Ready to spit rhymes about biology and physics? GZA's Science Genius hip hop experiment is making it cool for urban youth.
Thanks to the Wu-Tang Clan, C.R.E.A.M—Cash Rules Everything Around Me— may be the most famous acronym in hip hop. But these days Wu-Tang member GZA is switching things up and rapping about science, technology, engineering, and math—STEM—instead. He's partnered with Christopher Emdin, an assistant professor of science education and director of secondary school initiatives at the Urban Science Education Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, and together they're using hip hop to help make low income students of color fall in love with the subject.
Their experimental Science Genius hip hop project has partnerships with 10 New York City campuses and in the PBS NewsHour video above, Emdin and GZA (he appears at the 4-minute mark) head to Bronx Compass High School. "For young people whose voices have been silenced, they're forever in search of an opportunity to be heard," says Emdin. They don't always have a way to express themselves in school, either, "and so they look to hip hop to have a voice," he adds. Since the kids love hip hop, when it's used to learn science, they now have "a voice in the classroom," says Emdin, "and that changes everything."
The students can't just come up with weak rhymes, either. In order to win their classroom rap battles, they have to know and understand the academic content inside and out. GZA, who dropped out of high school in the 10th grade, knows first-hand what it's like to have to study up on scientific concepts in order to spit lyrically fresh and academically sound rhymes. He reconnected with his childhood love of science while tackling physics topics in his latest album. He says the program gives the kids "a way to let their guard down." And that allows them to see, says Endim, that "they're brilliant," and that STEM majors could be for them, too.
Click here to add encouraging the students in your life to pursue science research to your GOOD "to-do" list.