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Hip Hop Pedagogy as Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy

Department of Art Education, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA 23284, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 21 August 2018 / Revised: 21 November 2018 / Accepted: 28 November 2018 / Published: 3 December 2018


This paper argues that Hip Hop Pedagogy is a version of Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy and should be a part of art education. Further, we believe that when exploring Hip Hop Pedagogy, teachers need to reference the work of Black female and non-binary artists. After an overview of Hip Hop Pedagogy and Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy, we argue that these approaches should be a consistent part of art education. Through the work of contemporary visual artist and DJ, Rozeal, we offer suggestions for art educators about how they might transition their practice to embrace some aspects of Hip Hop Pedagogy. Specifically, through sampling and the distinction of cultural appreciation versus appropriation, we believe that art educators can change their practice to make their teaching more relevant to their students and to contemporary culture.

1. Introduction

In this paper we argue that Hip Hop Pedagogy is an extension of culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP) as originated by Gloria Ladson-Billings (1995) and Geneva Gay’s (2000) work in culturally responsive teaching. Django Paris (2012) built upon their ideas to develop his idea of culturally sustaining pedagogy (CSP). Rather than using Hip Hop as a hook or as social currency (Kuttner 2016), we argue that CSP can be used in the arts to teach about artists from the genre, going beyond cyphers and rap battles about academic subjects. We argue that using Hip Hop as a hook toward enticing students into learning about traditional topics de-legitimizes Hip Hop itself as an important cultural and artistic form and promotes superficial understandings of cultural practices. Further, we argue that many calls to include Hip Hop Pedagogy focus on male artists and that the practice needs to include Black and Brown women, women identifying, and gender minority artists from Hip Hop. The call for this special issue includes the names of five individual artists, Jay-Z, Nas, Kanye West, Rick Ross, and Lil Wayne, all male. Thus, we chose to focus on the work of a Black female contemporary artist and DJ, Rozeal, and the implications for her work in art education settings.
We came to have the discussions that inform this paper through a graduate class, Curriculum Development and Evaluation, in which Jolie was a student and Melanie was the professor. As a part of this class, we addressed culturally relevant and culturally sustaining pedagogies. Throughout the course, we emphasized the diversity of learners and educational settings. In addition to numerous journal articles, we also read Christopher Emdin’s (2016) For White Folks who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education. Through conversations we came to see the need for more examples of Hip Hop Pedagogy, informed by Black feminism (Brown and Kwakye 2012; Peoples 2008), in art classrooms. Our collaboration on this paper resulted from Jolie’s research into Rozeal, a contemporary painter who remixes traditional Japanese woodblock prints with contemporary Hip Hop imagery while questioning cultural appropriation, globalization, and representation. We saw similarities between Paris (2009) and Emdin’s ideas (Emdin 2016) and Rozeal’s work and believe that the work of Black women artists needs to be as central to the discussion of Hip Hop Pedagogies as the work of male artists.

1.1. Personal Connections (Positionality)

1.1.1. Jolie

I am a graduate student, a White woman, who grew up hearing Hip Hop on the radio. My father loves jazz and that music was a prominent part of my home culture, but Hip Hop was not. I first connected with Hip Hop in the sixth grade listening to a friend’s copy of “3 Feet High and Rising” by De La Soul (1989). De La Soul’s sampling of jazz on this album was my entry point to Hip Hop. I started listening to Hip Hop more actively as a teenager, not always understanding the complexities of the subject matter or lived experiences that artists express. The energy of the music and the cadence of voices in connection to the baseline drew me in. I am not a Hip Hop expert, and currently listen to a blend of mainstream Hip Hop, old school, and current indie artists, including Princess Nokia, Angel Haze, and Mykki Blanko.

1.1.2. Melanie

I am a White woman with 23 years of teaching experience who grew up during the 1980s and 1990s. In my middle school and high school days, Hip Hop and rap artists including Run DMC, Salt-N-Pepa, NWA, Queen Latifah, and others were popular and I listened to their music. While I am not a serious Hip Hop fan or expert, I notice how positively students respond to ways of teaching that relate to their interests and contemporary culture. For instance, I have seen students respond in a far more visceral manner to contemporary visual artists whose works relate to the students’ cultural backgrounds than to historic artists. Thus, I have a deep interest in CSP and see Hip Hop Pedagogy as one vein of CSP.

