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Elon Academy scholars make rap album for summer class

Fourteen high school students in a philosophy course on race, gender and hip-hop visited a Greensboro recording studio Wednesday to create their own album with messages of resilience, hope and equality.

Korey Crisp joined with his Elon Academy classmates to write and record "News Flash," a rap song that promotes feminism, as part of a summer course that looks at race, gender and philosophy through the prism of hip-hop.

Korey Crisp goes by “My Name: is Juicebox.” Katie Durham is “The Kdayy!” Brittany Mitchell prefers “Bmitchey.”

Together, the trio penned the musical single “News Flash,” one of five tracks to be featured on a forthcoming album produced in a new Elon Academy class studying race, gender, philosophy and hip-hop.

That class, “Bring the Noise,” culminated Wednesday when Crisp, Durham and Mitchell – along with 11 other Alamance County high school students enrolled in the inaugural course – rotated through the recording booth of a Greensboro studio just days before the end of their summer stay with Elon University’s college access and success program.

As the three students took turns on July 9 stepping into the booth of the Underground Sound studio to perform their respective verses, classmates crowded a nearby engineering room to see the music produced in real time. The tracks will be compiled onto a CD for distribution to the full academy and soon made available for online purchase.

These songs don’t glamorize sex, drugs, money or guns. If there’s one thing the students learned, it’s that misogyny and racism in any media needs to be forcefully counteracted with positive themes that celebrate differences of color, class, creed and chromosome.

“It’s easy to hear something and think it sounds good without paying attention to what an artist is trying to tell you,” said Crisp, a rising senior at Cummings High School in Burlington, North Carolina. “This class has made me think about things a lot more, about the underlying messages of songs.”

Saul Johnson, owner and engineer for the Underground Sound recording studio in Greensboro, North Carolina, worked with Elon Academy students on July 9, 2014, to produce a rap album based on knowledge gained from a class on race, gender, philosophy and hip-hop.

Launched by Elon University in 2007, the Elon Academy is an intensive college access and success program for local high school students with high financial need or no family history of attending college. It combines a month-long residential program over three successive summers with follow-up experiences during the academic year.

Scholars take classes each summer in a host of classes, from psychology courses that teach about the brain to financial literacy classes focused on budgets, savings and credit.

The “Bring the Noise” was designed to help students recognize deep structures of race, gender and class injustice, and to give them a language to talk about their own experiences of injustice. It was funded by a $5,000 grant from the Bruce J. Heim Foundation, which provides financial assistance “to causes that will help people, especially young people with potential for excellence in an area of interest.”

Instructors Stephen Bloch-Schulman, an associate professor of philosophy at Elon University, and Rebecca Scott, a philosophy graduate student at Loyola University Chicago, wanted to develop critical thinking skills while fostering an environment in which intellectual pursuits are seen as relevant and exciting.

“Among other things, it has allowed different expertise to emerge in the classroom, as different students and different faculty understand different lenses,” Bloch-Schulman said. “It has also helped students see, in an age when racism and sexism is often denied in order to place all blame on individuals and to focus on a inaccurate view of ‘personal responsibility,’ forces and factors that lead to inequalities, and to do something about them by speaking about them and seeing the effects of these problems.”

Both teachers helped students interpret rap songs and videos through several lens: the history of race and gender in the United States, the history of rap itself, how songs refer to other music in lyrics and sampling, and through the students’ own lives and experience.

Class conversations probed the origins of certain stereotypes and required scholars to confront their own preconceived notions about other people. The sensitive nature of philosophical discussions fostered growth in everyone – both students and teachers.

“It’s important to talk about the things that make us uncomfortable,” said Durham, a rising senior at Southern Alamance High School with an interest in social justice issues. “If you don’t, you’ll never figure out how to change them.”

Eric Townsend,
7/9/2014 4:35 PM