't have a clue about music."

I add that,

"I'll put a few of the classics in their and a mix of new music. I've got plenty of pop music since I had kids, it'll be easy."

The job is mine.

Later that evening I sit down with iTunes and start curating. The canon installed I start on the more exciting task of selecting tunes that will be relevant, contemporary and representative as well as some that are educational, political and subversive, all the while screening each choice for the stray profanity that could 'ruin the day' for some of the more fragile staff at the school. This proves a harder task than I had hoped for. From songs that celebrate local London culture from local artists to pop bangers from Rihanna, all seem to contain these stray shots of swearing that either require their deletion from the list or several hours of editing in Pro Tools to remove B words, N words, H words, S words and other 'trigger words'. An hour or so in and having spent a few quid on iTunes to purchase 'clean versions' of a few 'must have' tracks I wonder why I am bothering. Spending 99p on Rihanna's 'Work' to remove Drake's guest rap N bomb while it still includes his assertion that he knows Rihanna needs to get "done, done, done, done, done" is frustrating to say the least. The same problem persists as I trawl through Hip-hop track after R&B track after Grime track until what I am left with is a compilation where the poignant, insightful and most importantly relevant music of the generation it will entertain has had many of the positive political and educational messages removed due to profanity. Notable exceptions that do make the list come from Shay D, Lady Leshurr, Nas, Jay-Z and JME, but not from Jamie's brother or a whole host of other big names that I want to include. As a DJ there is no way I can treat this task with any less importance than were I filling my Serato crate to open up for Wu Tang or to rock a weekend set at XOYO - every gig is the most important gig at the time you are doing it and if you can't muster that passion for your music or audience then you don't deserve the gig.

So, 5 hours later, once I've padded the set out with the safer old school Garage anthems; Dubstep remixes; Soul classics from James Brown to Charles Wright; pop anthems from MJ to BeyoncĂ© and the few 'real bangers' that manage to avoid the perceived necessity of 'adult language' to convey universal messages, I am 99% sure I have fulfilled the brief to create a diverse and relevant compilation without inadvertently including any 'bombs' that could see all that effort thrown back in my face by a weeping colleague, and I am left to lament Hip-hop's persistent leaning towards profanity; a leaning that narrows its scope for inclusion on radio shows and in school classrooms; two places where the messages of hip-hop can reach a deservedly wide audience and contribute to the mass consciousness and discourse of our time. Most Hip-hop will not make it into these spaces and that is a shame. At its widest level this means that while Kendrick will get a radio edited version of his message onto mainstream radio, many other artists without the resources or savvy to produce radio versions of their work will continue to preach to the converted on underground shows and in underground clubs. More narrowly it means that my Sports Day playlist will contain no Skepta; no Stormzy; no Dr. Dre; no Kendrick (I'm not paying double); no J Cole; no Dizzee; no Giggs, Getts or Kano, despite them being some of mine and my students favourite MCs. 

Now, this is not some 40 year old puritanical epiphany post as I fucking love swearing and love it in my music too, but it does frustrate me that some of the important messages held within the music I love and want to share with young people (including my own daughters) will remain unshared and possibly unheard by them. If they are heard they will be heard outside of the formal education space; a space where they can be debated and built upon; critiqued and celebrated alongside their dead white counterparts. This is also not to say that this is solely the fault of the music or artists as schools have a lot to answer for in this also, as while it is acceptable in school to read Of Mice and Men and discuss the meaning of the N words it holds within its pages, it is not acceptable to hear them coming from a rappers lips over a 140bpm beat that sounds like a collage of gunshots and gravel. I understand the difference in context between debating language in and English class and blaring it out of a PA system for the entertainment of students at Sports Day and that is why I find it frustrating that some of this great music rules itself out of inclusion due to its profane vocabulary despite also containing emancipatory, socially critical, culturally relevant concepts delivered through rich, complex, dynamic phraseology - the kind of stuff that can change minds and lives, but only outside of the school space.

