Bigger Than Hip Hop: Music, Media and Politics

Bigger Than Hip Hop: Music, Media and Politics

SUMMER 2018/BIS 313: Issues in Media Studies

Instructor: Georgia M. Roberts:

Office hours: Please email me if you’d like to schedule a time to meet

Bigger Than Hip Hop: Music, Media and Politics

Course Description

Over the past three decades, hip hop culture, and particularly rap music, has become one of the most popular modes of youth expression on the planet. As we acknowledge both the globalization and commodification of the culture, this online class also looks at hip hop as the always localized, even neighborhood-based response to the multiple and damaging effects of globalization, including but not limited to, forced migration, economic exploitation, systemic poverty, racial profiling, mass incarceration, etc. So what exactly do we mean when we talk about the cultural aesthetic of hip hop culture, and what, if anything, can we generalize about hip hop’s political imagination?

Through a shared set of theoretical/historical readings and discussion assignments, students will develop electronic-based researching skills with a focus on critical media literacy.

Method and Learning Objectives

The course begins by exploring some theories about the relationship between art and politics. We then briefly turn to the constructed geographies of the U.S. and Seattle, paying particular attention to how historical and material factors shape our political present. We look at the Civil Rights, Black Power and feminist movements. Here I will encourage students to conduct research into how these movements played out in a local context. Finally, we end the course by returning to the question of hip hop and politics through reading Jay Z’s autobiography, Decoded. This course is designed with the following learning objectives in mind:

· To increase student’s understanding of the interactions between the historical, material and political conditions that preceded hip hop culture.

· To allow opportunities for students to demonstrate engagement with the topic and themes of the course in a variety of forms including formal and informal online discussions, research, the close-reading of texts, writing about music and visual culture, etc.

· To develop student’s awareness of the relationship between culture, power and the construction of knowledge.

· To find creative ways to put hip hop’s primary discursive practice (rap lyrics) into conversation with theoretical texts in order to make connections between traditions of anti-racist struggle.

Readings and Assignments

Canvas Discussion Participation (50%)

Regular participation in the class is extremely important. Grades are based 50% on contribution to online discussions. It is required that you log on and add substantive comments to the discussion several times per week (a week is defined as Monday through Saturday). Providing responses at a single time once per week is not sufficient for maintaining an ongoing conversation among the participants.

I will post the weekly question on either Sunday evening or Monday morning, and you should post your first response by Wednesday morning before noon. This means you will want to have the week’s reading and films completed at the beginning of each week (Sunday or Monday) so that you can start posting under the heading for the week by the required time (please ask me if you have any questions about this!) As far as the posting format is concerned, the first post (due Wednesday) should be an answer to my discussion question(s), and should be a minimum of two paragraphs. It’s fine if your initial post is longer, but please make sure you’ve thought about and answered the question in the most thorough way possible. I would like to see at least a 2-3 quotes from the texts integrated into your first post (as evidence for whatever claims you make). Please use MLA style all citations. Be advised: you will not be able to see other people’s posts on the discussion board until AFTER you’ve posted for the first time.

In addition to your initial response to my weekly question(s), you should plan on commenting on the posts of at least two other classmates before Saturday. This means that after you’ve posted your initial thoughts on the discussion prompt, you’ll want to check back several times throughout the week and comment on other student’s thoughts. As in any class, these comments can be brief or lengthy. However, I want you to ENGAGE with what the person is saying and try your best to push the conversation forward.

Each week’s discussion is worth a total of 5 points. As I said above, you must post at least three times per week in order to receive minimum credit. But if you expect a higher than average grade, your involvement in the discussion board should reflect this with five or more quality posts (your initial Wednesday response and at least four other responses to peers). Ultimately, I will be looking for evidence that you are wrestling with the readings and participating with your fellow classmates in valuable, interesting discussions.

The board will be closed at 11pm on Saturday evenings, so you will need to have all your posts completed by that time. No exceptions.

Five shorter assignments (50%)

In addition to the weekly discussion requirement, you will have several shorter writing assignments scattered throughout the quarter (see the reading schedule for details). There’s a mix of assignments; some need to be submitted on Canvas; others should be posted in the Canvas discussion section for a particular week and count as your initial Wednesday post. The shorter writing assignments are described in detail below in the schedule.

I will always remind you in my initial Monday posts if there is a shorter assignment due, but please read the syllabus very carefully and make sure you understand what’s being asked of you.

Academic Integrity

See both the UWB General Catalog (pages 15, 16) and the documents you signed upon admission to IAS for crucial information regarding academic integrity. The library also has an extremely useful website with resources at <>. You are responsible for knowing what constitutes a violation of the University of Washington Student Code, and you will be held responsible for any such violations whether they were intentional or not.

