Sick Beats and Shakespeare

This was a very interesting talk given by Akala at Tedx Aldeburgh in 2012 about the similarities between Shakespeare’s works and hip-hop music.  The speaker began his presentation by giving the audience a short quiz, and the purpose of the quiz was to see if they could differentiate between quotes from hip-hop songs and quotes from Shakespeare.  To sum it up, the audience was unable to make that differentiation.  He then made a short comment about how renowned scholars of Shakespeare had been given that same quiz and had also failed.  This blew my mind.

Retrieved from CC by AJC

There is an unspoken mindset that permeates society (and I mean American society as this is what I have the most experience with) where elements of classism and racism are used to judge, and oftentimes judge harshly, hip-hop and similar music styles.  However, it tends to subvert this entire value judgement when scholars are unable to tell the difference between something that is seen as “high-brow” and something that is seen as “low-brow”.  The speaker then went on to point out that often, and far too often at that, people think that Shakespeare spoke the Queen’s English or what is known as received pronunciation.  However, received pronunciation was not even invented until a century or so after Shakespeare’s death.  What this means is that people are trying to retroactively assign elements that would “elevate” Shakespeare above the common masses.  This is ridiculous as his theatre company was based in the “seedy” side of town and he performed his plays largely for the common masses, but I digress.  The main thing that the speaker wanted to talk about was how the rhythms, meters, and rhyme schemes found in Shakespeare are also found in hip-hop music.

This has significant relevance to me as a future teacher because of both what I want to teach and how I want to teach it.  My goal is to become a secondary English/Language Arts educator, but I do not want to be shoving the canon down the throats of my students for multiple reasons that I do not wish to expound upon in this post.  Either way, there are some writers and works that happen to be part of the canon that I want to teach due to their status as an icon in modern society.  One such writer is Shakespeare, and his works and influence so permeates modern society in multiple ways that we do not even know just how far that influence goes.  For instance, many well-known films, such as My Own Private Idaho, were heavily influenced, if not a full-blown adaptation, of a Shakespearian work.  Many turns of phrases that we still use today were pulled from Shakespeare, and even the way English is spoken today was influenced by him.  Therefore, I need to find ways to modernize Shakespeare so that it is relevant to the modern student, and relating his work to hip-hop is a great way to do just that.


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