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Learn English through Hip-Hop & Shakespeare?


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0:05

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

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If I could request the resetting of the clock, it's on at four minutes at the moment,

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I presume from the one before... Fantastic!

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Okay! So, my name is Akala,

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I'm from the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company.

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And before we get into the philosophy of our work,

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what that means, what the intention is behind it,

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I'm going to challenge you guys to a little bit of a pop quiz.

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And we've done this pop quiz quite a few times,

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we'll talk about it after we do it.

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I'm gonna simply tell you some quotes.

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One line quotes, taken either from some of my favorite hip hop songs,

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or some of my favorite Shakespearean plays or sonnets.

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And you're gonna tell me by show of hands,

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whether you think it's hip hop or Shakespeare.

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(Laughter)

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Does that make sense? Okay.

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So the first one we'll go for is:

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"To destroy the beauty from which one came."

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"To destroy the beauty from which one came."

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If you think that's hip hop, raise your hands please.

1:00

If that's Shakespeare, raise your hands please.

1:02

Brilliant, okay, that's 70 percent towards Shakespeare.

1:06

It's from a gentleman known as Sean Carter, better known as Jay-Z,

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from a track called "Can I live?"

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We'll go for another one.

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"Maybe it's hatred I spew, maybe it's food for the spirit."

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"Maybe it's hatred I spew, maybe it's food for the spirit."

1:25

Hip hop?

1:29

Shakespeare?

1:32

Getting overwhelmingly towards Shakespeare. Interesting.

1:35

Anyone heard of a gentleman known as Eminem?

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(Laughter)

1:39

He's not Shakespeare.

1:41

That's from a track Eminem did with Jay-Z actually, called "Renegade."

1:43

We'll go for a couple more.

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"Men would rather use their broken weapons than their bare hands."

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"Men would rather use their broken weapons than their bare hands."

1:56

Hip hop?

2:00

Shakespeare?

2:02

Pretty even spread with a Shakespearean lean.

2:05

That one is from Shakespeare, it's from a play known as "Othello."

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We go for:

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"I was not born under a rhyming planet."

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"I was not born under a rhyming planet."

2:20

Hip hop?

2:24

Shakespeare?

2:26

That one is Shakespeare. It's from "Much Ado about Nothing."

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We go for two more.

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We go for:

2:32

"The most benevolent king communicates through your dreams."

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"The most benevolent king communicates through your dreams."

2:43

Hip hop?

2:47

Shakespeare?

2:49

Ah, fifty-fifty there.

2:51

A gentleman known as the RZA who's the head of the Wu-Tang Clan.

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We're gonna be revisiting the Wu-Tang later, we'll be talking about him a lot.

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He's one of the main exponents of hip hop philosophy,

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someone, or a collective, that had a huge influence on me.

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But we'll revisit them.

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Last quote of the day. Let's go for...

3:08

"Socrates, philosophies and hypotheses can't define."

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"Socrates, philosophies and hypotheses can't define."

3:18

Hip hop?

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Shakespeare?

3:24

Overwhelmingly towards hip hop. And that one, that is hip hop.

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That's Wu-Tang again, that's from a man named Inspectah Deck.

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Interestingly, that quote comes from a single, or track,

3:32

known as "Triumph" from the album "Wu-Tang Forever."

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"Wu-Tang Forever" was the first hip-hop album to go number one in this country.

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So that was what made hip hop cross over with this kind of lyricism,

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but we're gonna revisit that a little later and revisit the Wu-Tang, as I said.

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So, as you can see, it wasn't as clear-cut as many of us may have thought.

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The language used, the subjects spoken about,

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various things make it very, very difficult once the context is taken away,

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once our perception is taken away,

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and we have to look at just the raw language of the two art forms.

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And don't worry, we've done that exercise over 400 times,

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and as of yet, no-one has got them all right.

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Not even some of the most senior professors

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at some of the most respected Shakespearean institutions in the country,

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I shan't name names. (Laughter)

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But needless to say: it's challenged a lot of people's perceptions

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and we extend from that, we look at some of the other parallels

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between hip hop and Shakespeare,

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at some of the other things they share.

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One of the main things that is shared between the two is of course rhythm.

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Iambic pentameter -- dee-dum, dee-dum, dee-dum, dee-dum, dee-dum.

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Five sets, two beats, it's actually a wonderful rhythm

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to use in hip hop music and translates in a way

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that even artists writing today find difficult.

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What do I mean by that?

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It's very difficult to take, even as an MC, who is a professional MC,

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a lyric written over a grime beat,

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grime is a 140 bpm. Very, very fast tempo.

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And then take that same lyric and put it on a...

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what we consider to be a traditional hip hop beat, 70-80 bpm.

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A very, very difficult skill. Even writing now,

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with the music to hand.

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Yet, the iambic pentameter allows us to do just that.

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I'll show you what I mean rather than tell you. So listen up.

5:17

Cue music please.

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(Music)

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What you're about to hear, some of you may know of it,

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some of you may not.

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It's Shakespeare's most famous poem, Sonnet 18.

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I haven't adopted it to make it fit to the rhythm, but just listen close.

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Okay. Yo.

5:38

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

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Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

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Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

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And summer's lease hath all too short a date:

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Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,

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And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;

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And every fair from fair sometime declines,

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By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;

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But thy eternal summer shall not fade

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Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;

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Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,

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When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:

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So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

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So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

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So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

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So long lives this and this gives life to thee."

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(Applause)

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Now as you can see, it sits right there in the rhythm.

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It's right in the pocket of the beat.

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Now we're gonna try a completely different style of beat, different tempo of beat.

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You're gonna see the same lyric, because of this consistent rhythm, can fit.

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Let's try.

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(Music)

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"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

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Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

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Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

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And summer's lease hath all too short a date:

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Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

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And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;

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And every fair from fair sometime declines,

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By chance or nature'