Top

blog

Stories

 

University of Missouri English Class Teaches the Poetry of Jay-Z, Kanye West

Categories: Mizzou

rapclass1.jpg
platoart on flickr
Academia's newest subjects: Kanye West and Jay-Z.
Ever spend a late night with your friends listening to rap and debating your favorite artists?

For Andrew Hoberek's students at the University of Missouri, that's homework.

Hoberek's newest class, "English 2169: Jay-Z and Kanye West," teaches non-English majors how to examine some of their generation's most popular artwork with the eye of a trained critic.

"I think [Jay-Z and West] are really working at a level that is comparable to any writer working now," associate professor Hoberek tells Daily RFT. "They are major artists...in an art form on the verge of academic acceptance."

IMG_2951.jpg
Courtesy of Andrew Hoberek
Andrew Hoberek.
Hoberek calls the class a "sneaky intro" into poetic form. Students apply traditional literary and poetic criticism techniques to hip hop verses with the goal of answering three pedagogical queries, according to the syllabus:
(1) Where do [Jay-Z and Kanye West] fit within, and how do they change, the history of hip-hop music? (2) How is what they do similar to and different from what poets do?, and (3) How does their rise to both celebrity and corporate power alter what we understand as the American dream?

While he hasn't had any pushback from University leaders on his choice of subject, Hoberek compares his focus on rap to those long ago days when film was seen as "trash for the masses," not as an acceptable academic topic. "Now, you go into any English department, and there is going to be a film element," Hoberek says.

While Hoberek designed the course around Jay and Ye, he says students were quick to dispute that focus last fall, when he first taught the class.

"There were questions in class: 'Isn't Tupac a better rapper? Isn't Eminem a better rapper?'" Hoberek says. "One of my goals is [teaching], OK, if we want to make the claim Eminem is a better rapper than Jay-Z, what is the basis for making that claim? I feel like my goal in class is to teach students how particular works of art work, what kinds of rules they are working with and bending."

rapclass2.jpg
u2soul on flickr
Jay-Z and Kanye West.
Hoberek assigns his students Jay-Z's memoir Decoded, Adam Bradley's Book of Rhymes, Jeff Chang's Can't Stop Won't Stop and studies about poetry.

See also: Jay-Z's Barack Obama Ad: You Can't Stay Rock & Roll Forever

"When you are sitting around with your friends and arguing over what's better or worse, you're already working like a critic," Hoberek says. "If you learn more about how the structure of rap works, then you get better at making the arguments you're already making."

Hoberek is opening the class again next fall for 30 students, and he anticipates spots will go quickly. He isn't the first to bring Jay-Z from the streets of Brooklyn to the ivory towers of academia; Georgetown University started teaching "Sociology of Hip-Hop -- Urban Theodicy of Jay-Z," which analyzed Hova's lyrics for messages about race, class, gender and social injustice.

Follow Lindsay Toler on Twitter at @StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at Lindsay.Toler@RiverfrontTimes.com.


Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help
24 comments
justseagull
justseagull

Jay-Z, Kanye West are NOT artists, they are GHETTO THUGS who spew rape & murder ghetto rap! How dare this idiot compare to artists.

justseagull
justseagull

These are NOT artists, they are ghetto THUGS!

Tyler Ward
Tyler Ward

Thanks Jesda, the ultimate judge of "legitimate" criticisms, for gracing us with your presence.

Jesda Ulati
Jesda Ulati

I can't wait for "hating" to go out of style as a knee-jerk defensive word against legitimate criticisms.

Jesda Ulati
Jesda Ulati

Worth studying in the context of popular music appreciation, absolutely. Worth studying as vital or essential components of American culture, no.

Blake Harris
Blake Harris

Yeezus was the most self indulged steaming pile of Shite I've ever heard. I got it for free and that didn't make it any better. Kanye is pretty much the definition of narcissist.

Nikki Furrer
Nikki Furrer

It's a class for football and basketball players, called English for gang rapists.

Tyler Ward
Tyler Ward

Lol at you haters that probably have never listened to either. Anybody can be a "douchebag" and still be a poet. They don't have the same content in all of their songs. If this gets kids interested in poetry then why not? If the definition of poetry is "writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm" then tell me how it's not? Stop hating.

Blake Beck
Blake Beck

Steve, I'd like to see you work a sampler or a synth. And you have to have artistic vision to sequence samples and make something out of little bits and pieces. You have to have artistic ability to make albums like Yeezus and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and Kanye did just that.

Blake Beck
Blake Beck

Have you actually listened to any music that's been released over the past 10 years? Judging by that comment, I'd say you haven't. "Looping and auto-tune" is a generalization, and a wrong one at that. There's more music out there than what you hear on the radio.

Steve Mincer
Steve Mincer

artistic ability? lmao. what? knowing how to work a sampler?

Bowls MacLean
Bowls MacLean

"Best artist of this generation"? Not really saying much I guess. Yeah, great thanks to looping and auto-tune.

Blake Beck
Blake Beck

Can we stop discrediting Kanye's artistic ability? I know he's an asshole, but he's also one of the best artists of this generation. And I think this class will come in handy for people like me who are aspiring to be music journalists. So there ya go.

Ed Gibson
Ed Gibson

shakespeare is rolling in his grave...poetry my ass...when do we get that poetry of slayer and metallica class then?

Steve Mincer
Steve Mincer

it doesn't alter it at all. mass produce something and sell it to dumb people.

De Lusion Al
De Lusion Al

u ran this same story this morning...and nobody cares..

Scott Walker
Scott Walker

Because we actually wanted to better ourselves, not dumb ourselves down.

Steve Mincer
Steve Mincer

because america is now populated by a generation of morons.

James Skaggs
James Skaggs

Because people had a lot more common sense and morals than they do today!

Tonya Smith
Tonya Smith

They had a rock and rap conference for journalist back in the 90's! Glad to see they continue with a varied curriculum.

De Lusion Al
De Lusion Al

Kanye west is not a poet...he's a douchebag followed only by other douchebags...

Chris Ferguson
Chris Ferguson

Wow! We need to pour more funding into higher education so all kids can get valuable career path training like this!

Now Trending

St. Louis Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

General

Loading...