The Fifth Element of Hip Hop Culture: A Text Set

I have designed this text set for a hypothetical urban group of junior and senior high school students, with demographics 60% African American, 30% Latino/a, and 10% other. There are a few students in the class who are special education, and 10% of the class are ELLs. The purpose of these texts is to investigate the fifth element of hip hop culture which is knowledge:Knowledge (mental) – This element is the thread that weaves all the other elements together. “Knowledge of self” refers to the Afro-diasporic mix of spiritual and political consciousness designed to empower members of oppressed groups” according Travis Gosa in his book entitled The Fifth Element of Hip Hop: Knowledge. This quote merges with the vision that Bambaataa had of hip-hop as a force for social change.  Bambaataa states that “America has systematized our minds to be into materialism”, but instead of buying into this notion, we should think about how we can give back to our communities. Natasha Wright, The 5 Elements of Hip Hip

The following underlying questions will guide our discussion: How does hip hop culture define the U.S. as a whole? How does hip hop culture define you as an individual?

Text 1 (Multimedia): Hamilton cast performs “Alexander Hamilton” at White House. (2016, March 14). Retrieved from

(From minute 9:02-13:24. Shout out to Dianna Herron for introducing me to Lin Miranda and “Hamilton”.)

This text is about Alexander Hamilton “rising up” from the poverty of his orphan childhood on one level, but on another, it is about anyone trying to make a go of it in this hard life. The cast of this musical is important because they are all minority. Many people think of our forefathers and mothers as white and rich, but Lin Miranda reinvents our historical perception and gives us a truer idea of who our forefathers and mothers were. He makes the musical contemporary through hip hop, which has been said to be the popular culture of today. This text is quite difficult on one level. The book version “Hamilton” is measured quantitatively as having a 1080 Lexile, for ages 14-17. I agree that this text is about this level, but could also be for adults. When thinking of the quantitative measures, we can understand this musical as having complex themes that are suitable for high school students. Vocabulary: providence, squalor, testament, “the scent rich,” treatise, destitute, restitution

This text will be used to introduce hip hop, not because it is most authentically hip hop, but because it speaks to immigrants, something alike in all of our heritages. This musical also has multiple types of rap and can open the mind about rap being used for educational purposes. Question/thinking activity for students to consider when interacting with the text: Why is the entire cast minority, and is “Hamilton” “nonetheless yet another rendition of the ‘‘exclusive past,’’ with its focus on the deeds of ‘‘great white men’’ and its silencing of the presence and contributions of people of color” as Lyra D. Monteiro claims in her article “Race-Conscious Casting and the Erasure of the Black Past in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton“?

Text 2 (Print): Monteiro, L. D. (2016). Race-Conscious Casting and the Erasure of the Black Past in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. The Public Historian, 38(1), 89-98.

Show star and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, bottom right along with cast seen at Hennessy V.S.O.P Celebrates Hamilton’s 1st Week of performances on Broadway at URBO on Saturday, July 18, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Donald Traill/Invision for Hennessy/AP Images)
(Excerpt from “”Race-Conscious Casting and the Erasure of the Black Past in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton See full article here.)

This text provides a perspective of the casting of Hamilton. Monteiro argues intently that all of the people of color from the Revolutionary Era have been erased from the play. There is something ironic about what Miranda has done here.

This text is assessed by StoryToolz as having a mean grade level of 19. I would agree that the text is extremely difficult for many high school students which is why I would help them summarize the text, work with them to read it, and possibly use excerpt only. Vocab from the article: premise, dubbed, enthralled, transposed, exclusive, colonialism, proliferation

The purpose of this text is to get the students thinking about what it means to carry the fifth element of hip hop. Initially, we might think that Lin Miranda is in genius about his casting decisions, but this article offers another perspective, perhaps equally as hip hop as the play itself. Question/thinking activity: Both the play and the article seem to be designed as a “political consciousness designed to empower members of oppressed groups,” part of the fifth element of hip hop culture. How can the article and the play be working for the same cause even while Monteiro, the writer of this article so openly opposes the play, asking, “Is this the history that we most want black and brown youth to connect with—one in which black lives so clearly do not matter?”? Does the article or the play embody the fifth element of hip hop, and if both do, which one does more so?

Text 3 (Culturally Relevant): 2Pac (Ft. Talent) – “Changes.” Genius, 13 Oct. 1998,

The lyrics of this song highlight how there are no changes being made to fix racism, the treatment of people of color by police officers, the war on drugs, poverty, and other issues. “I see no changes.” As a juxtaposition 2Pac adds that “things will never be the same” which people can interpret multiple ways.

