LOS ANGELES — As California lawmakers continue to debate whether ethnic studies classes should be mandatory at all public high schools, a class in Los Angeles in already teaching students about culture through hip hop.
The Global Awareness Through Hip Hop class at View Park Preparatory Charter High School uses the musical genre to teach students about their past, present, and future.
“We learned about African culture before slavery or what you read about, so this gave me more courage,” said Avé Jerome. “This gave me more of an idea of I’m more than what they want to put in front of me. I was royalty at one point. And it gives me a sense of pride.”
Students listen to hip hop music by artists including Run DMC, Tupac Shakur, and Public Enemy. The elective class uses the lyrics to discuss everything from history, to politics, to pop culture through the lens of hip hop.
Teacher Sebastien Elkouby designed the class over 15 years ago, following his time as a publicist in the music industry. He quit the business when he became disillusioned by the music industry, but his love for hip hop remained.
“Everything that hip hop did for me and hip hop culture taught me, I wanted to create a class that would do the same for students today,” Elkouby said.
The class introduces students to hip hop pioneers, and artists with songs on the radio today. But the focus is beyond the music.
“Yeah, we learn about hip hop artists too but we don’t focus on the artist. We focus mainly on the message they are trying to send,” said student Myzhion Hill.
Messages like investment and entrepreneurship amplified by the late Nipsey Hussle, who died at his Marathon store right across from their school. Mr. Elkouby says hip hop is the vehicle he uses to help his students to think critically about the world around them.
He's working on spreading the class to other schools across California.
The goal is for more students to be more conscious, thanks to conscious rap.
“I was never really a person who looked at myself,” Jerome said. “It helps me do that and it helps me connect with more people.”