1.1.3. Our Collaboration

Neither of us (the authors) are women of color and we are aware of our positionality and, at times during this writing process, felt like “posers.” At the same time, we fully believe that White people need to do the work of dismantling structural racism and it is not right or fair to expect scholars of color to do the heavy lifting while the White folks stand by and say, “It’s so hard.” Our job is to be allies and to recognize and honor our limitations while we continually strive to do better and contribute to the process of building a more equitable education system. This article is one of our attempts to be allies, to contribute to the art education literature around CSP, and to educate ourselves during the writing process.

2. Working Understanding of Hip Hop Culture

It is important to establish a working definition of Hip Hop to aid an understanding of Hip Hop Pedagogy. Hip Hop originated in the early ‘70s in the Bronx with block parties thrown by DJ Afrika Bambaataa and Kool Herc, a Black DJ from Jamaica (Jeffries 2014). Hip Hop spread quickly as a community effort made under the specific contexts of working-class Black and Latinx youth in New York City, and beyond during the ‘70s and ‘80s (Petchauer 2015). The economic and social situations experienced by those in New York were not isolated, as economic shifts moved away from manufacturing, leaving many working and middle-class families under-employed and unemployed (Jeffries 2014).
Hip Hop was also a social movement that promoted constructive dialogue, and responded to racial and class discrimination, lack of opportunity, and chronic poverty, as well as a resistance to intensifying gang culture in New York (Hoch 2006; Peoples 2008). Originally seen as a recreation and social space, Hip Hop represented a “…resistance to social marginalization,” and gradually developed as an active form of protest against institutional oppression (Peoples 2008, p. 23). Afrika Bambaataa founded the Universal Zulu Nation, a community organization that promoted peace between gangs and local residents (Morgan and Bennett 2011). Bambaataa, among others, believed in upholding equality, working against racial divides and hierarchies (Morgan and Bennett 2011).
With its Africanist aesthetics, rhythm, and layered meaning within lyricism, Hip Hop soon spread globally (Fernandes 2003). Transnational Hip Hop becomes potentially problematic when non-Black appropriations of Hip Hop do not address the racial dimensions, or cultural hybridity of Hip Hop (Fernandes 2003). Fernandes (2003) examines the development of Hip Hop in Cuba, that Afro-Cuban youth use Hip Hop as a mode of creative expression that addressing historical and racial conditions, providing critiques of capitalism, and advocating for social justice. Noting this, Fernandes (2003) stresses the importance of not idealizing transnational Hip Hop that disrupts convention as always justice oriented. When addressing any dimension of Hip Hop, it is important to avoiding totalizing statements, or generalizing assumptions.
Hip Hop has multiple components that are important to highlight, as often the genre is simplified to rapping, and dance which can “exclude potential and actual sites of resistance within hip-hop occurring outside rap” (Peoples 2008, p. 23). For the purposes of this paper, we consider the original four elements under the umbrella of Hip Hop: “break-dancing, DJ-ing, graffiti art, and rapping” (Peoples 2008, p. 23). The definition of Hip Hop is constantly evolving, and has more recently been expanded to include: “(a) Breakin’, (b) Emceein’, (c) Graffiti Art, (d) Deejayin’, (e) Beatboxin’, (f) Street Fashion, (g) Street Language, (h) Street Knowledge, and (i) Street Entrepreneurialism” (Bridges 2011, p. 326). This understanding acknowledges that definitions of Hip Hop are fluid, non-homogenous, and continually changing.

