It was created in the late 1970s by some of New York City’s poorest residents — young black and Latino break-dancers, graffiti artists, deejays and rappers. And as with any genre of music, it didn’t appear in a vacuum. There was a culture and a society that made it. 

Now, some four decades later, there’s evidently been enough time and space separating the genre’s local beginnings and its present worldwide influence that Hip Hop merits some historical analysis. 

Nearly 20 years ago, Harvard established the Hiphop Archive & Research Institute. Next semester, Oak Park and River Forest High School will convene its first Hip Hop history class. The District 200 school board approved the course offering late last year.

The course is the brainchild of OPRF special education teacher Anthony Clark, who also sponsors the school’s Hip Hop Club. Clark said he envisioned creating the course more than a year ago.

“I believed that if students can learn about Irish, Italian, Asian, Mexican, Latin and other cultures in school, then we should also offer the ability to learn about Hip Hop culture,” Clark said. “Hip Hop is indeed a culture and just as diverse Americans are invested in their particular cultural backgrounds, millions are also invested in the culture of Hip Hop.”

Jason Spoor-Harvey, the chair of OPRF’s history division, said the course will be formally titled Hip Hop in Contemporary American History and Society. Unlike the Hip Hop Club, which is primarily performance-based, the history course will be rooted in “how Hip Hop acts as a conduit for social change and speaks to societal elements,” he said. 

“It will start by talking about what social conditions gave rise to the Hip Hop movement in the 1970s and how the movement started as a community grassroots organizing campaign,” Spoor-Harvey said, adding that the semester-long course is open to students who have already taken World History and American History. 

So far, although final numbers aren’t yet available, enough students have enrolled in the course that there will be at least one section offered next year, if not more, Spoor-Harvey said. He said that the course will be taught from a variety of textbooks that cover the history of Hip Hop, including two graphic novels. In addition, students will analyze the four-episode documentary series called Hip-Hop Evolution, which aired on HBO and is streaming on Netflix. 

Clark said that the course will “provide a positive space for students to critique” some of the “violent, sexist, misogynistic and homophobic” messages of Hip Hop and to “learn about the important social impact Hip Hop has had on society.”

“As OPRF continues to address the achievement gap and look for ways to increase equity, offering a course that appeals not only to all students but most specifically to students who rarely see their culture represented or expressed is imperative,” he said.


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