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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Bennington

It's Bigger Than Hip-Hop: Amplifying Black Voices

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Last week I offered some immediate, antiracist actions you can take to stop the violence. Rhetorical Roundhouse is growing into a charitable network of martial artists dedicated to preventing unnecessary violence in our communities and offering a critical martial arts education to children who need it most. To that end, you will likely start seeing more politically engaged content on this blog designed to help you affect positive change in your own community. I am working tirelessly with many talented educators currently to produce a more full handbook of antiracist actions for Tampa Bay--look for that not later than next week. Many of these are starting to circulate now and I will do my best to collect the best ones here for you.

Today's main topic is one that I posted about on Facebook earlier this week after considering the black voices that had the most impact on my education.

I'm going to share the full list (as well as a much longer one by another scholar) and discuss some of the work in a bit more detail today but, before I do, I have a few important things resources to share.

If you haven't seen the amazing resource created by Autumn Gupta and Bryanna Wallace to help people educate themselves about anti racist action, check it out now. It includes a daily calendar to help you stay on track. Consider donating to their GofundMe page to help them transition this information from a Google Doc to a website.

Protesting Safely

If you have decided to march in protest, please consult the following resources and continue to practice social distancing if possible. Chant loudly but, please, wear a mask!

You can also protest from home! Black Lives Matter yard signs are available for purchase, or you can make your own.

Donating Without Spending Money

Fact: I wish I weren't broke so I could donate more money to people in need.

The good news is, thanks to folks like Zoe Amira, I don't have to spend money to donate. Many YouTubers are donating ad revenue to various justice funds. All you have to do is turn your ad blocker off and let the playlist run. You can mute the video and let it continue on in the background to still generate ad revenue. In order to generate repeat revenue as a single viewer it's important to understand a few details about the Youtube algorithms. Importantly, you can't generate multiple ads by simply repeating the video. Instead, watch a playlist that features multiple donation videos broken up by 3-5 other videos to make it appear more like "natural" viewing tendencies.

I've created a playlist like this on the Rhetorical Roundhouse Youtube channel you can use. Not only will this help you contribute to multiple important causes right now, but it will help grow the Rhetorical Roundhouse platform so I can begin generating and donating ad revenue as well. Just click the image below to get started.

To help me with that goal, simply subscribe to the Rhetorical Roundhouse Youtube Channel and share the playlist with your friends on social media. If anyone you share this playlist with is curious to learn more about the future of the Rhetorical Roundhouse Network and how these efforts align with Black Lives Matter, please let them know they can contact me directly with any questions by emailing

Ready for Some Hip-Hop?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about amplifying black voices that I feel have helped me grow into a better person over the years. When I sat down and thought about how I first became educated about structural racism, police brutality against people of color, internalized racism, unequal justice, and the new Jim Crow era, I realized something cool—for me it all came first from Hip-Hop.

Last time I posted an interview clip from the documentary Tupac Ressurection (2003) where Shakur explains how the delivery of civil rights messages has evolved over the years into gangsta rap. I think why I love his answer so much is because it’s EXACTLY the thing Langston Hughes is writing about in “Harlem” from 1951.

This simple connection is easy enough to make and so it always astounds me when Hip-Hop and rap are met with such resistance from entrenched teachers of literature or government boards responsible for approving state curricula...different topic for a different day I suppose.

For now, I'll say this--it's not like the resources aren't there or haven't been there. I started teaching Hip-Hop in conjunction with American poetry in 2013 using Def Poetry Jam DVDs, an edited collection by Tony Medina and Louis Reyes Rivera called Bum Rush the Page, and a syllabus FULL of Hip-Hop. Here's the kicker--this wasn't a literature course--it was a freshman level composition/communication course where students learned about rhetoric.

According to Jackson (2009) this kind of exposure to African American rhetorics helps students articulate and better understands theories in critical race studies in addition to "facilitating democratic engagement with structures of racial, social, and economic injustice in their own social worlds." Green 2011 makes a similar argument about the usefulness of studying Hip-Hop for students of rhetoric and writing.

The key for my teacher friends out there is this: always explicitly connect all texts/media on your syllabus to your student learning objectives. If students consistently understand why they are being asked to engage with material (especially media that might be fairly uncomfortable for them) they are less likely to challenge your authority or dismiss the assignment.

Follow-up advice for white people: be an anti-racist teacher, but be true to yourself. I taught a class based around Hip-Hop because I've grown up with the music, love the culture, and knew it would be an effective way to teach my material while exposing students to larger issues of race and violence. Even so--I was nervous. So nervous that I almost didn't teach the class. When I mentioned this anxiety to a colleague, she told me that, as a woman of color, she had taken many courses in African American literature and culture--and that all of them were taught by white people. The fact is, university departments are still a predominately white space--if I didn't teach Hip-Hop in my classroom in the sleepy mountain town of Radford, VA, who would?

What my friend told me was simple: it's OK for teachers to make mistakes when trying to create a diverse and anti-racist classroom. What's not OK is being too afraid to try.

I'll leave it up to you as to how you might like to try in your own classroom, but if you decide to include some political Hip-Hop, consider this list from Lakeyta Bonnette's 2015 book The Pulse of the People: Political Rap and Black Politics.