Defining Hip Hop Pedagogy

Hip Hop Pedagogy acknowledges the genre as an art form that may be more culturally relevant to many students than a Eurocentric curriculum. Teaching a curriculum informed by Hip Hop might help counter the problem Bridges (2011) describes as the ways traditional curriculum does not value the unique lived experiences of students of color and perpetuates institutional oppression. One focus of Hip Hop Pedagogy is cyphers, which Levy et al. (2017) describe as
highly codified yet unstructured practices where youth who identify with hip-hop culture information exchange in the form of raps or dance. (Note: A cipher represents something that is cyclical, such as in freestyle rapping where each participant in the circle takes turns after the other). (p. 104)
Cyphers can function as a means for all youth to succeed in addressing their thoughts and feelings (Levy et al. 2017). However, without ground rules that emphasize mutual respect and acceptance for all members, cyphers can reproduce practices that exclude queer youth, young women, and young men who do not identity as Black (Paris and Alim 2014). While cyphers are important, they represent just one aspect of a Hip Hop Pedagogy.
Petchauer (2015) outlines the second wave of Hip Hop Pedagogy describing Hip Hop as an aesthetic practice, and tool of research that might be used to study issues, such as urban education. Alim (2011) describes this method as hiphopography, “…an approach to the study of Hip Hop culture that combines the methods of ethnography, biography, and social and oral history” (Alim 2011, pp. 969–70). Hiphopography discourages distinctions of “researcher” and “researched” that might be associated with ethnography (Alim 2011).
Hiphopography can be used as a framework, applying Hip Hop pedagogy to addresses specific issues in an educational setting (Petchauer 2015). The outcomes could include using cyphers, elements of activism, and promoting leadership skills that connect to social justice pedagogies (Petchauer 2015). It is important to note that every student of color does not relate to Hip Hop, nor does it encompass the entirety of young person’s experience (Jeffries 2014). Applying specific outcomes of educational practices informed by Hip Hop Pedagogy requires using multiple aspects of Hip Hop, and might give students tools and a framework, applying this pedagogy to educational challenges (Petchauer 2015).
Teaching the history of Hip Hop, and creating spaces for youth of color to be counterstorytellers, going beyond exclusively using cyphers in a Hip Hop based curriculum. An example of an organization that more fully enacts aspects of Hip Hop is Project Hip Hop, a non-profit based in Boston (Kuttner 2016). Teenage participants attend afterschool programs where they assume positions as counterstoryteller (Kuttner 2016). A counterstoryteller is someone who creates narratives that “…challenge dominant conceptions about Youth of Color and their communities, uncover marginalized stories of oppression and resistance, and offer transformative visions of change” (Kuttner 2016, pp. 542–43). Project Hip Hop functions as a community center that provides space for young people to amplify their artistic voices, earn stipends as organization leaders, and participate in programming, such as theater, while receiving credit at a local community college (Kuttner 2016).

3. Outlining/Defining Culturally Sustainable Pedagogy

Django Paris (2012) is widely credited with developing the theory of CSP that is part of a tradition of asset-based pedagogies (Kuttner 2016). Paris built upon the earlier groundbreaking work of Gloria Ladson-Billings (1995) and her theory of culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP), which promotes that teachers use the culture of students as a way to make learning relevant to them. Paris questioned if Ladson-Billings’ ideas of relevance went far enough to honor the language, literacies, and cultural practices of communities systematically oppressed. Paris writes, “Culturally sustaining pedagogy seeks to perpetuate and foster—to sustain—linguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism as part of the democratic project of schooling” (p. 93). Paris extended Ladson-Billings’ ideas and argues that teachers need to go beyond making schooling relevant and also work to sustain students’ cultures, not merely use them as a hook to build student interest. CSP also continues the tradition from CRP of viewing students as having knowledge and recognizing their cultures and cultural identities as important, meaningful, and worthy of study in classrooms. A pivotal part of both CRP and CSP is the shift away from deficit-based thinking that emphasizes what is “wrong” with students and communities of color, to an asset-based mindset that works to recognize, honor, and sustain the cultures of students is a pivotal part of CSP. Paris (2012) also points out that a goal of deficit approaches was to, “eradicate the linguistic, literate, and cultural practices many students of color brought from their homes and communities and to replace them with what were viewed as superior practices” (p. 93).

3.1. Evolving CSP Practices

An important aspect of CSP that clearly relates to art education is the goal of centering education outside of White middle class heterosexual male norms and values (Paris and Alim 2014). In an art classroom, this would require teachers to carefully rethink the artists and artistic practices they teach as well as their own pedagogical strategies. Teachers might make significant changes to the artists they address, attending to equity and representation issues to ensure that all their students see themselves represented in the curriculum. Further, CSP encourages teachers to recognize and honor the validity, and increasingly important ability to speak outside of Dominant American English (Paris and Alim 2014). From an artistic perspective, this might include moving beyond the traditional language of elements and principles of art and adopting Gude’s (2007) principles of possibility and going beyond these to develop locally-relevant principles within the classroom or community.
Another advocate of CSP, Paul Kuttner, adds to the arguments Paris advances and points out that we need to think of CSP practices in relation to civic engagement and cultural practices as well. Kuttner encourages analyzing detrimental practices within specific cultural contexts, as well as in the dominant culture (Kuttner 2016). Within the arts, we might think of how women and people of color were historically excluded from formal art training within the United States (Nochlin 1971). Now that there are no systemic formal prohibitions, we might consider the financial prohibitions that many people still face in accessing education. Further, we might investigate the work of the Guerilla Girls and how they document the difficulties that people of color and women face when seeking to exhibit their work.

3.2. Hip Hop Pedagogy Informed by Art Education

When considering this call for papers, we noted the absence of women and felt the need to make the point that as women are an important element of Hip Hop culture, they need to be represented in Hip Hop Pedagogy. Because Hip Hop has traditionally been a male dominated, heterosexual space, it has not always welcomed women, trans, femme, queer and gender minority Hip Hop artists who may defy simplistic, hyper masculine, mainstream understandings of the genre (Chung 2007; Smith 2013). Since the origins of Hip Hop, women and queer artists navigated a space that can, “often reiterate the male privilege and assumed heterosexuality of everyday life in their music, leaving Hip-Hops’ women and queer people marginalized in song as they are in reality” (Smith 2013, p. 326). Numerous scholars advocate for feminism within Hip Hop (Brown and Kwakye 2012; Durham 2007), yet we were unable to locate examples of what this might look like within art education.
Brown and Kwakye (2012) note that women have been a part of Hip Hop since its origins and that their practices of playing games in public and creating dances for healing purposes like Urban Bush Women need to be acknowledged. Further, they point out how the absence of women in many histories of Hip Hop is not accidental, but the work of the “heteropatriarchy and the heteronormativity that insidiously surround Hip Hop and structure our society” (p. 2). In explaining Hip Hop feminism, Aisha Durham describes it as
a socio-cultural intellectual and political moment grounded in the situated knowledge of women of color for the post-Civil Rights generation who recognize culture as a pivotal site for political intervention to challenge, resist, and mobilize collectives to dismantle systems of exploitation.
Hip Hop feminism focuses on how to make Black women the subject of the movement, and move away from only critiquing the misogyny of the genre (Peoples 2008). Further, Hip Hop feminists believe the medium can be used as a platform to amplify the voices and provide space for young women, trans, femme, and gender minority people of color that avoids a paternalistic, victim narrative of saving young people (Peoples 2008). Some Hip Hop feminist scholars point out an emerging push for LGBTQ+ acceptance in mainstream Hip Hop with singer/Hip Hop artists such as Frank Ocean, and Syd the Kyd (formerly of Odd Future) (Smith 2013). At the same time, other authors believe that Hip Hop promotes understanding and expressing complex identities that do not fit stereotypical, damaging roles prescribed to women of color (Hay et al. 2018, p. 5).
To bring Hip Hop Pedagogies into classrooms, the framework of CSP may be one way to critically engage with and question practices within Hip Hop that exclude others, or perpetuate discriminatory stereotypes (Paris and Alim 2014). Specifically, we agree with Hay, Farrugia and Smith (Hay et al. 2018) who believe that Hip Hop Pedagogy is a form of CSP applicable to lives of girls and women of color. Ruth Nicole Brown (2009) states “…hip hop feminism scholars advocate for ‘using elements of hip-hop culture and feminist methodology for the purpose of transforming oppressive institutions, policies, relationships, and beliefs” (p. 7). This is where we believe there is significant potential for Rozeal’s work in art classrooms.

