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A Hip Hop Education

Alexei Muravsky

Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone ( KRS-One )

Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone (KRS-One)


Music has always been a part of my life, whether I heard it during family functions, on the radio travelling between destinations, at the movies, theater, you name it. I was only really partaking in it passively when I was younger, but still gaining an appreciation for it in the process. If I was lucky enough I'd hear something that would hold my attention. Russian music played a big part in my life while I was growing up, and it would find me again later. Afterwords I'd feel a different way about it, I would feel the same type of inspiration that older folks also felt when the same music first came out. In the mean time another source was to have my ear.

Around the age of ten something grabbed my attention with more passion than anything else I’ve heard before. My first encounter with it was probably due to my sister introducing it to me. I started to hear beats blasting out of her room, and was soon putting on headphones trying to listen more closely, attempting to decipher the lessons imbedded in between the lines of rhymes. I had inevitably heard music before that moment, but my voluntary entrée into that world had begun with a Hip Hop education.

Class In Session

Looking back it seemed to be the only logical choice; other situations in my life led me to its discovery at a perfect time. If I had lived in a different circumstance at that moment I would of probably had contrasting inclinations. Thanks to the persistence that continues to define my mother, I had developed an addiction to reading and the insights it brought me at a young age. The reality of nonfiction pulled my interest to a greater extent, toward various illustrious histories and biographies. This addiction translated nicely to the detailed pictures rappers painted of themselves and the environments they represented, and that were eventually going to represent them. Stories that were packaged into songs like Nas’s I Gave You Power and Tupac’s Brenda’s Got A Baby, to name a few, made an impression on me by teaching me lessons not to be found in the classroom. Unfortunately such lessons were easy to overlook for many because they were glazed over with the label of rap and Hip Hop.

You can’t enroll into a subject like Hip Hop with preconceived notions and beliefs of it, without damaging your ability to learn all that you may from it. An ego attached to such investigation will only affirm your beliefs and not enable you to grow from the experience. It annoyed me to hear adults try to explain to me that Hip Hop was just a fad and that I would soon stop listening to it, once I “matured.” They didn’t realize that there was more to be found past the beats.

The genius of the story approach within Hip Hop, and in general, is that it doesn’t leave pause for argumentation; it presents you situations that characters experienced, and will continue to experience, on different occasions. This then creates a vivid message that resonates more strongly with the audience than simply explaining the point would achieve. You may then accept the fact that such happenings may also cross your path and to those you care for, or take for granted the knowledge (in this case ignorance may truly be bliss) imparted upon you. This better understanding of the external world, through the music, eventually builds upon your own knowledge of self, your internal understanding of you and your motivations, ultimately creating an opportunity for you to gain acceptance of yourself and contributing to your confidence.

The music catered to my introverted nature, making me naturally drift to introspective artists that delved into their psyches and situations that defined the course of their lives. A prime example of this being Biggie’s reflection in Suicidal Thoughts (Puff might have not been the best person to call). These inward retreats into oneself created a niche in Hip Hop that continues to represent something more profound, drawing parallels with Freud’s talk therapy, except with oneself and his/her audience instead of a therapist.

I was starting to expand my Hip Hop knowledge, and although the Shady wave hit me first I quickly started looking into other styles. I had arrived late to class, being a 90’s baby, but I quickly began to catch up with the homework.


For all the vanity and flaunting Hip Hop seems to represent, there is a deeper end in the pool that continues to define a brighter future. When Eminem says “you can do anything you set your mind to man” at the end of Lose Yourself it feels like he’s right there, speaking those words to you, building on the impact the rest of the song has already had on you up to that point. He’s not simply stating that you can do anything in life; he’s reminding you that you can do anything you’re PASSIONATE about; anything your mind is set on. Emcees have constantly been inspiring the generation that was entranced by them. The need to boast about one’s success through music may just be the displacement of insecurities and insurmountable feelings of dependence surfacing from impoverished and harsh backgrounds (“I wasn’t poor, I was po’ – I couldn’t afford the ‘o-r’” – Big L on Lifestylez Ov Da Poor and Dangerous). Expressing the opposite end of the spectrum masked this previous pain, which continued to endure in rappers minds. This same pain probably created the crucible necessary for them to become the hard working individuals they are today. Most would have cracked from the pressure, and given up on the endeavour altogether.

I’m content with the state of Hip Hop at this time, as it is beginning to represent its purpose more strongly, thanks to a combination of new up & coming artists and new content from household names. It is taking advantage of its potential to help communities all over the world and specifically in North America, by communicating a mastered message to the opportunity of an audience. Like DMX points out “It doesn’t have to be the way it is, you say it is, just because for the past twenty years, everyday it is.”


Nowadays Hip Hop beefs consist of insults thrown over Twitter but it used to be considered a precursor to more dangerous situations, with artists getting robbed of their chains and sometimes even their lives. Luckily the violence was able to die down and the competitiveness could still be filtered out. Tracks that needed to be created to respond to an artist calling you out raised the stakes and along with it the art form. An arms race emerged, with artists rushing to prove their own worth and ability within the craft. These weren’t singular events, with some riding off of each other. Many remember the more entrenching east vs. west coast feud, where whole regions of the country banded together to unleash lyrical warfare on each other, but capping one another went back even further, and continues to this day.

In Hip Hop it’s understood that if you don’t think you’re the best, then you either still got work to do or you’re in the wrong business. Don’t get me wrong; many of these artists are still able to stay humble throughout their rise. I think this mentality should apply to all business. Why should you be doing what you do if you’re not giving it your all? In essence you’re creating an inferior product and letting others down. Step up your game or switch to something that speaks more to your heart. Don’t waste people’s time. As Jay Z noted “I rather die enormous, than live dormant.” 

This same competitive nature motivated me to pursue my own path and follow that which I believe would leave me happiest and most fulfilled. I “won’t let the seedy city defeat me, rub me out like genies, won’t concede till I’m graffiti” in Lupe Fiasco’s sense on The Emperor’s Soundtrack. Listening to the music kept my mind focused on what I needed to do to achieve the higher heights of my own actualization.


Rap is something you do, Hip Hop is something you live.
— KRS-One

 Hip Hop is more than a genre, it’s a culture, revolving around four original principles:

·      Deejaying

·      Emceeing,

·      Break Dancing,

·      Graffiti

Another principle, knowledge, is transmitted through the four previous forms to the public. It’s a way of life, one that cannot be pinned down to one artist or figure. Of course it has evolved, become involved in other fields (i.e. fashion), and has even influenced political movement. Sampling has been its most obvious evolutionary aspect and one that has not only helped greatly lift itself as an art form but as well as all other forms of music. Just give Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick’s La Di Da Di a listen and think about how many songs you’ve heard that took sounds from this song and created something entirely new and exciting. You can learn more about sampling here.

It lets people believe in something bigger than themselves, take part in it, and in doing so potentially change their lives. It spans all cultures and connects them in ways that haven’t been experienced before. Apart from raising different peoples together, to love one another, Hip Hop may be the tool to do so less invasively. Connecting through the feelings Hip Hop is able to incite develops in us a connection to one another that is impossible to reach through reason. We are still very much primal beings. On the other hand Hip Hop is able to reason where feeling is insufficient to establish peace. The United States is a prime sample of our worldly population that shows this cooperation and growth through Hip Hop. By capitalizing on the melting pot immigration created, Hip Hop takes this diversity and makes it a strength by unifying it.

You’re living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change. People in power have misused it, and now there has to be a change and a better world has to be built and the only way it’s going to be built is with extreme methods. And I for one will join in with anyone; I don’t care what colour you are, as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.
— Malcolm X

Wise words that hold up to this day. Hip Hop doesn’t care for your background; its interest lies in your character. Is Hip Hop the answer to incite this change, and more of it?