#BlackMusicMatters in Every Classroom - Here’s Why

February 23, 2022

Now more than ever, it is essential that teachers integrate discussions around social justice and equity into the classroom. Darren Hamilton and Jon Corbin recognized this need as educators from different disciplines, and found a way to bridge the gap between their subjects and social justice through a common language: hip-hop.

The two teachers co-authored the newest MusiCounts Learn Resource, #BlackMusicMatters: Hip-Hop & Social Justice in Canada, which introduces students to Canadian hip-hop artists and their music, while engaging them in critical inquiry of a variety of social justice themes. We chatted with Darren and Jon to better understand how this resource came to life, why teachers should integrate it into their teaching, and what’s next.

Introduce us to #BlackMusicMatters. Why do you think this resource is so important in today’s classroom?

DARREN: #BlackMusicMatters is a listening- and inquiry-based resource centred around social justice themes found in songs performed and recorded by Canadian hip-hop artists. Today’s classrooms reflect a diverse population and this resource helps educators to bring diverse cultural perspectives into the classroom. Hip-hop, and more specifically, Canadian hip-hop, has been historically underrepresented in music classrooms, resulting in Black students not seeing their culture reflected in the curriculum. In addition, all students miss out on learning about Black culture and the role that hip-hop music plays in combating social injustices. Social justice education is a vital part of the curriculum and #BlackMusicMatters enables educators to use hip-hop music to explore social justice issues not only in music class, but in several subject areas outside of music.

JON: This resource is necessary because it connects Canadian classrooms to social justice voices that had been previously passed over. The messages of the Black Lives Matter movement have been voiced in hip-hop music since the 1980s. It is imperative that these voices be connected to today’s students, who are often unaware of the deep connections hip-hop has with the fight for justice.

What do teachers need to know before they get started? What advice or suggestions would you offer non-Black teachers looking to deliver lessons on this music for the first time?

DARREN: Having some background knowledge about hip-hop is important. Negative stereotypes, images and ideas about hip-hop music and culture often prevent educators from engaging with this music in their classrooms. However, there are many positive hip-hop songs that speak directly about social justice issues, particularly those faced by racialized groups of people in our society. Non-Black educators looking to deliver lessons on this music for the first time are encouraged to take the time to learn about the history of Black people and the specific underlying social issues being addressed in the music. Learning the “language” of hip-hop is also crucial for identifying themes and facilitating conversations about the music.

BMM Classroom.jpeg

Photo: Shauna Peddle

What about hip-hop music and culture make it ideal for helping students understand social justice, particularly from an interdisciplinary perspective?

JON: Hip-hop is a social movement. It is impossible to discuss hip-hop without discussing the factors that influenced it. Musically, it was both formed by disco and by DJs who rejected that popular artform, electing to play funk music instead. Socially, the poverty and gang culture of 1970s New York pushed the youth to develop more positive expressions to build up their communities. Now, hip-hop is such a global force that it IS the popular artform. You can’t talk about hip-hop without discussing language, social organization, musical composition, fashion, globalization, commercialism and cultural transmission. To me, that sounds like: English, Sociology, Music, Art, Geography, Business and Anthropology! And I didn’t even mention History! Understanding the social forces behind any movement as large as hip-hop is essential, and when you look within, you will see a vibrant response to the systemic forces that have marginalized certain people groups.

Hip-hop does not always speak of social justice, but its entire presence is connected to the fight for justice.

-Jon Corbin

Tell us about why you chose the songs you did for the lessons. Do you have any personal connections to any of the songs/artists?

DARREN: It was important to us to select songs that represented artists from different eras of Canadian hip-hop history and address a wide range of social justice issues and themes. Since hip-hop has historically been dominated by male artists, we were intentional about including songs by female artists so that their voices, perspectives and advocacy for issues that impact them could be heard.

The song that I have a personal connection to is “Africville” by Black Union. I came in contact with this song years after having an opportunity to visit the Africville Museum in the summer of 2018. Despite being born and educated in Canada, this visit was my first encounter with the history of Africville. “Africville” is an impactful song because it brings awareness to the legacy of social injustice faced by the former residents of this Black community. It’s an important aspect of Canadian Black history that today’s generation of students should be taught about.

Since these topics should be discussed and taught year-round, do you have plans to expand upon the resource?

JON: Oh 100%. Working on this project has taught me that Canadians need to dig deeper into the history of hip-hop in our own country. There are a lot of gaps in understanding - things I didn’t know and things I was never taught to question. I want #BlackMusicMatters to examine the history of hip-hop in this country and the fight for recognition many pioneering artists had to face. I want students to hear interviews with a variety of Canadian hip-hop artists to hear more perspectives on social justice issues in this country. I want this resource to illuminate the vast richness of the Canadian underground hip-hop artists. We will definitely be expanding on this resource.

IG Intro.png

#BlackMusicMatters: Hip-Hop & Social Justice in Canada

#BlackMusicMatters: Hip-Hop & Social Justice in Canada is a listening- and inquiry-based resource designed for teachers with students in grades 7-12. It is intended to be used by educators of various disciplines who wish to explore Black culture, history, and creation, specifically through the lens of hip-hop music.

Town Hall Thumbnails (Instagram Post).png

Hear Darren at the Decolonizing the Music Room Town Hall

The COVID-19 pandemic and the current global social uprising against white supremacy calls for a reconsideration of business as usual in music education. This Town Hall brought together different perspectives on this issue from across Canada, including #BlackMusicMatters co-author Darren Hamilton, and urged participants to critically reexamine and reimagine the foundations of our practice.


Be the First to Know About the #BlackMusicMatters Resource Expansion

Get the latest news, program announcements, recipient stories, event invites, and more. Sign up for our quarterly newsletter and you'll never miss a beat.

#BlackMusicMatters was made possible with support from: