Kendrick Lamar recently visited a high school in North Bergen, New Jersey and no one will stop talking about it. It all started with a viral blog post written by High Tech High School teacher Brian Mooney, who began teaching Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly during his unit on Toni Morrisson’s The Bluest Eye: “His album continues the conversation that Toni Morrison started in 1970,” Mooney writes.
When it was time to assign students a prompt based on the comparison, the project took off. One of these aggregated blog posts got passed onto Lamar’s manager, who then arranged for Kendrick to come to the school’s poetry club and chill.
He came, he saw, he recited, he “blew minds.” One kid — an opportunistic alum — even rapped for Lamar. Complex has posted excitedly about it several times and the story has also appeared written-out in The New York Times, all suggesting that Kendrick’s high school visit has some kind of larger meaning, that hip-hop in the classroom is going mainstream.
A number of start-ups like Flocabulary — a service that incorporates basic school lessons into proprietary rap videos and songs — are banking on this being the case. Kendrick’s classroom visit makes for a nice story, but a better press opportunity; pulling something as contextual as lyrics (which can be important!) away from the music can be a dangerous way to teach a lesson.
In this case, Lamar’s record was useful to engage the students, many of whom chose a lengthier, more intensive prompt when assignment time came because they could use their own sources. But it’s hard to argue that this might be a universal case; it all seems singular, a one-off, albeit a somewhat delightful one. In my experience, the best way to make something lame is to have your high school teacher also be really into it (I will never look at 2Pac’s “Changes” the same way). It’s a good story. But it’s not the phenomenon the media is telling you it is.