3.3. Teaching Rozeal’s Work as Hip Hop Artist

Rozeal is a contemporary Black female artist whose work addresses the representation of Black people and Black Hip Hop culture, and the relationship of these cultures to Japanese pop culture. It is important to note that the term ‘Black culture’ is a “shorthand for a complex range of practices, ideas, and discourses, never meaning one thing” (Condry 2007, p. 639). Representation is not reality, but a construct of history that passing through social, and ideological lenses (Desai 2000). Rozeal’s work has evolved through the years, but her paintings from the early to mid 2000s depict figures inspired by ukiyo-e, woodblocks from Japan’s Tokugawa era (1603–1868) which depicted ‘the floating world,’ and contrasts them with contemporary Hip Hop styles, with figures often appearing in black face (Abiko 2003; Condry 2007). Rozeal’s work examines racial stereotypes and how cultural identity is always shifting in contemporary, global society (Powell 2012).
In 2001, after visiting Japan, Rozeal began studying the Japanese youth trends of burapan1, and ganguro2 (Rowell 2015). These youth trends emulate the style of Black Hip Hop culture (Anderson 2007). The crossover of Hip Hop in Japanese youth culture could be, as Condry (2007) states, “…both as a space for articulating alternative visions of Japanese identity and for providing a comparative context for thinking about hip-hop’s border crossings in the United States and elsewhere” (p. 640). The Japanese presentation of Hip Hop that Rozeal experienced relies on harmful racial stereotypes, rather than exploring two intersecting cultures (Condry 2007). Rozeal’s work examines the interconnectedness of our global society, the hybridization of different cultures, and the resulting potential for misrepresentation, and fetishization (Powell 2012). In an interview with Rowell (2015), Rozeal explains what she observed in Japan:
From the ages of sixteen to twenty-four they can play…. Come twenty-four or twenty-six, whatever the age is, you have to get a job. So you stop going to the tanning salon and you stop getting that afro perm and you get yourself an office job… So what are we really talking about here? Because to me that is not blackness. Blackness isn’t something you can just put on. It just is. (p. 809)
Rozeal’s work reflects Black identity as a signifier, rather than an identity one can shed (Rowell 2015). Rozeal’s artwork explores cross cultural exchange, and the problems associated with mimicking other cultures without understanding or appreciating the condition that comes with them (Figure 1). She addresses the history of influence between African American Hip Hop culture, and Asian cultures (Williams and Brown 2006). Condry (2007) suggests that some of the Japanese perception of Black Americans came from racist portrayals, blackface entertainment, that were first imported to Japan in the late 1880’s after Japan opened to trade at the start of the Meiji Restoration in 1863 (Abiko 2003).
Additionally, the term burapan stems from World War II, specific to a Japanese sex worker that would prostitute herself to Black men (Condry 2007). Having historical context might cast ganguro in a different light. Rozeal states that she was “initially pleased by the global influence and reverence of hip-hop but ultimately troubled by the Japanese youth’s usually one-sided interpretation of it” (DuBois 2009, p. 44). Rozeal views this imitation not as flattery, but as a caricature based in historically damaging stereotypes (Rowell 2015).
Rozeal’s work pulls from the Ukiyo-e artist Kitagawa Utamaro who created counter narratives showing women of the Tokugawa era (1603–1863) in more detail, and with more respect to their identities (Abiko 2003; Anderson 2007). Utamaro’s work differed from others of that time, featuring women in active roles and having a level of agency (Anderson 2007). Some of Rozeal’s paintings mirror specific paintings by Utamaro, and like Utamaro, depict women as determiners of fashion, engaged in personal activities (Anderson 2007). Rozeal expands on the theme of women as independent subjects of the art, rather than depicting women in service to men, showing female subjects, often in quiet moments with other women (Figure 2).
Rozeal samples from Utamaro while simultaneously showing how Japanese women participating in ganguro appropriate African American culture through clothing and hairstyles.

