A Rapper's Delight: The rise of hip-hop culture in America


This course will trace hip hop from its humble beginnings in the south Bronx in the 1970s to the multi-billion dollar industry it is today. While much

of the course will deal with hip-hop music as primary-source material, we will also explore the extra-musical aspects of the culture. Through the use of two texts, Jim Fricke and Charlie Ahearn's "Yes Yes Y'all: The Experience Music Project Oral History Of Hip-hop's First Decade" and Jason Tanz's "Other People's Property: A Shadow History of Hip-Hop in White America," we will attempt to examine the movement from historical, sociological, and philosophical perspectives. This course requires no requisite musical knowledge or training. You need not even be a hip-hop music fan - our time together will be more interesting for us all if hip-hop skeptics are also present! In this course, you will read books, articles, and primary sources and will listen to a lot of music.


  • Forman, Murray and Mark Anthony Neal, ed.  That's the Joint: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader.  Second Edition.  New York: Routledge, 2004.
  • Fricke, Jim and Charlie Ahearn, ed.  Yes Yes Y'all: The Experience Music Project Oral History of Hip-Hop's First Decade.  Campridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2002.
  • Hacker, Diana: A Pocket Style Manual (St. Martin's, 2012, 6th Edition)
  • Tanz, Jason.  Other People's Property: A Shadow History of Hip-Hop in White America.  New York: Bloomsbury, 2007.

Course Goals:

  • To create an intellectually stimulating learning community, in which students discover the pleasure of reading, writing, and talking about ideas and readings. 
  • To teach students to closely read and critically analyze different texts, and to extend these practices of critical reading and interpretation by making connections to contemporary life. 
  • To improve and refine students’ writing skills through regular responsive and analytical writing assignments, and through draft work and revision of papers. 
  • To create a supportive conversational space and genuine dialogue, in which students are encouraged by peers and the faculty instructor to take intellectual risks, to participate in meaningful dialogue, and to critically examine their own and others’ positions about the issues we discuss. 

Learning Outcomes for the Semester: 

  • Be able to read critically and closely by: (a) identifying salient meaning(s) of reading; (b) characterizing the formal features of the reading; (c) comprehending the argument in the reading in terms of claims, reasons, and evidence (for argumentative writing); and (d) generating counterarguments and implications that go beyond the reading. Competence will be demonstrated by students’ comments during class discussions, high quality of their formal papers, and evidence of close reading by passing the surprise reading quizzes. 
  • Be able to contribute meaningfully to discussions based on the readings by: (a) being prepared for informed discussion; (b) fostering constructive discussion; (c) advancing ideas and arguments in discussion; and (d) recognizing the differing and ideas and arguments of others in discussion. Competence will be demonstrated by passing the surprise reading quizzes indicating close reading of the materials and by making frequent meaningful comments in class that demonstrate a critical understanding of the readings. 
  • Be able to write effectively by: (a) applying appropriate mechanics and style of writing; (b) structuring written work to be coherent; (c) specifying an argument in terms of claims, reasons, and evidence; and (d) responding appropriately to implications of arguments (yours and others) in writing. Competence will be demonstrated by high quality of formal papers.
  • There are three important skills that will allow students to meet the SLOs identified above: critical reading skills, meaningful contributions to class discussion, and effective writing and argument development.

Critical and Close Reading:

The development of critical and close reading skills is one of the goals of this course. The first step in reading critically is reading what is assigned. Course readings are assigned in manageable units to help you stay current with the reading (although it is always acceptable to “read ahead” if you want). In addition to completing the reading, here are some suggestions for reading critically. As you read, please underline or highlight important passages from the readings. 

If there are questions or issues that come to mind as your read, write these down, either in the margins of the reading source or on a separate sheet of paper and raise these in class. Bring the assigned reading to class every day so you can refer to it during our discussions. 

There may be unannounced, surprise reading quizzes that will take place throughout the semester. Students will be required to write a brief synopsis of the day’s assigned reading which will be graded for evidence of close reading of the assigned reading for the day. In order to pass the reading quiz, student will need to adequately respond in a paragraph to the following 4 questions that demonstrate close reading: 

  • What does the text say? 
  • How does the text say it? 
  • What does the text mean? 
  • So what? What is the significance of the text? 

