But Bradley's biggest cultural contribution so far has been The Anthology of Rap, the medium's first-ever scholarly anthology. The book drew national attention, both positive (it garnered raves from the likes of Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Chuck D) and negative (some reviewers and hip-hop heads complained that its song transcriptions were rife with errors). In hindsight, though, Bradley came to see even the criticisms of the work as a step forward for hip-hop: "All of a sudden, in 2010, we had a public discussion of rap as poetry. What ultimately will matter about this book isn't the skirmishes over particular words and lines, but the life it can live as part of the grand story of hip-hop as a whole."

Even before The Anthology of Rap was released, Bradley was thinking about the next chapter in his grand hip-hop story: teaching about rap in middle- and high-school classrooms alongside his college students. He'd always expected Anthology to be a tool at the college level, but the more he worked with the material, the more he saw its potential for younger students.

"Hip-hop is an incredibly scalable art form," he explains. "It can reach a host of audiences at different levels at different ways. This was a music created by kids. The culture in its fullest forms — the dance elements, the visual-arts aspects, the rhythm and words — were created by young people. So already there is a natural avenue of connection that exists. Add to that the fact that as a commodity rap music has been packaged for a host of different ears. Rap music has always been rhythm-driven, to appeal to the pop-music crowd, but it has a complex and tangled wordplay that appeals to a more literary mindset."

"Rap is something that comes to you," says Jalon Martin.
Anthony Camera
"Rap is something that comes to you," says Jalon Martin.
Alison Corbett thinks her students "will go off and really make waves."
Anthony Camera
Alison Corbett thinks her students "will go off and really make waves."

Although there have been other attempts around the country to inject hip-hop into grade-school classrooms, Bradley says these tend to use rap as a way to make the topics covered by the lyrics seem cool and hip, instead of focusing on the academic value of the medium itself. "What I've tried to do is suggest something different," he says, "that rap is a repository for artistic forms and beauty that is freestanding."

Early last year, he scored a $9,000 Enhancing Diversity through Action and Outreach Fellowship from CU-Boulder's Arts and Sciences Council to put his plan into action. "We were particularly excited about Adam's project because it targets students at a time when they can be or are already considering attending college," says Theresa Hernández, who chaired the fellowship committee. "By his and his students teaching about hip-hop in the classroom, he models the possibility, excitement and scholarship of a college education. Capturing these young minds and hearts is exactly what we were hoping to see."

That's far from the only value of Bradley's "Hip-hop in the Classroom," says William Kuskin, chairman of CU-Boulder's English department; he sees the initiative as potentially benefiting the field of English literature, which has been plagued for years by dwindling college enrollment. "In the '70s, the literary academy really immersed themselves in theoretical abstraction," explains Kuskin. "We lost the reading public, our ability to sit down and talk with the people that we teach. But one thing Bradley is doing with these classes is reconnecting with the public, telling them, 'It's great to love poetry.' I really believe in this vision. It's a wonderful thing."

So Bradley had his plan and his funding, but he still needed a class in which to launch his project. He was told some schools would never buy into it, that hip-hop carried too much baggage. But last spring a mutual friend connected him with Alison Corbett, an English teacher at Montbello High School. And when the two sat down, they realized that Bradley's program would be perfect for Corbett's Advanced Placement English class. "AP English is all about rhetorical analyses, making an argument and synthesizing many arguments into an argument in your own voice," says 27-year-old Corbett, who was hired by Montbello last year as a member of Teach for America-Colorado. That's exactly the kind of lessons Bradley aimed to teach — using the rhetoric and arguments of Dead Prez and Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth.

But planning such a program is one thing, and getting it rolling is quite another, as Bradley realized when he first stepped into Montbello last fall. Just as the nameless protagonist in Invisible Man struggled with his own identity, Bradley had grown up in Salt Lake City torn painfully between two worlds, the son of a white mother and an AWOL African-American father. "Walking onto the school campus brought up these anxieties that were long buried," he says. "I've spoken in front of a thousand people in Australia and stepped on stage with Common and Kurtis Blow, but I actually felt more anxiety and trepidation stepping in front of those 35 students at Montbello — particularly when you are trying to traffic in cool, in something that is theirs."

As soon as he entered Corbett's classroom, he recognized the kids he'd have to bring around if he were going to win over the class. "Jalon and Marquille had the most energy," he says. "I knew I had to convince them as much as anyone else that this was worth their time and energy." So, at the end of the first class, when Jalon asked to perform some of his lyrics, Bradley told him, "Show us what you got."

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3 comments
andrea572
andrea572

Jalon, keep speaking the truth.  I voted NO on the proposal to close Montbello, and we need the truth to come out about what's going on down there.  Hit me up:  andrea@andreamerida.com.

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

I LOATHE rap music . The ONLY rap I have ever been able to digest is Aerosmith . Because I'm white, I'm sure 'Iceprick' will be quick to throw the 'race-card' my way but my arrogance towards rap ISN'T limited to black 'artists' . The same adheres to the likes of the Beastie Boys & Rage Against the Machine. ( The latter throws down lyrically ! )

If a teacher were to attempt that shit in a class I was assigned to, one of us wouldn't be present the following day ! 

Those who aren't able to sing,  rap ......

iLikeWhiteGirls
iLikeWhiteGirls

Yo! Alison will get the business! Only if she aint a culture vulture could she see some repeat business! Hit me up cutie!

 
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