NCC Instructor Brings Hip-Hop to the Classroom

Posted: February 3, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

Who wouldn’t want to take a course where “homework” is listening to good music or attending a poetry reading? If you’ve ever walked past a classroom in Innovation Hall and heard loud hip-hop music coming from behind the door, it was probably the popular Beats, Rhyme, and Culture class taught by New Century College instructor Andrew Ryan. In the course, students study the cultural and societal issues surrounding the hip-hop movement and have a lot of fun as well.

Ryan’s course is the only one in Virginia that focuses entirely on the hip-hop cultural movement and is one of 25 in the entire country. In addition, this spring he is teaching the only online hip-hop-centered course in the country, NCLC 375 Black Voices–Hip Hop. The course covers the socio-political climate that set the stage for the birth of hip-hop as well as the critical first 10 years of the movement.

“We study the songs, but put them in historical context,” says Ryan. “Without the historical information–the economic climate, current events–you can’t understand where the artists are coming from or the message behind their art.”

Ryan’s course, Beats, Rhyme, and Culture, covers more than 200 years, looking at slave narratives, the Harlem renaissance, the civil rights movement, the black power/art movement, and mainstream music. Students are encouraged to attend performances, art exhibits, and other community events that are related to the course material.

Students in the class also work on a final project that incorporates all forms of media according to their interests. In the past, Ryan’s students have compiled online surveys, visited public places to take polls, written papers, and used video, music, and art. Ryan is working to get some of his students’ papers published in an academic volume.

Ryan says he has been surprised by the diversity of students that take his classes. Each semester the class reached its size limit, sometimes with a long waiting list. “No one has ever dropped my classes,” he says. “Students are motivated by the subject matter and they always take their research and interests further than the classroom.”

Ryan grew up in the Bronx and says he likes to bring his real-world experience into the classroom. He founded a male youth group in the Bronx at age 17 and often speaks to youth at local schools and civic groups. He serves on the board of directors for both the Midnight Forum, a hip-hop-based after-school program in Washington, D.C., and the Archbishop Leadership Project, a two-year enrichment program aimed at underprivileged minorities in Harlem. Currently he is working on a book about Tupac Shakur. His article, “Tupac Shakur: Keeping It Real vs. Keeping It Right,” was published in Doula: The Journal of Rap and Hip Hop Culture.

“I’m a researcher at heart,” Ryan says. “My degrees are all in technology, but I was raised in the Bronx and was able to witness the culture from within. We take a very scholarly approach to studying the culture, which I think makes these courses unique.”

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