Meaningful Discussion:
College Colloquium is a discussion-based course. Discussion allows for an assessment of your critical analysis and understanding of the course reading. Below are some suggestions for ways you can contribute meaningfully to class discussions: 

  • Contribute new information for discussion (“What about...”) 
  • React to and expand on the contributions of your classmates (e.g. “That reminds
    me of...” “It is like...”) 
  • Ask questions for clarification (“How does...?”) 
  • Summarize the conversation so far (“So, what we’re saying is that...”) 
  • Relate discussion or readings to other readings, texts, projects, or assignments
    (“Just like in last week’s reading...”) 
  • Process what you see about the discussion (“I’m not sure how relevant that
    comment is to our current discussion”) 

There are many reasons why students might not participate in class discussion. A common concern for students is that they must know the right answer before participating (or that they must sound “smart”). That is not the case. Try these ways of initiating a contribution in class: 

  • Let me try this out... 
  • I’m not sure I have it all figured out, but what if we consider... 
  • My initial reaction to that is... 
  • If I understood the reading correctly... 
  • Ok, so let me run this argument by you and see if it works out... 
  • To pick up on what Jane said... maybe... 
  • I’m not sure I have the right answer but... 

The class will be divided in half and assigned a task in the service of thinking about the readings in a way that can facilitate class discussion. One half of the students will write one QQC (see below) on Tuesdays; the other half will do so on Thursdays. QQC stands for “Quote, Question, Comment.” The QQCs need to include a quote from the day’s reading, must include an open-ended question in response to the quote, and must include a comment about the quote or question you posed. QQCs need to be posted on the blog on WISE by 9am of the day they are due. 

Students who are not responsible for writing QQCs on a given day need to go to the blog between 9am and class time, read the QQCs, and make a comment on the blog that indicates their reaction to the QQCs (e.g., reactions to issues raised, which of the QQCs posted they would most like to discuss in class that day and (briefly) why that is, etc.). Both posting the QQCs and commenting on the QQCs will count as part of the participation grade (see below). We will bring into our discussion the QQCs that seem to excite people the most, but students are always encouraged to raise their QQC in class whenever they would like.

Effective Writing and Argument Development:

The final, and perhaps most important, way student can demonstrate critical reading and thinking about the courses material is through written work based on the reading. The writing component of the course consists of informal, in-class writing assignments; occasional out-of-class informal writing assignments; and 3 formal papers. In your formal papers, you will be asked to show argument development skills by: making a claim (a position you are taking), providing reasons for your claims (why do your claims have merit?), and then providing evidence in support of your reasons from the assigned reading. Both your skill at argument development and your skill at writing will be evaluated.

To help give you feedback on the writing goals and argument development, there will be in-class peer review days as you work on the drafts of your formal papers. Students will complete the grading rubrics for peers in groups of 3-4. Each group of 3-4 students will be responsible for meeting as a group with either myself or our writing associate (WCA) for a writing consultation (see below). The WCA and I will alternate which groups of students we meet with for papers 1 and 2. We will not meet with students for paper 3 unless requested to do so. Anna or I will also meet individually with any students who we feel are in need of individual writing consultation.

Three drafts of each paper must be written. As you write the first draft of each paper, you will be required to complete two self-analysis tasks:

  • First, as you write your first draft, you will need to underline your claim, highlight the reasons you’ve noted that argue why your claim has merit, and italicize the evidence you have provided that support your reasons and claim. Bring a hard copy of this draft (with your claim, reasons, and evidence indicated) to class for peer review.
  • Second, you will need to use the grading rubric that will apply to the final paper (and that will also be used for peer review) to indicate what score you feel you have earned for each component of the grade for the assignment. You need to indicate a numerical grade as well as provide comments that justify the grade you’ve given yourself. I will review the self-analysis rubric and will offer my ratings so that you can see how well our views of your first draft match.

Based on the self-analysis and peer review, students should revise the first draft and turn in a second draft for peer review a week before the paper is due. Again, bring a hard copy to class with your claim, reasons, and evidence clearly indicated. NOTE: You do not need to complete a self-analysis rubric again. You will again meet in your same group of 3-4 students to obtain peer review on the revised draft. You will then have one week after the second peer review to revise and submit your final paper which will be graded.

Please note that failing to complete required drafts of paper will affect both participation grade (because you will not have participated in writing the required assignments, and you will be unable to fully participate in peer review) and writing grade (because your grade on the final paper will likely be lower than it would have been had you obtained feedback on the drafts and drafting is a part of the writing process). Please take rough draft due dates seriously. Even a partially completed draft is better than no draft at all.