On Storytoolz the lyrics are assessed as a 9.2 grade level. I would argue that when looking at the lyrics, the themes are older than 9th grade. I would assess this as an 11th grade or higher text, though some teens would be ready for this. Vocab: Huey, penitentiary, G, sleazy, “jack you up,” “back you up”

2Pac is one of the most well known hip hop artists ever. This song references the reconciliation of black and white races in America. The purpose of this text is to open a dialogue about some of the grittier issues that affected youth of yesterday to encourage the students to compare those of today, noting any “changes.” When you compare 2Pac’s “Changes” and “Hamilton,” what progress does it seem we have made regarding hip hop music as a social justice initiative? Why do you think 2Pac decided to use the word “crack” in the line “Give the crack to the kids, who the hell cares? ” rather than drugs in general?

Text 4 (Multimedia): “Jay Z – The War on Drugs: From Prohibition to Gold Rush.” YouTube, 15 Sept. 2016,

In this YouTube video, Jay Z describes the war on drugs, how it disproportionately affects people of color, and how it is related to racial profiling.

I would assess the text complexity as about 9th grade or higher. I think that most people of color are aware of racial profiling at a very young age. The words are accompanied by visuals, so this helps the listener and watcher to understand the meaning, even though some of the words are more difficult. Vocab: Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Reaganomics, social safety nets, hustle, moral fortitude, incarceration, “blew up,” autocratic, repressive

The purpose of this text is to bring up an issue that has been associated with hip hop. Drugs. Even with all of the good hip hop does for our communities, I want the students to analyze the relationship between drugs and hip hop. Guiding questions: How are they really related, or do they exist as their own entities? How is hip hop perpetuating and/or fighting the war on drugs?

Text 5 (Print): Chang, J. (2007). Can’t stop won’t stop: A history of the hip-hop generation. St. Martin’s Press.

This book brings to us the history of hip hop, from its roots in the Bronx and into the 21st century.

This text is assessed on StoryToolz as being at an 11.1 average grade level. However, this text is in ways more difficult because of all of the references. I would assess this as being at an 11th grade level read or higher.Vocab: aerosol, oppressor, menace, static, clientele, authenticity

The purpose of this text is to help students understand the history of hip hop, so they understand what many of them are all about. Hypothetically, I would assign an essay to each student to work on and analyze. The students then would share their findings in brief independent oral presentations, so that the whole class could start to understand the book without having to read the entire thing. Guiding questions: Because this book was published in 2007, it leaves out or inevitably must miss components of hip hop culture today. What represents your hip hop culture now? How are you hip hop?

Text 6 (Culturally Relevant): Thomas, A. (2017). The Hate U Give. New York City: Balzer + Bray.

Image result for the hate u give

Starr tries to find her identity in this somewhat epic novel as she is faced with tragedy and loss.  She witnesses the death of her two closest friends. Natasha dies in a drive by shooting, and Khalil dies by the hand of a white cop who she calls 115, after his badge number.  I listened to the audiobook version, and I feel that I could have gotten more out of the book had I read it without a voice. I think that this narrator had a somewhat hopeful voice, whereas the book can be read with a sadder undertone if read to oneself.  It is a very powerful book regardless.

The text has a Lexile of HL590L and is for readers ages 14 to 17. While the text is somewhat of an easier read, the text has many useful components including the themes, language, tone, style, etc. I think that the Lexile assessment is correct and I would qualitatively assess it as the same. Vocab: repent, ironic, offend, persona, prophecy, gape, cringe

The purpose of this text is to portray a contemporary, culturally relevant perspective and narrative of growing up in an urban city today. Guiding question/activity: What is your experience of growing up in an urban city today? Have you or any people you know ever been discriminated against? Create a narrative of your experience and theirs. You may include informal interviews of people you know in your community. We may compile these experiences and distribute them as you wish. You and community members may choose to stay anonymous.

Text 7 (culturally relevant): Lauryn Hill – To Zion (Live In Japan 1999) (VIDEO). (2016, January 14). Retrieved from

This song is about Zion, Lauren Hill’s son. She is unsure about whether or not she wants to have him because of what it might do to her career. When she decides that she is going to go through with it, she prays to keep him safe, and he becomes the joy of her world.

