The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy

Old School, New School, No School: Hip Hop’s Dismantling of School and Prison Industrial Complexes

Anthony Nocella, Kim Socha


This article, rooted in hip hop studies and pedagogy, critically examines the representation of formal traditional schooling, teaching and educating in hip hop, arguing that through research of rap lyrics, the message is evident that schools, teachers, and the educational system oppress today’s urban youth and maintain the school-to-prison pipeline. Instead of educationally stimulating oppressed youth in urban communities, the system medicates or expels them from school, leading these children and teens to engage in street hustling that often ends in death or imprisonment. This flawed system disserves poor youth of color, making hip hop music one of the only forms of expression for the voices of this marginalized population. Hip hop, a Black urban identity culture in the U.S., started in the 1970s to lyrically articulate the experience of oppression and liberation. Hip hop’s philosophy was and is simple: to collaboratively and creatively make something from very little. Through the lyrics of Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur, Nas, Public Enemy, KRS-One, and other rappers emerges an argument in support of massive educational transformation of schools by administrators and teachers to address racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia. The rising field of critical urban education challenges educators to address systematic causes of oppression and no longer rely on reformist co-opted pedagogical methods such as using hip hop in the classroom, giving students free computers, and providing intermittent multicultural education workshops. With hip hop lyrics as a research foundation, this article demands a school system rooted in fun, stimulation, critical thinking, and collaborative, not competitive, approaches to learning. This new system should be organized and owned by the community and for the community, negating the need for outsiders who may unwittingly dictate and promote racist, sexist, homophobic and classist educational standards.


Hip hop; school-to-prison pipeline; social justice; critical urban eucation

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