My little list is quite puny by comparison but it made a huge impact on my life. Help me expand my horizons--what conscious or political hip-hop album/artist is your favorite?

This is just rough list of Hip-Hop albums that were meaningful to me. I hope you enjoy them and learn from them as much as I did.

1. Gil Scott Heron, Pieces of a Man 1971

This one is often described as proto-rap because tracks like “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” bridge the gap between funk/soul and the early days of rap.

2. Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, The Message 1982

“The Message” is a monstrous single that, for me, signals the first popular example of conscious rap.

3. N.W.A, Straight Outta Compton 1988


4. Public Enemy, Fear of a Black Planet 1990

FLAVOR FLLLAAAAVVVVVVVV. Continues the gangsta rap tradition of N.W.A and adds more politically charged lyrical content. This is another video that really illustrates Tupac's point about the changing nature of the Civil Rights movement.

5. Tupac Shakur, 2pacalypse Now, 1991

While I came to the albums listed above later in life, this was the first Pac album I listened to and it showed me through story after vivid story lives and experiences that I knew I’d never truly be able to understand.

6. The Fugees, 1996 The Score

If you haven’t had the pleasure of blasting “Killing me Softly with His Song” in the car with friends and going crazy with some karaoke then I hope you get to one day soon.

7. Black Star, 1998

This might be the most important one on the list to me because my buddy Rodell (who is the hardest person to keep up with because he literally goes off the damn grid 🤦‍♂️) shared it with me when I wouldn’t shut up about Lupe Fiasco back in the day. I owe a lot to Rodell for making me a kinder, more compassionate person, partly because he gave me this CD—partly because he’s such a remarkable human.

8. Mos Def, Black on Both Sides 1999

All of Mos Def is dope and important. Also, check out Mos Dub for sweet reggae remixes

9. The Roots, Things Fall Apart 1999

Hey remember when people played instruments? The Roots remember!

10. Talib Kweli, Quality 2002

Same as Mos...listen to everything they make but start here.

11. Dead Prez, Let’s Get Free 2000

I’m FASCINATED by this album because of the overt use of the I-Ching symbols and Bruce Lee quotes as part of revolutionary Hip-Hop. I’ll be writing more about this soon, but if I could recommend one album for you to start with, it’s this one. Unfortunately, their debut album Let's Get Free is more relevant now than ever before.

12. Lupe Fiasco, The Cool 2007

My first love in terms of conscious rap was Lupe Fiasco. His early mixtapes are amazing and feature tracks like “Conflict Diamonds” and his first album Food and Liquor is monumental for sure. But The Cool will always have a soft spot in my heart.

13. Lupe Fiasco, Food and Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album 2012

Yep—the sequel made the list over the original. Why? Partly because of how Lupe’s style and overt political writing changes as a result of mistreatment from Atlantic records. By the time this album comes out, Lupe Sounds reinvigorated—and I think he only gets better from here.

14. Common, Black America Again 2016

So 2016 was an explosion of important Hip-Hop, this is one of my favorites. I really like the top comment on this video:

Seeing Baltimore presented like this rather than just used as a setting for crime dramas and drug documentaries is still wild to me as a Baltimorean. I'm grateful to Common and everyone involved for using the city to tell a story of blackness that doesn't demonize said blackness for entertainment and agendas.

15. J Cole, 4 Your Eyez Only 2016

This is easily my most listened to album on Spotify by a mile. Listen to the whole thing—if the last song doesn’t make you cry then I guess unfriend me? (Only partially kidding). J Cole is probably my favorite rapper right now and I encourage you to listen to everything he’s done.

16. A Tribe Called Quest, We’ve Got it from Here...Thank You 4 Your Service 2016

I came to Tribe later in life when they released this final album in 2016 but their whole discography is worth investigating.

17. Joey Bada$$, All-Amerikkan Bada$$ 2017

A newer artist who's started showing up more in various playlists for me--and I'm a fan.

18. Lupe Fiasco, Drogas Wave 2018

My love of Lupe continues—this actually might be my favorite album he’s ever done. Listen to this song--it makes me cry every time.

19. Run the Jewels, RTJ4 2020

RTJ is always cool and this new album is no exception. Check out their stuff as well as Killer Mike’s solo work for a heavy dose of politics

20. ... You tell me?

Ok so, this is obviously not a comprehensive list. How do I know? Because this just happens to be the albums that had an impact on me personally. How else do I know it’s not a perfect list? Because there aren’t any solo female artists or other representatives who make up the beautiful texture of Hip-Hop. I could do a bit of research and list some albums that fit this description, but it would be disingenuous because they didn’t personally shape my life.

Here’s a couple songs though that have some strong ladies that I’ve been listening to lately:

“Self” by Noname 2018

“Sojourner” by Rapsody ft. J Cole 2018

I’d love to hear from those of you with different perspectives. What albums would you add to the list that have helped you understand issues of race and unequal justice in America? What other forms of Hip-Hop culture are important in doing anti-racist work in the classroom and in our communities? (Spoiler: I’m going to be making a Def Jam list too 👀 👀)

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and happy listening!

Here's one last video mostly for fun--I think this is such a cool idea!

Thanks for stopping by--take care of yourselves out there and keep moving forward. Educate yourself, talk to your family and neighbors, and figure out how you can best affect change. And while you're doing all that, amplify black voices like these in the loudest speakers you have.


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