Georgetown sociology course on Jay-Z

If there are sociology courses on Lady Gaga, why not one on Jay-Z?

Noted educator and author, Michael Eric Dyson, has taken a new spin on generic education. He is now teaching a class at the prominent Georgetown University, based solely on Jay Z. The course, “Sociology of Hip-Hop: Jay-Z” is a 3 credit course offered this semester…

While some speak negatively about hip-hop’s vulgarity and rawness, Dyson sees no point in going against this phenomenon and clearly supports including rap in the cannon of education. “Speaking out against rap music is useless, and it’s futile. The reality is there’s criticism for everything, but Jay-Z is one of the most remarkable artists of our time of any genre, and as a hip-hop artist he carries the weight of that art form with such splendor and grace and genius,” he said. “I admire the way in which he carries himself and the incredible craft that he displays every time he steps up to the microphone.”

The course covers Jay-Z’s book “Decoded,” Adam Bradley’s “Book of Rhymes,” Zack O’Malley Greenburg’s “Empire State of Mind,” as well as other articles and films about hip-hop in general. “We look at his incredible body of work, we look at his own understanding of his work, we look at others who reflect upon him, and then we ask the students to engage in critical analysis of Jay-Z himself,” Dyson explained.

Dr. Dyson reiterated that hip-hop is an important subject that people should take seriously and learn about, and the interest level at Georgetown is very high. “Well you know if you have an average size class of 30-40, and then you got 140 students signed up that tells you right there there’s an extraordinary interest,” he said, “I think that’s why it’s important for young people to see that the rhetorical invention of African American culture needs to be taken seriously with one of its greatest artist.”

I suppose it is appropriate that this is being reported on by MTV.

I’m sure some will see the news about this class and say, “Can you believe what passes for a college education today?” But there are at least three defenses for this.

1. The topic is popular. Clearly, college students and others are listening to hip-hop and watching the behavior of its stars so why not address this in a college classroom? Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it is not worthy of study. In fact, taking an academic approach to a popular topic has the potential to hit college students in their everyday activities and tastes.

2. The class could touch on a bunch of interesting topics such as race, social class, city life, culture, lifecourse and generational change, and how hip-hop has evolved from its start in 1970s New York City and has spread far and wide. For example, we could ask how this has spread to the American suburbs – does listening to hip-hop now while driving down leafy suburban streets in a Honda Civic mean something different than when hip-hop emerged? In this argument, hip-hop is just the means by which students can enter the world of sociology.

3. Studying “American” music is important. While classical music might be the high culture standard, it began in Europe and was imported into the United States. Studying blues and jazz, the beginnings of rock music, and hip-hop provides insights into how American culture and experiences, particularly the African-American experience, is translated into music and performances.