All assignments submitted to WISE need to be in Microsoft Word format and must be labeled with your last name followed by the name of the assignment (e.g., Smith Paper 1 Draft 1). Use a standard font (like Times), 12 point size, with one-inch margins on all sides. 

Use of the Writing Center is required in this course. The WCA and I will alternate meeting with different groups of students for papers 1 and 2. Student groups will have the options of meeting for paper 3. In addition to the required group meetings with either the WCA or I, students will also be required to set up at least 2 additional individual appointments with the WCA at some point during the term. The WCA will keep track of attendance and will forward that information to me by the end of the term. I will use this information when determining grades.

A note about grading writing: If five or more grammar/punctuation/spelling errors are found on one page that should/could have been caught with careful proofreading, the paper will be returned unread for a corrected version to be turned in 24 hours later. The penalty is one full grade for lateness. 

WISE (Willamette Instructional Support Environment):

A website has been created for this course and you are already registered for it. Unless otherwise specified, all assignments will be posted there under the “Assignments” tab. To access the website for this course, go to: http://wise.willamette.edu and enter your login information


Your attendance is required at all class meetings.  Each unexcused absence past one will result in a lowering of your grade by 3% (A becomes A-, and so forth).  If you miss a class, it is your responsibility to find out what was covered and what homework was assigned. If you have a legitimate excuse for an absence (illness, death in the family, performance obligation, religious observation), notify me in advance.  Lack of communication means the absence is unexcused. 


Latecomers disrupt the class. Consequently, it is important that you arrive in class before the session begins. If you arrive after I begin instruction, you will be considered late. Three late arrivals equals one unexcused absence. 


The degree to which any one class member grows during this course will be determined primarily by that individual’s desire for growth, but also by the group’s culture.  (If you seek growth, you will achieve growth; however, growth is more readily realized within a culture conducive to maturation.) In other words, we are trying to create a safe environment that promotes trust, risk taking, and the free exchange of ideas.


Grading Scale:     A   (93 – 100)    A-  (90 -   92)  

B+ (87 -   89)     B   (83 -   86)        B-  (80 -   82)    

C+ (77 -   79)      C   (73 -   76)       C-  (70 -   72)  

D+ (67 -   69)      D   (65 -   66)    F    (64 and lower) 

Participation - 35% 

Assignments/Quizzes - 20%

Paper 1 - 10% 

Paper 2 - 15% 

Paper 3 - 20% 


Assignments are due at the beginning of class on the day announced in the course schedule. Late assignments will receive no credit. Late papers will receive less credit.

Passing the Class:

In addition to receiving at least a 64% in the course, each student must complete all the papers. 


Any student eligible for and desiring academic accommodation due to a disability should provide documentation to Disability Services located in the Bishop Wellness Center within the first two weeks of the semester. I am always interested in accommodating students with documented disabilities.

Academic Honesty is at the very core of any college program. Any behavior deemed as academically dishonest by the department will result in an F for the class. Academic dishonesty can include, but is not limited to, the following types of behaviors: 

  1. Misrepresenting another individual's work as one's own. Plagiarism. 
  2. Copying from another student during an exam. 
  3. Copying another student’s homework. 
  4. Allowing another student to copy a paper or other class assignment. 
  5. Representing the work of a group as one’s personal work. In short, if the assignment is not specifically designated as a group project, it is meant to be completed on one’s own. 
  6. Altering one's exam after grading for the purpose of enhancing one's grade. 
  7. Submitting the same paper/assignment to more than one class. 
  8. Use of any material not approved by the instructor during an exam. 

From the Dean’s website: Cheating is any form of intellectual dishonesty or misrepresentation of one's knowledge. Plagiarism, a form of cheating, consists of intentionally or unintentionally representing someone else's work as one's own. All members of the Willamette University community are expected to be aware of the serious breach of principles involved in plagiarism. Ignorance of what constitutes plagiarism shall not be considered a valid defense. If students are uncertain as to what constitutes plagiarism for a particular assignment, they should consult the instructor for clarification. An instructor may impose penalties for plagiarism and cheating ranging from a grade reduction on an assignment or exam to failure in the course. An instructor may also suggest that the Office of the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts initiate further action.

Many components of this syllabus have been borrowed from my excellent colleagues including Pam Morrow, Nacho Cordova, and Meredy Edelson.