Students with Disabilities

I am committed to providing academic accommodations to those of you who have a disability. If you believe that you have a disability and would like academic accommodations, please contact Disability Support Services at 425.352.5307 or at <>. After an initial intake appointment, you should be prepared to provide documentation of your disability in order to receive assistance. Disability Support Services will then provide you with a letter to present to me so we can discuss the accommodations you might need for the class.

Required Books (available in UW Book store)

Decoded by Jay Z

Readings and links to documentaries

The remaining course readings will be available on Canvas under the “files” section. They will be organized according to the week that they are due. I will post links to films in my Monday posts (or tell you how to rent them, if need be). But if you’d like to watch films early, please Google the title of the film and you should be able to find out how to access it fairly easily. If you have any trouble finding a reading or film, just email me. I’m here to help!


Week 1: Introduction (June 18-23)

Please post an introduction to yourself by Saturday June 23 @ 11pm. Specific instructions can be found on Canvas under the “discussion” section.

Week 2: Hip Hop Wars (June 25-30)

· Rose, Tricia. “Introduction” from The Hip Hop Wars

· Gates, Jr., Henry Louis “Introduction” from The Anthology of Rap

· Google VS Hip Hop (online debate)

Week 3: Old School (July 2-7)

· Selections from Chang Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

· Selections from Kelley “Kicking Reality, Kicking Ballistics”

· WATCH: Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap

Week 4: Black Power (July 9-14)

· Selections from Huey Newton’s Revolutionary Suicide

· Eyes on the Prize selections

Assignment Due (10 pts): Please write a two page (double-spaced) definition of hip hop, using 12 point font and MLA style. Your definition should draw on the previous four readings, the films as well as your own thoughts. I would like you to use at least four quotes from the written texts to support your working definition.

Papers due: July 14, 2018 (on Canvas by 8pm)

Week 5: Local Geographies (July 16-21)

· Please visit the Civil Rights Website and read through as many sections as possible.

· Asante, Jr., MK “Interview with the Ghetto” from It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop

Assignment Due (10 pts): As a start to our discussion this week, please post a short description of your neighborhood from your own perspective (by Wednesday). What does it look like, smell like, sound like? What does your house look like? How big is your room? Do you have a backyard? How long have you lived there? Please use as many adjectives as possible. After you have done this, locate your neighborhood on the Seattle Civil Rights webpage (if its not included there, please research the racial segregation covenants for your city). If your area is not included in the map, please speculate how its absence might relate to the construction of the Seattle metro area.

Week 6: The Town (July 23-28)

· Watch Otherside (link on discussion board and under “files”)

· Optional reading: Watkins, S. Craig “Introduction: Back in the Day” from Hip Hop Matters

Assignment Due (10 pts): Please research and post information on one local hip hop artist, providing their background information, current projects and links to upcoming shows. In order to receive full points for this assignment, you will need to do more than just look at their website. You should listen to their music and do local newspaper searches (Seattle WeeklyStranger, etc) and find out as much information as possible. You would do well to get started early on this assignment, as I will only accept one entry per artist. This means if someone posts about your artist before you do, you will need to post about another artist. To avoid unnecessary frustration on this assignment, I’d advise you to research at least three local artists. Please do not email me and complain that your artist has already been taken. This is why I’m asking you to research more than three so that you are prepared.

Week 7: Hip Hop and Feminism (July 30-Aug 4)

· Watch Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes (link on discussion board and under “files”)

Assignment Due (10 pts): Using the UW library database, please find, summarize and post a PDF of a recent academic article that deals with hip hop and feminism. Who wrote the article? What is their position on the subject? Do you agree with their position? What kind of evidence do they use to support their claims/critiques/observations about hip hop and feminism? Please post by Wednesday at noon (at the very latest). Part of your assignment for the week will to be to read and comment extensively on at least one other article (posted by one your fellow classmates). You’ll want to access Canvas that evening to make sure you have time to find and read this extra article by Saturday.

Week 8: Decoded Part I (Aug 6-11)

· Jay Z, Decoded (first half)

· Watch: Charlie Rose interview with Jay Z (link on discussion board)

Week 9: Decoded Part II (Aug 13-18)

· Jay Z, Decoded (second half)

Final paper: Hip Hop definition (Aug 18)

· Assignment Due (10 pts): Please submit a 4 page (double-spaced) revision of your definition of hip hop culture. You should use additional readings in addition to those you’ve already used for the first paper.

Papers due: Aug 18 (on Canvas by 8pm)


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