Almost as we speak, I am putting together a new selection of tracks for my forthcoming mixtape, entitled FIRST BREAK. Now, if you’ve been paying any attention at all, you’ll know that I have a penchant for hip hop and the audacity to pick up a mic from time to time. But that said, even I must admit that it’s slightly odd for a full time teacher to be devoting so much of his time to shouting loud about how great he is, over instrumentals.
Obviously, my forays into hip hop are, on a biographical note, nothing new. I’ve been listening to hip hop since pre-adolescence, writing rhymes since before then, making music since the 00s and DJing since before then. But it wasn’t until this year that I decided to allow this less than advertised aspect of my life, in full, to shake hands with my professional career, via the now infamous OFSTED mixtape.
The OFSTED mixtape: A slightly hesitant collection of songs I began recording last year linked by the theme of teaching. Since leaking it at school, I now seem to have something of a persona as ‘that teacher who raps’ which, despite having been true since before I even became a teacher, strikes me as odd. I have suddenly become a living embodiment of what is known on Twitter as #hiphoped, something which has got me to thinking…
I won’t lie; I was absolutely terrified about allowing my kids to hear me rap. Despite all the confidence and bravado your average teacher and MC have to exude, I was scared of their reactions, wary of ridicule and anxious for approval. See, the thing is, hip hop has no room for reticence – you have to let it all show. So by making these songs about my life and teaching I was fully exposing myself to all listeners, something which it takes a brave fool to do. An intrinsic part of hip hop is the challenge aspect, by which every action is not only a showcase of skill but also a universal challenge. And if you fall short, that’s not only your reputation, but your entire persona, in tatters.
Thankfully, my persona remains intact and the reaction to OFSTED has been positive, for two main reasons. 1) it was quite good (I think) and 2) it was real. Any teacher will tell you that kids are obsessed with things being ‘real’ or ‘fake’. Be it brands, youtube videos, anecdotes or whatever. And beyond this, they respond best to things that have a real world context and adults who are real to them. Bullshitting does not travel far with kids – they can smell it, and the bullshitter instantly loses all credibility. Now, hip hop is, if nothing else, 100% real. It has to be, or its energy just doesn’t work. So when the kids at my school heard me rapping about a classroom being like a ‘hurt locker’, saying that I get paid ‘a half-arsed fee’ and calling Michael Gove a ‘mother-f**king Monster’, they accepted it. Even if they didn’t like the songs, they felt and respected them. I could tell from the conversations that surrounded the release of the mixtape. Quiet affirmations, compliments and a lot of downloading. Again, I think this has as much to do with the content of the songs as the fact that I made them from the heart. They weren’t ‘fake’ and the kids accepted them on real terms.
Now, the one thing that all teachers want is to enthuse their students and encourage them to share our passions. Really, I spend good Life Energy during lessons doing exactly this, getting kids fired up. What is amazing is how effortlessly this happed with my #hiphoped endeavours. Even before I had played anything to anyone and simply told some of my tutor groups about the songs, I had a handful of kids excitedly hopping from foot to foot (well, almost) asking me to ‘spit’ and offering collaboration ideas. Part of it must, of course, have been morbid curiosity, but there was/ is a genuine excitement surrounding hip hop that I am now running with. Hence FIRST BREAK. I’ve had genuine and exciting conversations with students I have never met before, and students I thought I knew well have revealed themselves to be MCs, producers and music fans, giving us a common ground. It sounds cheesy (well it is cheesy) but the cross-generational appeal of hip hop is actually putting me as a teacher on an equal footing with the kids I teach.
In all of this I’ve realised that I haven’t actually done anything new in allowing my hiphopic (new word! – call me a neologist) diversions into the forefront. I’ve simply allowed my professional life and my actual life to relax into one another. Something that came out of a recent UK #hiphoped Twitter chat was the fact that every teacher has a bit of hip hop in them. We improvise, freestyle, swagger, get a crowd hyped, pour our souls out, teach, preach and control a crowd. Maybe, in light of this, it’s no accident that the MC in me has fallen into the classroom whilst the teacher in me fell into the recording booth – they’re actually one and the same person.
UK #hiphoped holds a Twitter conversation every Wednesday at 8.00pm GMT. Follow @rapclassroom for more details.
And if you haven’t already, download the OFSTED mixtape by clicking here.