So, in conclusion, respect to those artists that manage to get that rawness across without the need for cussing, and props to those who don't give a fuck about having their shit played at a school Sports Day alike. As I've said already I don't have a single motherfucking problem with swear words, but perhaps, if we as artists are making music that we really want to change the world and school the youth then perhaps we need to think about occasionally holding fire on the F bombs and N bombs on certain tracks to ensure that they are not automatically disqualified from entering the school space; a space where many students struggle daily to see themselves reflected in the content of their lessons; the characters in their books; the heroes on their wall displays or the songs on their Sports Day playlist. 

So, here's hoping I have done my due diligence and don't make any fragile white teachers cry with my playlist. If I have, then at least any crying and protesting will not be able to so easily hide behind the facade of an anti-profanity stance, rather than more likely being as a result of the fragility often triggered in certain white teachers when urban contemporary blackness enters the school space unannounced and uninvited.

For my students I hope it goes some way to paying back for the weeks of hiding themselves, contorting themselves and restraining themselves into the structure and rigidity of a school system that rarely holds their cultures, arts or histories in any great esteem.

© Poetcurious 2016

Friday 24 July 2015

Monday 16 March 2015

HipHopEdSoc March 9th @ UCLIOE

HipHopEdSoc: One of the best yet.

The small room adjacent to the student union bar was rammed with new and old faces alike. Over the past 3 years HipHopEd UK has grown from a series of Twitter chats into an ever-expanding network of artists, educators and academics. It was a great feeling to stand in front of so many people who I have got to know well through this HipHopEd journey as well as to speak to people I had never met before or who I had met outside of HipHopEd. This was the biggest group I have seen at a HipHopEd meeting and it is a testament to the strength of the work being undertaken as well as the enthusiasm of those who get involved with this work that our numbers are growing each time we meet.

This meeting was a little like returning to the start of a loop. As we have been collaborating on this project for 3 years now, we had moved a long way from our start point of sharing good practice and discussing its form, content and purpose. However, this meeting was a chance to revisit some of the fundamental experiences and ideas that brought many of us together in the first place.

Darren’s presentation on his school-based Power To The Pupils project reminded me of our first meeting. Then, as now, I was blown away by the depth and quality of this work, combining P4C with a rap club; a space for young minds to wrangle with big ideas, through the lens of Hip-hop. And as Hip-hop is older than many of these kids parents it is great to see a new generation learning about and through this culture by participating in the production of rich cultural artefacts.

Jeffrey’s presentation on his current English practice stood as testimony to the impact that HipHopEd continues to have on his teaching. Using Hip-hop as a frame, Jeff talked through the process of taking his secondary aged, free school students through the journey of writing an academic essay; taking their writing from the page to the stage as he spoke about turning their written words into epic pieces of spoken word poetry. This journey is sure to teach his students far more than how to write a good essay, For some it will be a journey of empowerment; for some a chance to exorcise some demons and for a few it will possibly be the start of a career in writing, performing and creating. With Jeff’s integrity, skill and passion, I am sure it will be a memorable learning experience for all involved.

I spoke rapidly about a less practice-based aspect of HipHopEd and returned to some of the ideas I learnt from attending David Kirkland’s lecture at the IoE (as it was then) 3 years ago. It was at this lecture that I first met Darren and a number of other teachers who would go on to form the core of HipHopEd UK. At the lecture Kirkland rapped through a thoroughly edutaining presentation that focused on the concept of multiple Englishes. This was where I first became aware of the idea of code-switching and where I first heard an academic speak in a form of English that seemed closer to the voices I heard in Hip-hop records than it did to that of the lecturers and professors I had met during my own education. It was here that I was given a tool with which to investigate my own practice and where I first began to make sense of my seemingly schizophrenic approach to language at school. I talked about the Hip-hop club I ran (Spit Club) and my experiences of working as a Behaviour Support Manager; two roles that required very different approaches to language in order to be successful. I spoke about battling and how I drew on that particularly competitive aspect of Hip-hop when I was in the Head’s office or in pre-exclusion meetings for many of the SEN students I taught, who faced exclusion from the mainstream school I work in; students who often arrived at school from complicated and deprived families and for whom school was just another institution that they didn’t feel comfortable in and did not trust. For me, one of the greatest aspects of HipHopEd, is that it helped me become aware of, and formalise, much of the implicit HipHopEd practice I was already doing. It has helped me develop that practice; place it more clearly within a cultural, historical and socio-political context, and to build my confidence in challenging many of the hegemonic ideas and practices of mainstream education, without anybody spitting bars or cutting a beat.

We then went in to the three guest presentations from Dr Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman (#whitecurriculum campaign), Dr Illana Webster-Kogen (Global Hip-hop course at SOAS) and PhD student Bharath Ganesh (Hip-hop, Difference and education).

Dr Nathaniel’s presented his work on the Why is my curriculum white? campaign. He talked about his own experience of leaving Oxford University and realising that everything he had been taught was a lie; that the finest education this country can offer did little more than perpetuate racist myths about the civilisation, history and knowledge, under the moniker of a ‘classical’ education. Alongside Nathaniel, Kwesi Shaddai spoke earnestly about his work in supplementary schools and the space it gave to offer a broader and more nuanced education that could speak to young people under the radar of Ofsted and its governmental taskmasters.

Dr Ilana gave insight into the content and reasons behind SOAS developing its Global Hip-hop course. Again this was a story of including something that had previously been conspicuous by its absence; a decentring of western European cultural achievements as the pinnacle of civilisation.

Bharath spoke about his research and shared some insightful observation on the etiquette of the Hip-hop cypher. He spoke of the energy and mutual respect that was shared in these instances as well as the immediacy with which potentially harmful political and social views were shared and challenged. Listening to Bharath I could imagine a world where political debate could easily be conducted over a DJ Premier instrumental and where all parties voices could be heard and responded to fairly and honestly, regardless of gender, class or political affiliation; a far cry from anything you are likely to see in a televised debate during the run up to the general election.

After the presentations, we rearranged the room into a circle and began to share responses an observations with people around us. There were probably 50 people in attendance and as such, we started off sharing with the people we found ourselves sat next to. After these initial discussions we formed questions, and then we tackled a couple of them in the larger group. The debate was lively, as it always is at a HipHopEd meeting. With such a wide range of people with such differing experiences of both education and Hip-hop, there was plenty of disagreement around the role, place and purpose of Hip-hop in education. The debate, rather like Bharath’s description of the cypher, created its own boundaries. Mutual respect, turn-taking, listening and honest heart-on-sleeve sharing led to a vibrant and rich enquiry of the questions. A highlight of this was an exploration of the spectrum of implicit and explicit HipHopEd practice in regard to getting more good HipHopEd practice into schools. While some argued that HipHopEd was best placed outside of the mainstream, away from the beady eyes of the policy makers and Edu-shapers (my own term), others argued vehemently that the role of HipHopEd should be to ultimately infiltrate and change the mainstream school experience through a decentring of hegemonic British values; white/western ideologies and the development of critical thinking and creative, student-centred approaches to teaching, learning.

Attached to this debate was the question of whether or not to call HipHopEd by such a name when trying to infiltrate the mainstream. On this topic Iesha Small provided my favourite line of the night:

“Free schools sell themselves on a classical curriculum; a Hip-hop school sells itself on a critical thinking curriculum.”

As we approached the last 10 minutes, first time attendee and 3x UK Team beatbox champion The Human Radio sparked off the first official HipHopEd UK cypher. This gave ample opportunity for the MCs in the room to participate and add their voices to the evening. One after another, participants left their chairs to prowl the inner circle spitting freestyles and written bars. Reveal stepped up first and reminded us all just why he is so highly rated as an MC as well as a developing academic machine-gunning through a dense and lengthy verse. Jeffrey and Darren both added their voices to the cypher showing that there is no dividing line between teacher and artist; it is quite possible and indeed desirable to wear both those hats. Props to everyone who gave their voice to the cypher. This was a perfect end to an inspiring and energetic night that saw HipHopEd add another feather to its Kangol and a whole new set of bright, enthusiastic and important voices join the HipHopEd family!

Many thanks to all who attended! Stay tuned for details of future HipHopEd events.