4. Translating Rozeal’s Work with Hip Hop Pedagogy in Mind

Through class discussions, at conferences, and in casual conversations, the main way that we hear of art educators utilizing Hip Hop Pedagogy is by engaging children in rapping about various traditional topics in art education—the color wheel or the elements and principles of art. While there may be good reasons to use rap in the classroom, we think that there may be other ways to implement aspects of Hip Hop Pedagogy as well. A good starting point is teaching about a range of contemporary artists who acknowledge the role of Hip Hop in their practice. For instance, with regard to Rozeal’s work, she acknowledges the importance of Hip Hop in her life and we can see the role of street fashion as well in her images. She describes herself as a DJ in addition to being a visual artist (Williams and Brown 2006).
One way an art educator might teach about her is to explore issues of appropriation versus appreciation and the multiplicity of identity. Appropriation, in cultural terms, is taking something from another culture, usually a minority culture, and having someone from the dominant culture use it without showing a deep understanding of the item and why or how it was and is used by others. In contrast, appreciation involves respectfully borrowing or using cultural elements and acknowledging one’s positionality as well as the inherent complexities in using elements from a culture other than one’s own. Appreciation could also mean not sourcing the imagery from another culture, but examining the underlying meaning behind a practice, and connecting that to practices and values in one’s own culture. For instance, instead of having all students draw skeletons and skulls for the Day of the Dead, a teacher might engage students in an understanding and appreciation of their ancestors and the students would have some choice in how they would represent their ancestors.
Appropriating cultural elements without acknowledging their origin is harmful, racist, and continues systematic forms of oppression. A recent example of this includes White Hip Hop musicians wearing cornrows while not acknowledging systemic racism and the fact that the musical style and hairstyle originated with African Americans. Related to this, the musical idea of sampling, taking a segment of a pre-existing song and using it within the context of a new song, is an element of Hip Hop relevant to Rozeal’s work and postmodernism (Broome 2015). Additionally, she takes styles and remixes elements of older and newer cultural traditions. This hybridity and fluidity of her work combines such elements as a Burberry plaid with a person wearing cornrows in the style of Ukiyo-e prints. This becomes especially important when working with issues of cross cultural exchange, and the need to understand historical context.
Thus, we suggest that art teachers directly address appropriation and make the connection to sampling within Hip Hop music. Through a discussion of Rozeal’s work and her commentary on the appropriation of Black culture, teachers and students could engage in meaningful discussions of what is a respectful use of another culture and how people choose to respond when they see a disrespectful use of their culture, as Rozeal does. One idea would be for students to research their cultural background and find media representations of it or students may use a site like Pinterest to locate lesson plans that purport to teach about their culture. Then, the students and teacher would need to take some time to study the representations that they find, deciding how they depict the culture. After this process, students would make some type of derivative work that comments on how they see their own culture represented in media images, if it leans more toward appropriation or appreciation. These pieces could be displayed alongside the original source images with a description of how the student analyzed the original work and how it relates to the students’ cultural backgrounds. This engages students in the practices of being a counterstoryteller while acknowledging Hip Hop culture, students’ own cultural practices, and engaging students in exploring how others have appropriated or appreciated their culture.
In addition to Rozeal’s work, a teacher might also introduce other Black women artists including Mickalene Thomas and Faith Ringgold who both sample from Western male works of art. This sampling is incredibly purposeful as they comment on the lack of representation of women, and specifically Black women within the history of art. Thus, their use of imagery from older paintings is a political act, much like the political commentary that was an essential part of early Hip Hop. Through replacing White male figures and a nude White female figure with clothed strong Black women with natural hair, Thomas inserts Black women into the history of art in a powerful fashion in her piece Le déjeuner sur l’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires. ( Not only do the Black women literally take the place of White men, they are also looking directly at the viewers of the piece which is a sharp contrast to how women, and particularly women of color, are typically depicted in 19th century paintings (Tiffany 2018).
In Ringgold’s The Sunflowers Quilting Bee, she samples a van Gogh sunflower image and includes portraits of important African American women as a sign of female solidarity in contrast to the traditional idea of the White male genius artist (Smith 1992). Further, in this piece Ringgold positions these women, from different eras, engaging in a collective form of quilting ( Because the focal point of the piece is the women and their quilting, van Gogh, who is relegated to the side, almost becomes part of the background. The work of Thomas and Ringgold relates to Rozeal’s work, but shows more connection to historical works of art and questions the absence of women, particularly Black women, within art.
Engaging students with studying the works of Rozeal, Thomas, and Ringgold or other artists (See Appendix A) requires that art teacher do more than ask students to swap out a figure and replace it with another. Delving into the history of Hip Hop, the political commentary of music, and the historic exclusion of Black women from visual arts would be necessary to help students build an understanding of these artists’ work. Further, an art teacher would need to guide student through considering what type of statement they wanted to make through creating a work with sampled imagery and help students understand the differences between appropriation and appreciation. Teachers could facilitate discussions about what type of visual sampling would effectively communicate students’ messages. In process critiques of student work would likely help students consider multiple perspectives on their own work and the ways representation, or the lack of it, affect contemporary perspectives.