The readability of this according to Storytoolz is 15.1. This seems like a high estimate of the age level that this text is appropriate for. The words are not that difficult to understand. Qualitatively speaking, the lyrics contain older themes that would be difficult for students under junior or senior high school to understand. Vocab: Zion, perils, balance, “perform,” “I’ve never been in love like this before,” “Zion’s door,” “I thank you for choosing me.”

The purpose of this text is to contribute to the idea of hip hop, but from the perspective of a woman. Lauren Hill has been rated by some as the 2nd Best Female Rap Artist of all time. This song is a touching perspective of what it is like to become pregnant unexpectedly and have to make a real decision. This song is part of the fifth element of hip hop culture as Hill reflects on the knowledge that she has for herself. Guiding question: How does this song from 1999 still address issues and politics of oppressed groups today and how is this song hip hop?

Text 8 (culturally relevant): Saber and MSK. (Unknown). Untitled [Spray Paint on cement]. Los Angeles, CA.

Saber is a politically active legend in graffiti art. Kim Jong Un can be seen disapprovingly holding a book called, “The Ugly America,” of which Saber’s work is on the cover.

The purpose of this text is to build off of previously learned concepts, and to be the basis for a writing piece on the fifth element of hip hop. Guiding question: Many graffiti artists are claiming a sort of fame by putting their tags on so many places. What is your preference about fame? Saber’s fame is both “loud,” in that his tag above can be seen from space, yet “quiet” in that his work is unspoken. What is your fame like? How does Saber’s work embody the Fifth Element of Hip Hop?


Icy Brick Wall in the Night Sky

For my infographic, I explored a photo that I took (above). To be perfectly honest, I missed the part of the instructions that specified that the infographic was to be “about some aspect of our inquiry topic.” I guess I was too excited about the part of the assignment that required me to make something. None the less, I believe that my work was not in vain, but on the contrary turned out to probably be even more linked to my inquiry topic. After I completed this Thinglink, I realized that what I learned could be entirely useful as content for a hiphop, and my inquiry topic is Hiphop Pedagogy. Thinglink allowed me to take a seemingly simple photograph of a winter alley wall in a night sky and pull a lot of meaning out. This Thinglink could be used for a pre-hiphop task, a seemingly simple creation of an infographic that turned into a quest.

So here is how it all began…

Original photo I began with.

I started with the image above by adding five links to it, but when I looked at my finished product, I thought it was lacking. Originally, I thought the photo just lacked sharpness and that made me feel that I had to change it. I decided to upload a different picture and use the same links. However, in the transferring of my links to the new image, I realized that my links weren’t conveying my meaning. For example, in one link I wanted a brick wall that we customarily see behind comedians. I have been really into listening to comedy on YouTube lately. I decided to use the stage at the Comedy Club in Madison, Wisconsin to accomplish this because I have seen their open mics and they are fantastic. However, I ended up linking the website of the architects who updated this Club rather than the Club’s actual website. I realized that I could customize the photo to show the picture from the architect’s website, while still linking Madison’s Comedy Club website, which didn’t have the same photo.

I found a lot of flaws in my Thinglink after I reviewed it, just like when revising my writing. I had gone back through and decided where my intended meaning was lost just like when I revise writing. One of the flaws that I had to fix with my Thinglink was its lack of critical literacy, this, even while I have been striving to represent all students in U.S. schools. Alas, my first Thinglink had a poem by Emily Dickinson and music by Pink Floyd, both white. When I started researching so that I could be more representative, I found a website that contained this mural by a Latina artist Kristy Sandoval. Someday, I would like to see this mural in person.

“Latina artist Kristy Sandoval makes boring buildings waaaay more interesting with her bright murals. Not only are they pretty, every mural has a message, like the one above she calls “Decolonized.” Most people just see birds flying out a cage, but the brightly pigmented parrots and butterflies represent the natural need of migration without papers. California poppies represent the Golden State while a tattoo of the Aztec moon goddess honors the woman’s heritage. Dope, right?!  Also you can’t miss how creative she was using an awning for the woman’s skirt. Drive to the corner of Bradley and Van Nuys Boulevard in Pacoima to see her amazing work in person” (

Because I never like to put politics into my work, I couldn’t help but see the irony in finding a mural by a Latina woman painted on a wall. I started to realize that my picture was going to have political implications whether I intended it to or not. I also realized that I had chosen the picture because I thought it was beautiful and that the politics of it had never even crossed my mind until I started doing more research. In trying to veer from politics the best I could, I learned other things.