Debating in a cypher at HipHopEdSoc March 2015

Sunday 14 December 2014

HipHopEdSoc Launch at the UCL IoE

Just reached home from the IoE HipHopEdSoc launch. It’s Monday, nearly midnight and although the days teaching had me nodding off into my book on the Northern line to Euston, I've returned home eyes wide and mind buzzing from an evening of conversation and presentations with some of London's finest Hip-hop educators.

Following in the same vein as the HipHopEd seminars this first monthly meeting featured UK rap legend TY. A veteran of the UK scene and still a very active live and studio artist, TY is less well known for his work in education. Speaking on the cathartic effect of providing workshops that 'use rap as an excuse for changing the world', TY spoke of focussing on understanding and developing body language, presence, articulation, movement, knowledge of self and your environment. Work that aims to extend the range of communication skills that the young participants are able to harness and utilise for their self-development and empowerment.
TY has been committed in his support of HipHopEd and shared insightful observations on his own journey with Hip-hop as he shared some of the exercises from his workshops with the help of willing volunteers from the audience. Salute.

TY's presentation followed on from an epic Q&A after rapper and workshop leader Shay D gave an impassioned presentation on her deep and diverse work running workshops in a number of challenging environments with young people between 16 & 25. Clear that she is not a 'teacher' Shay spoke of the extended relationships she manages with young people, often involving them in other projects through her activity as a rapper and promoter with The Lyrically Challenged collective.
The debate that followed focused on the distinctions between teachers and otr educators as Shay freestyled through a range of examples of the work she has done using the creative writing and expressiveness of Hip-hop to help young people talk about the complex issues they face in their lives and the responsibility that comes with facilitating that work.
There was some discussion about the authenticity of using Hip-hop that is synonymous with anti-authoritarianism within authoritarian institutions and the potential for Hip-hop to be a vehicle for self-empowerment or social change that led to a discussion about the personal and transformative effect of the work on the young people involved that relies on an instinctive approach to practice that is informed by emotional literacy more than academic theory.

Darren Chetty opened the presentations speaking about this Power To The Pupils project that initiated debate about sampling and 'crate digging' based on a lesson he had done with his students on Will I Am that traced the original sample in the Will I Am song back to a Tamil movie soundtrack that Darren shared with his pupils.

The evening was kicked off with a reading of the HipHopEd manifesto as well as a little recapping of the HipHopEd journey towards this latest manifestation at the IoE.

Ending with a presentation from rapper and special needs teacher Solo Cypher on the work of B.F. Skinner, HipHopEdSoc delivered a dope mix of conversations, presentations, dialogue and discourse, that bumped like DJ sets. Everyone's presentations and contributions to the dialogue shed more light on the diversity of practice, pedagogy and purpose that exists amongst those working with HipHopEd.

The vibes on the evening were familial, and like all good families, the hiphoped family can find difference and disagreement within each other's approaches and beliefs. It is a great testimony to the UK HipHopEd movement that it provides a space for sharing and debating these varied beliefs and practices, and at times on the night the temperature and volume of the debate was raised. Not everyone attending HipHopEdSoc possessed or desires to possess the etiquette of formal academic debate, and as such there were times of beautiful anarchy, with voices clashing, colliding and battling to be heard. But, that is what makes these hiphopEd events so refreshing and engaging because a HipHopEd event is not your average teachmeet, cpd opportunity or university society, it is a hub for a growing number of hip-hop heads, from the streets, schools, universities and all places in between, finding time to share and contribute to a widening field of practice, centred on a shared passion for both education and Hip-hop culture. Good people doing good work for good reason.

HipHopEd is the space to be.

Thursday 20 November 2014

HipHopEdSoc - OFFICIAL LAUNCH - 1.12.14

It has been a while since I posted here but this is great news and worth sharing with my Hip-hop and education heads alike.

The UK HipHopEd movement has been steadily smouldering with occasional bursts into flame over the last year or so. Since being featured on the BBC 1Xtra documentary 'When Words Collide' HipHopEd has had a full feature in the TES, a resurgence of the Twitter chats (that started it all off) and has now found a home at the prestigious Institute of Education in the form of HipHopEdSoc.