5. Conclusions

Like all cultural art forms, Hip Hop is complex, evolving, and part of lived reality for millions of people. Due to its meaning within young people’s lives, art teachers should make space for Hip Hop Pedagogy within their teaching practice. This requires that teachers adopt an asset-based approach to all their students, learn about a wide variety of cultures, and question what knowledge looks like and where and how it circulates. Further, teachers need to de-center themselves and their knowledge, recognizing that the Hip Hop artists their students know about and like may be vastly different from their own knowledge.
As we work to change practices within art education, we need to question some of our traditional practices and projects that are based on cultural appropriation. Instead, we need to find alternatives in how we work and in the projects we have students create. Educators need to consider ways of working that relate to appreciation, not appropriation. Further, it is crucial for educators to address the fact that the dominant (White) cultures in the United States have benefitted from appropriation in myriad ways, often commodifying and commercializing other cultures. At the same time, the cultures being appropriated (largely Black and Brown) do not receive benefits and are penalized for some of the same actions. To help our field move in this direction, we need to consider our students’ cultures, how Hip Hop may be a part of their cultures and work to sustain what they bring with them to the classroom. We might work with our students to understand the core values of the artistic practices that they value and use those as guiding principles within the classroom. Further, we may need to question the existing values in visual art, largely based on early 20th century elements and principles of art (Gude 2007), and rethink these in light of contemporary practices and values (Emdin 2016). Though beyond the scope of this paper, art education could be informed by close study of Black feminism and how it informs Hip Hop pedagogy. Developing curriculum related to Black feminism could be a step toward changing the historical erasure of Black women from the field of art education (Acuff 2018).
Not all individual teachers have the power or ability to make radical changes on their own. To make systemic changes within education, we believe that teacher preparation programs need to radically shift to encompass a wider range of pedagogical approaches, including CSP and Hip Hop pedagogy. When pre-service teachers learn about contemporary pedagogy and ways to use Hip Hop artists and musicians that challenge “controlling images” and expand on nuanced, complex narratives (Hay et al. 2018, p. 5) to better relate to the lives of youth. Because the teaching workforce is overwhelmingly White, it is important that teachers recognize how systemic oppression and racism operate in schools and work to dismantle that. Working to validate and sustain Hip Hop and the cultures of our students is one way that White allies can assist in the dismantling of the current inequitable system.

Author Contributions

Both authors contributed equally to writing and editing this paper.


This research received no funding.


We would like to thank Gloria Wilson for reading a draft of this manuscript and offering us helpful feedback. We are grateful for her time and insights.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Appendix A

Other contemporary visual artists whose work we believe would be appropriate to address through the ideas of Hip Hop Pedagogy include:
  • Meriem Bennani
  • Melissa Falconer
  • Faith Ringgold
  • El Seed
  • Amy Sherald
  • Roger Shimomura
  • Saba Taj
  • Mickalene Thomas
  • Izel Vargas
  • Kehinde Wiley


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A form of blackface Hip Hop (Rowell 2015).
A style related to burapan that has heavy use of self tanner, and a whitening around the eyes (Rowell 2015).
Figure 1. Rozeal. You opened my eyes man, thought I had a man, but how could I eye scan. 2008.
Figure 1. Rozeal. You opened my eyes man, thought I had a man, but how could I eye scan. 2008.
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Figure 2. Rozeal. Untitled. 2016.
Figure 2. Rozeal. Untitled. 2016.
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Buffington, M.L.; Day, J. Hip Hop Pedagogy as Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy. Arts 2018, 7, 97.

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Buffington ML, Day J. Hip Hop Pedagogy as Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy. Arts. 2018; 7(4):97.

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Buffington, Melanie L., and Jolie Day. 2018. "Hip Hop Pedagogy as Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy" Arts 7, no. 4: 97.

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