Exploring Seattle's Hip-Hop Scene Through Lesson Plans for Grades 6-12

Through a Simpson Center internship at local radio station KEXP 90.3 FM, UW graduate student Tiffany Grobelski has worked with KEXP Documentaries producer Michele Myers to create lesson plans for grades 6-12 that explore Seattle’s hip-hop culture. The interdisciplinary and interactive lesson plans meet Washington State’s Essential Academic Learning Requirements in Social Studies and Language Arts and complement “Hip-Hop: The New Seattle Sound,” a radio documentary series recently produced by KEXP.

Grobelski, a graduate student in Geography, worked closely with Myers to develop, pilot, and market the lesson plans. Their collaboration emerged from the American Music Partnership of Seattle (AMPS) a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation intended to foster inter-institutional connections among KEXP, the University of Washington, and the EMP Museum, a Seattle museum that encourages its visitors to critically think about creativity in American popular culture and contemporary society. The Simpson Center administered the AMPS grant from 2009 until its closing last spring.

While Seattle is often associated in American popular culture with the emergence of grunge music of the 1990s, lesser known is its hip-hop heritage. Through the KEXP Documentaries series, Myers sought to shed light on Seattle’s hip-hop history, which she cites as being “largely ignored by those documenting history and social trends.” This history includes groups such as The Emerald City Boys and Sir Mix-a-Lot, active in the 1980s and 1990s, to current artists including Blue Scholars, Macklemore, and Shabazz Palaces, among others.

According to Myers, KEXP chose to launch a lesson plan project to accompany its documentary series with hip-hop not only to highlight this history, but also because hip-hop is the main music that many 6th-12th grade students listen to.

Studying hip-hop in the classroom allows teachers and students to cross many disciplinary boundaries. Myers said, “Its culture and style offers up many opportunities to discuss poetry, art, innovation, social movements, independent thought and personal discovery.”

The curriculum fits within international, national, and state public learning standards in a variety of subject areas. “Hip-hop as a music and culture encompasses many subjects: social studies, language arts, visual arts, cultural studies, media literacy, geography, and music,” Grobelski added. “It's hard to put it in a neat box.”

The lesson plans are currently being tested with local teachers and can be downloaded via KEXP’s website. Grobelski and Myers have also developed a set of lesson plans based on “Masters of Turntablism,” a related KEXP documentary series that explores the foundations of scratching through artists such as Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, Mix Master Mike, Q-Bert, DJ Shadow, and many more.

Listen to Hip-Hop: The New Seattle Sound, as well as other KEXP Documentaries.