Old-Schooled: 8 Classic Hip-Hop Hits Worth Teaching to Students

In honor of National Hip-Hop Appreciation Week, here are eight seminal rap songs that offer some valuable lessons.

Queen Latifah; Nas; Outkast
Queen Latifah; Nas; Outkast Amazon.com; Amazon.com; Peter Kramer/Getty Images

Founded 16 years ago by Lawrence Krisna Parker, aka KRS-One, National Hip-Hop Appreciation Week (May 19-25) seeks to recognize the original elements of the culture—rapping, deejaying, break dancing and graffiti—and to renew the consciousness of the art form. This year’s theme is heritage. Artists, activists, entertainers and scholars around the world participated in a variety of activities to celebrate the purity of hip-hop and how the practice continues to spread into new and improved spaces like the classroom. Here are eight songs I believe can be used in K-12 and college by students who want to learn about hip-hop and teachers who are interested in using it as a teaching tool.

1.  “Rapper’s Delight,” the Sugarhill Gang

It’s important for any student or teacher to start here. It is the first “real” crossover rap song. Sonically, it provides a bridge between disco and rap with the sampling of Chic’s “Good Times.” Verbally, it highlights the boasting that is indigenous to the African-American toast tradition. One last fact for the classroom: A woman by the name of Sylvia Robinson produced this worldwide hit. Pre-Russell Simmons. Girls should know this.

2. “The Message,” Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

Robinson was also the driving force behind “The Message.” Recorded in 1982, it is the first example of lyrical social commentary. The verses of this song, some of which contain no profanity, can be used as early as middle school as youth begin to critique issues of race and class in social studies. I’ve even used it with college students—graduate and undergraduate.

3. “Ladies First,” Queen Latifah featuring Monie Love

If the goal is to build the self-esteem of young girls and teach them how to treat themselves and others, then the video for and the song “Ladies First” should be the go-to resources when working with any group of young women and men—regardless of race, culture or status.