DVULI Summer Series Part 1: What Hip-Hop Teaches About Youth

Posted by: DVULI | May 27, 2022

"Randy Mason's DVULI workshop explores how Hip-Hop's foundational elements teach us about empowering youth, featuring a man with graffiti on his face."

by Randy Mason (Newark 2021)

“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.” – Matthew 18:3-5 (KJV)

I fell in love with Hip-Hop at a fifth grade school dance party in the Bronx when a deejay visited my school. Over the next few years, I got into my fair share of trouble for rhyming, breaking, and tagging in school. Today, I visit schools as a teaching artist and as the founder of an educational Hip-Hop music and mentoring program called R.H.Y.M.E (Rhymes Help Young Minds Excel). R.H.Y.M.E is part of Thrive Collective, an NYC arts nonprofit that creates hope and opportunity in and around public schools through the arts and mentoring.

Check it out: Living Redemption Youth Opportunity Hub in Harlem partners with R.H.Y.M.E to write, record, and produce “Find Our Way,” a student-led song that addresses serious social issues such as the pandemic and gun violence. Participants employ the art of emceeing (rapping) as a means of coping and fostering self-expression.

I never attended seminary, but I did attend public school in the Bronx and Harlem. I listened to lyrics like lectures and saw the cypher as my symposium. I crafted my dissertation in parks, at open mics, and through extemporaneous freestyle performances on street corners. I didn’t know it then, but now I’m learning the immense value and insight that Hip-Hop and youth culture have to offer leaders and mentors. I’m learning more about myself, God, and youth.

The below five foundational elements of Hip-Hop—emceeing, graffiti, breaking, deejaying, and knowledge—teach us a lot about youth and impact the way I view, interact with, and empower youth: 

  1. Emceeing: Every young person has a voice and desires to be heard.
  2. Graffiti: Every young person has a name and desires to be seen, recognized, known, and celebrated.
  3. Breaking: Young people desire to move and break free from all that aims to keep them bound, stuck, still, and stagnant. Youth need to move, to get up out of their seats and move.
  4. Deejaying: Young people desire community. They need to be together and have access to technology and resources that help shape and innovate culture and community.
  5. Knowledge: Young people are not only students but teachers. They instinctively know they have value and knowledge to share with the world if only the world would listen.

As adults, mentors, teachers, and youth workers, we would do well to listen and learn from the youth in our cities and study the art and culture they help shape. The foundational elements of Hip-Hop remind me to see youth, listen to youth, hear their voices, amplify their stories, and remember their names. To provide them with opportunities to move. To foster community and to remember that I am not only their teacher but also their student.

Kids created Hip-Hop. Well, technically, God did, but when He scanned the earth searching for a worthy vessel, he came upon a few girls and boys singing and dancing in the ashes of a burning borough called the Bronx—and He saw greatness.

When you look at Hip-Hop, what do you see? I hope you see a vehicle that allows children to express themselves. There is value within the principles of Hip-Hop, including peace, love, unity, and having fun, as well as life skills such as communication, collaboration, creativity, cognitive and critical thinking, and self-confidence.

INTERESTED in doing a R.H.Y.M.E workshop for your youth this summer? Stay tuned for part two of this blog next month. 

Heashot photo by Eric Mason. Background photo by Ben Wiens on Unsplash