HipHopEdSoc launches next week with presentations from 2 of my favourite HipHopEd heads - Sam Berkson and Shay D - and will be graced by the presence of a true UK rap veteran - TY.

As ever the aim of HipHopEdSoc is to bring a broad spectrum of people together with an interest in Hip-hop, education, philosophy, politics, arts and academia to discuss and share their work and views on Hip-hop as a vehicle for education - Hip-hop as pedagogy.

Hopefully this introduces a new generation of younger Ed heads to the work of HipHopEd and assists in growing the family and its influence.

Meanwhile, I want to give a special shout out to the US HipHopEd fam who celebrate their 4th birthday this month. BIG UP!!

If you want to know more about the work of HipHopEd both here or in the States you can find us all on Twitter by searching #hiphoped


Monday 2 December 2013

UK #HipHopEd Top 60

Last week the UK #HipHopEd Twitter Chat took on the ridiculous task of compiling a Top Ten list of UKHH tracks to use in teaching. After much suggestion, advocation and championing, what we got was NOT a Top Ten! There was such a wide range of contexts, purposes and subject areas that tunes were suggested for that trying to qualify any decision over a place in or out of the Top Ten would have been impossible to reconcile; let alone which order the final ten should appear in! So, what we have got is a UK HipHopEd Top 60 UKHH tracks to use in education, in no particular order. Well, nearly true...actually, the list is ordered by artists depending on how many of their tracks were submitted for the Top Ten. So, if there is a winner, it is held by the first 2 artists on the list. Both artists received 4 submissions for different tracks, from different chatters. And that all means that your winners are...

UK HipHopEd Top 60

Dizzee Rascal - Fix Up, Look Sharp

Dizzee Rascal - Sittin' Here

Dizzee Rascal - I Luv U

Dizzee Rascal – Imagine

Roots Manuva - Juggle Tings Proper

Roots Manuva -Dreamy Days

Roots Manuva - Witness (One Hope)

Roots Manuva - Movements

Akala - Fire In The Booth

Akala - Find No Enemy

Akala – Shakespeare

Skinnyman - Council Estate of Mind

Skinny Man - Day to Day Basis

Skinny Man - No Big Tings

Rodney P - The Future

Skitz feat. Rodney P - Left

London Posse - How's Life In London

London Posse - Money Mad

Ty – Hercules

Ty - Emotions

Jehst – England

Jehst – 1979

Blak Twang - Red Letter

Black Twang – GCSE

Ms Dynamite - Put Him Out

Ms Dynamite - It Takes More

Smiley culture - Cockney Translation

Smiley Culture - Police Officer

Lethal Bizzle - POW

Lethal Bizzle - Oi

Braintax - The Grip

Braintax - Future Years

Katch 22 - Reverse World

Katch 22 - Death of the Flat Black Circle

Task Force - Butterfly Concerto

Chester P - Little Man

Wretch 32 - 24 Hours

Swami Baracus - The Recipe

MCs Logik - Operatin Logikally

Broken Glass - Rapology

Ruthless Rap Assassins - And it Wasn't a Dream

Scorzayzee - Great Britain

Lowkey - Let Me Live My Life

P-Money - Slang Like this

Hijack - Daddy Rich

Krispy 3 - Destroy All The Stereotypes

Kano - Ps & Qs

Rhyme Asylum - Holding On

MC Buzz B - Last Tree

Labrinth - Express Yourself

Rebel MC - Black Meaning Good

So Solid Crew - 21 Seconds

The Streets - A Grand Don't Come For Free

Neneh Cherry - Buffalo Stance

Melanin 9 - The 7 Blues

Cyrus Malachi - Black Maria

Tippa Irie - Complain Neighbour

Durrty Goodz - Born Blessed

Madness - Baggy Trousers

Other artists who were mentioned non-specifically:

Shadia Mansour

Caxton Press

Wee Papa girls

She rockers

Cookie Crew

Monie Love

*Props to Dizzee and Roots Manuva for leading the way with their UK #HipHopEd bangers!!