There are many other epiphanies that I had while going through a “process of visualization,” including using the sky in the photo to represent my favorite basketball team, and finding a painting of icicles that are just vertical lines, but somehow truly icicles. I was able to bring out more of myself and use my own scaffolds as my foundation to build new meaning. I would be exited to make hip hop music using some aspect of my Thinglink, whether it’s my picture of the “Icy Brick Wall in the Night Sky,” the mural by Kristy Sandoval, or the process of finding meaning in a seemingly simple, single photo.

Where I Am, and Where I Want To Go

I am not a hip hop or rap fan, but a student of mine listened to rap/hiphop on headphones every single day. I could not get him to participate. He wasn’t going to “let school change him.” On one of the last days of school, I asked him for a list of rap artists or songs. I told him that maybe I would try to listen to some of the music because I would have a long commute to graduate school in the spring. He wrote me a list. He wrote the names of 21 songs and artists on that list! Twenty-one! I had only asked for couple.

This teacher meets the CCSS (Common Core State Standards) of ELA using hip-hop.

I plan to explore how digital literacy and pop culture and can empower ALL students to be able to demonstrate CAL (content area literacy) in ELA and DL (disciplinary literacy). I intend to research how to teach literature standards and reading in general using social media, sound, video, video games, hip hop and other pop culture venues that students may be interested in or familiar with. I want to understand how the CCSS of ELA can be met through digital literacy.

My current understanding…

My current understanding of digital literacy and pop culture is that it can help students engage with school. I have a lot to learn in order to be able to facilitate a classroom that incorporates these things, but I think that it’s worth it if I can help get students to engage in the content.

Where I want to go…

I want to create a curriculum where “students are empowered to be producers and creators of knowledge within the classroom” (Haddix & Ruiz. Cultivating Digital and Popular Literacies as Empowering and Emancipatory Acts Among Urban Youth. 189).

Questions I have about the topic…

  1. Why isn’t digital literacy/pop culture being used in the classroom to its potential? What are the drawbacks/barriers/solutions of using digital literacy? Do teachers have access to necessary hardware and software? Are there grants/funds available? Is there pushback from administration? Resources: Jenkins “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.”  AND “Confronting the Challenges… Part II.” AND
  2. What is the potential of digital literacy? Resources: THNKR AND THNKR video AND Mashable.
  3. How do I use digital literacy to teach ELA CAL and DL/reading more effectively/efficiently? Is there access to curriculums that have already been made? Resource:
  4. How do I use pop culture to teach ELA CAL and DL/reading more effectively/efficiently? How do I incorporate hiphop? Resources: English Teacher’s Hip-Hop Curriculum Gets Students Writing AND Untangling Hip-Hop In The Classroom AND a list of hip hop artists/songs from the former student of mine mentioned above AND a list of likes/strengths from the students in a former class of mine AND others.

More resources:

Kirkland, David. Books Like Clothes: Engaging Young Black Men With Reading. 2011

Sharma, Sue. Five Steps Toward Successful Culturally Relevant Text Selection and Integration. 2017


Daniels, Zemelman, Steinke, Content Area Writing. 2007

Nichole Pinkard’s work

New Learning Institute

Until I do more research, I am not sure about the specification of my thesis. I might end up focusing on one or two digital literacies and how they can be used to implement a CAL or DL. My end goal is to have part of a curriculum or some lessons lined up for a high school class.

Welcome To My Professional Blog!

Hello! Welcome to my blog! My name is Angela Weber. I am excited to begin this blogging adventure in which I will explore contemporary and urban education ideas for teaching. My professional goals include using reality pedagogy, Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Lessons, Project-Based Learning, and other state-of-the-art approaches to teaching. I am currently in my graduate work in Curriculum and Instruction at UWM. My concentration is in English Education.

I think that the following resource is useful for teachers as they strive for forward thinking.

To add a little more about me… Perhaps one of my greatest accomplishments is living and teaching in Osaka, Japan for three and a half years. I love traveling, running, art, and the Bucks!

Thank you for joining me… and my cat who has been helping me with all of the quick functions of blogging!

“Bird” taking a rest from his computer duties.

There Came A Wind Like a Bugle

There came a wind like a bugle;
It quivered through the grass, 
And a green chill upon the heat 
So ominous did pass 
We barred the windows and the doors 
As from an emerald ghost; 
The doom’s electric moccasin 
That very instant passed.
On a strange mob of panting trees, 
And fences fled away, 
And rivers where the houses ran 
Those looked that lived—that Day—
The bell within the steeple wild 
The flying tidings whirled. 
How much can come 
And much can go, 
And yet abide the world!   – Emily Dickinson