Teaching: How to Remix Wilfred Owen and Dizzee Rascal #hiphoped

So I recently embarked upon a unit of work with my year 8s on the general theme of London, exploring a range of texts and authors throughout history, connected to this great city in which I live.

The unit came immediately after a scheme of work on World War 1 ‘conflict poetry, during which, among other things, we explored some pretty compelling links between Wilfred Owen and Eminem.

As a bridge into the London unit (from the Conflict unit), one of the things we did in class was explore the concept of being at conflict with London. Naturally, based in East London, I thought it would be a good idea to start with one of London’s most successful exports, Dylan Mills – aka Dizzee Rascal

 

We started by listening to the first track off  ‘Boy in da Corner’, entitled ‘Sittin Here’, in which Dizzee reflects on life growing up in a hostile city. It was great fun to let the kids take over on vocabulary-busting duties. They ALL knew all the slang terms, even those that I thought might be slightly outdated in 2014 (11 years after Dizzee released the album). Goes to show, offer ownership to students and they’ll meet it on their own terms.

Anyway, let me get to the interesting bit.

After analysing Dizzee’s lyrics and debating the extent to which he was at conflict with London, I offered up a selection of creative and analytical tasks, ranging from self-generated essays to creative writing challenges based on Dizzee’s lyrics.

pic of tasks

(Note: offering choice is an invitation to engagement. Give the kids one thing to do, and there’s a 50/50 chance they’ll back out of it. Give a selection of tasks and they might actually opt in out of choice. Wise words.)

(Note: worth also mentioning that each task came with individual prompt sheets for the students to work through at their own pace, in a Project-Based style. More on this in future posts… )

WP_002018 WP_002020

 

One of the tasks was to write a remix of ‘Sittin Here’ from the perspective of Wilfred Owen, riffing on themes we explored in the Conflict unit. Now, this may seem like a tenuous link, but check this out.

WP_20140601_001 WP_20140601_002 WP_20140531_012 WP_20140531_013

 

Impressed? No? Let me explain. Above are two recently unearthed examples of #hiphoped in action, hence this blog post. You can’t read it, but these two students took all the learning from the Wilfred Owen poems we studied and synthesised them into original reworkings of Dizzee’s lyrics.

I find this electrifying.

I have written in the past on the potency of sample culture, but it never ceases to amaze me just how powerful hiphop pedagogy can be, in practical application. Unprompted, these students poured their appreciation of Owen’s poetry, their understanding of modern, urban London and their appreciation of hiphop lyricism into a creative exercise rooted in academic rigour.

Below are transcripts of the remixed texts. Look out for cleverly interwoven WW1 references. And click the ‘Sittin Here’ instrumental to sing along, if you’d like.

Student A
I’m just sitting here, I ain’t saying much, I just shoot
And my feet don’t move left or right, they’re just boots
I think too deep and I think too long
Plus I think I’m getting weak, cos my guns are too strong.
I’m just sitting here, I ain’t saying much, I just gaze.
I’m looking into space while my country plays
I gaze quite a lot, in fact I gaze always
And if I fight then I just fight away my days
 
Cos it’s the same old story: countries, enemies, guns and people dying
And it’s the same old story: large tanks, large battles and generals lying
Yeah  it’s the same old story: trenches invaded and then our trenches get raided 
Cos it was only yesterday we were playing football on the streets
It was only yesterday none of us could ever come to harm
It was only yesterday life was a touch more sweet
Now I’m fighting here thinking when will my time come?
 
I’m just fighting here in this hopeless war…
Yeah I’m just fighting here in this hopeless war…

 

Student B
I’m just sitting here, I’m not saying much I just think
I don’t know anyone, my thoughts just sink
I’m sitting here, this journey is too long
I look around this train, while I’m writing this song
And I’m just sitting here, I’m not saying much I just gaze
I look around the train, everyone has a different face
Faces from black to white, but I’m excited to go to this mysterious place
This train is going in a maze, as the train’s about to stop I start tying my lace
(But I should’ve known, this is war, not fun)
 
Because it’s the same old story: Guns, trenches, tanks and fences
And it’s the same old story: Horses, armour and literally a disaster
And it’s the same old story: Blood, death and funerals
Yeah it’s the same old story: this war shows your fate, why don’t you say that to my best friend’s face.
 
I’m just sitting here, I ain’t saying much, I just watch
Watch, as people get shot by gunshots
I watch all around, I watch every detail
I watch so hard that my eyes are watering.
I’m just sitting here, I ain’t saying much, I just cry
And the only reason I’m here is cuz of that stupid Old Lie
This week I have a break, today I live, today they die

 

Side note: I also created a class page of ‘Sittin Here’ on my Rap Genius profile, which one student took great pains annotating, as her preferred task.

That’s it for now. Exploration in hiphoped continue apace. Soon, I’ll be tidying these resources up and making them available for teachers.

Best,

-Unseen Flirtations
TES Teaching Resources
 

Related: Remixing Education

Related: Top 10 Things Formal Education Can Learn From Hiphop

Related: Hiphoped Seminar 5: 10 Big Questions…

 

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