michael mullady

Charise Cheney has her students nodding their heads to the beat of her lecture in a new, funky-fresh class titled “Hip-Hop, Poetics and Politics.”

The class is “experimental,” meaning it is a valid academic course that provides an opportunity for experimentation. The class is not subject to delays that new courses and programs need before they can be included in the Cal Poly catalog.

“Hip-Hop, Poetics and Politics” covers the dynamics of hip-hop culture, its historical movement, political significance and social influence. The class also examines how hip-hop exemplifies cross-cultural hybridization within not only black communities nationally and internationally, but also amongst indigenous Latino and Asian peoples around the world.

“The class uses hip-hop culture to examine historical developments in African-American communities in the post-civil rights era,” Cheney explained. “It also uses hip-hop culture to study black cultural dynamics in music, dance, oral tradition, visual arts – I also use hip-hop culture to look at how other people have participated in black cultural forms.”

Specifically, the class will focus on the four elements of hip-hop culture: graffiti art, break dancing, DJing and rap music.

For graffiti, Cheney showed the classic hip-hop film “Style Wars” and engaged a discussion on whether graffiti is public art or public nuisance. The differences were examined between DJing as turntablism and DJing as producing or sampling. Rap music has been discussed in terms of its composition using poetic techniques such as similes, metaphors, alliterations and narratives.

“I love this class,” kinesiology junior Rachel White said. “This is one of the classes I actually really look forward to coming to. Regardless of quizzes, the whole content of the course is worth taking.”

Cheney also analyzes the four elements collectively and examines its cultural meanings. The course approaches issues relevant to outside classes and relates them to hip-hop culture.

“Each of the four elements also invites discussion about masculine cultural values in hip-hop,” Cheney said. “We’ve discussed how values like competition and braggadocio are key to understanding the expressions of hip-hop culture.”

Cheney also stresses the importance of hip-hop culture as a movement in her class.

“I think for young people to know that they can create something that has had this great of an impact on the world,” she said. “This is a youth culture, and the people who created it are (students’) age. For people who may feel the world is too big or may feel apathetic, it’s important for them to know the role young people have played in history.”

Assignments for the class have already included tasks such as critiquing a rap songs and attending and analyzing a hip-hop performances. Cheney also gives weekly quizzes on lecture material, videos and readings in addition to requiring a group presentation.

“Because (the assignments) are out of the ordinary it makes coming to class a lot more interesting,” White said. “You get to go out and enjoy a show, but looking at it from a different perspective because we have the background from the lectures.”

In the song critique, students pick a song then write an analytical paper in the context of a class theme. The performance analysis helps students develop standards to judge a live show based on the material they have covered in class.

 “Because the class is on hip-hop, I really didn’t want to do standard forms of assessment,” Cheney said. “I wanted to place hip-hop culture as the center of assessment, as opposed to course materials.”

Doing so forces the student to think about what they are viewing or listening to instead regurgitating information, she added.

The four-unit class, part of the ethnic studies department, fulfills general education area D5 and the United States cultural pluralism requirement.

Though it is too late for students to add “Hip-Hop, Poetics and Politics” this quarter, Cheney plans to teach the class again next year since there was a high demand for the course this quarter, with nearly 40 people on the waitlist, Cheney said.

“I always listened to the music anyways,” White said. “Now I want to dig deeper and find what not everyone else is listening to.”

Cheney, who has published numerous notable articles on hip-hop culture, enjoys teaching a subject she has such a passion for.

“This class has made me fall in love with hip-hop all over again,” said Cheney, who, through preparing the course, has “become reacquainted with hip-hop culture and how absolutely fascinating, innovative and fantastic it is. It’s been an unexpected, pleasant surprise as well.”

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