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Martin stood up and delivered a couple of lines, then celebrated with Jones in an extensive dap, a showy series of hand slaps and fist bumps.

"That was good," said Bradley with a smile. "But your dap was longer than your rap."

*********

"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."

My body is filled with rage

And my heart is nothing but cold hate

All that warm love left my body

The day my brother became an inmate

"Welcome to our Christmas party, guys!"

Corbett welcomes her AP English students with her typical peppy energy as the kids file into class, shooed out of the hallways by a Montbello security guard, and take their seats for their last session before holiday break. "I am really proud of all the work you guys have done this semester," says Corbett with a bright smile as she hustles about the room, returning graded papers.

Bradley hurries in. "Sorry I'm late," he tells the class; he got waylaid signing in at the front office. "But I'm not a visitor at this point," he cracks, pulling the school-visitor sticker off his shirt with a dramatic flourish. "I am a Warrior."

Today the students will be presenting photos they've taken around school, as well as sixteen-bar rap verses they've written inspired by the images. While the assignment was made possible by the ten new Nikon digital cameras that Corbett obtained from a school donor, Bradley tells the students that exercises like this date from ancient literary history. "Ekphrasis," he writes on the whiteboard: one work of art motivated by another. The tradition stretches back centuries, he says, ranging from John Keats's poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn" to Jay-Z songs inspired by the work of painter Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Bradley, along with a team of CU-Boulder students, has been visiting this classroom once a month through the semester and will do so next semester, too: weaving the disparate strands of hip-hop into the existing literary canon, using rappers' rhymes to teach critical thinking, composition and close reading. How do the social-justice issues tackled by 2Pac connect with what Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail"? How best should you parse the lyrics of Kendrick Lamar to analyze diction, syntax and tone? How have the rhetorical devices used by the Roman orator Cicero been adopted by Weezy to get the ladies on the dance floor?

"It's gone better than I could have imagined, and I've learned more here than in my conversations with Chuck D or Common or what have you," says Bradley. Since he started at Montbello, he's launched a second hip-hop program, a shorter course for middle schoolers at Horizons K-8 School in Boulder. "It's been a pretty stark contrast," he says of the two classrooms — and he's not just referring to age differences. On his first day teaching in Boulder, Bradley brought up hip-hop's roots in the South Bronx, then asked how many kids had visited New York City. He figured maybe five or six would raise their hands — but all but a couple did.

While the Montbello students might not have all the opportunities and resources available to their Boulder counterparts, Corbett believes they've learned just as much — maybe more — from the hip-hop program. They've had Bradley autograph their class copies of The Anthology of Rap, they've spotted his name on the shelves of local bookstores. One day Marquille Jones proudly brought in a CU-Boulder admissions pamphlet he received in the mail, since it featured a photo of their hip-hop professor. "It makes them feel that what they are doing is immensely important," says Corbett. "It makes them feel they are engaging with this culture of thinkers and doers. It's empowering them to recognize that even messaging on social media and television commercials and music, that all of that is text that can be read and parsed and analyzed."

Jalon thinks Bradley's course has been empowering. "It felt like he wasn't teaching you how to rap," he says. "It was like he was teaching you to be a lyricist, how to be a strongly worded person through writing." It's helped him improve his own words: tightening his structure, adding more description and drama, telling stories not just about himself but also the people around him.

That's exactly what Corbett hoped the program would do for Jalon. "He is an extremely talented young man," she says. "Of all of our students, this has the most potential to impact Jalon, because he already came to us creating his own spoken word."

But Jalon's not the only Montbello student to benefit. His classmates have taken to the project, too. "Kids who don't vibe on Mark Twain or Tim O'Brien are really excited to talk about '99 Problems' or a Lauryn Hill poem," says Corbett. "Even students who didn't express interest in hip-hop at the beginning, this has helped them get up in front of class and express their voice."

That's exactly what the students do this morning after Bradley finishes his discussion of ekphrasis: One by one, they stand in front of the class and celebrate their memories of Montbello, in digital imagery and sixteen-bar rhymes scrawled on crinkled sheets of lined paper. Neftali Bardales and Seung Baang remember moments, painful and pleasurable, in the school pool; Demarcus Weaver reminisces about a game-winning three-point shot; Cody Jackson, Donald Skalecke and Paulina Munoz rhapsodize about backbreaking early morning Junior ROTC drills. Paola Correa-Nava describes crowded hallways filled with gangsters and wannabes, pot smoke and pregnant bellies, hipsters and "white kids looking intimidated." Ashley Jackson sings an emotional ode to her favorite teacher: "She's just like a loving mom, taking care of her students." And Juan Garcia raps about how when he leaves Montbello, "I know one thing for sure: There will be Warrior within my heart."

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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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