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Learn English through Hip-Hop & Shakespeare?


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0:05

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

0:06

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

0:10

I presume from the one before... Fantastic!

0:12

Okay! So, my name is Akala,

0:14

I'm from the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company.

0:16

And before we get into the philosophy of our work,

0:19

what that means, what the intention is behind it,

0:21

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

0:24

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

0:26

we'll talk about it after we do it.

0:27

I'm gonna simply tell you some quotes.

0:30

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

0:34

or some of my favorite Shakespearean plays or sonnets.

0:36

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

0:39

whether you think it's hip hop or Shakespeare.

0:42

(Laughter)

0:43

Does that make sense? Okay.

0:45

So the first one we'll go for is:

0:47

"To destroy the beauty from which one came."

0:51

"To destroy the beauty from which one came."

0:55

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,

1:10

from a track called "Can I live?"

1:12

We'll go for another one.

1:14

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

1:19

"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?

1:38

(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.

1:45

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

1:50

"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."

2:09

We go for:

2:11

"I was not born under a rhyming planet."

2:14

"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."

2:29

We go for two more.

2:31

We go for:

2:32

"The most benevolent king communicates through your dreams."

2:37

"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.

2:54

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

2:57

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

3:00

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

3:03

But we'll revisit them.

3:05

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

3:08

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

3:14

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

3:18

Hip hop?

3:21

Shakespeare?

3:24

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

3:26

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

3:29

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

3:32

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

3:35

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

3:39

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

3:42

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

3:47

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

3:52

The language used, the subjects spoken about,

3:55

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

3:58

once our perception is taken away,

4:00

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

4:04

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

4:07

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

4:09

Not even some of the most senior professors

4:12

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

4:15

I shan't name names. (Laughter)

4:18

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

4:21

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

4:24

between hip hop and Shakespeare,

4:25

at some of the other things they share.

4:27

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

4:30

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

4:34

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

4:37

to use in hip hop music and translates in a way

4:40

that even artists writing today find difficult.

4:42

What do I mean by that?

4:44

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

4:47

a lyric written over a grime beat,

4:49

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

4:53

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

4:55

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

5:00

A very, very difficult skill. Even writing now,

5:02

with the music to hand.

5:03

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

5:08

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

5:17

Cue music please.

5:20

(Music)

5:22

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

5:25

some of you may not.

5:27

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

5:30

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

5:34

Okay. Yo.

5:38

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

5:40

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

5:43

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

5:44

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

5:47

Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,

5:49

And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;

5:51

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

5:53

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

5:56

But thy eternal summer shall not fade

5:58

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;

6:00

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

6:02

When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:

6:05

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

6:07

So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

6:09

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

6:12

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

6:16

(Applause)

6:17

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

6:23

It's right in the pocket of the beat.

6:26

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

6:29

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

6:34

Let's try.

6:35

(Music)

6:41

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

6:43

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

6:45

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

6:46

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

6:48

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

6:50

And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;

6:51

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

6:53

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

6:55

But thy eternal summer shall not fade

6:56

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;

6:58

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

7:00

When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:

7:01

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

7:03

So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

7:05

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

7:07

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

7:10

(Applause)

7:14

What I'd like you all to do is just put your hand on your heart for a second.

7:22

Now... If you feel your heart,

7:24

hopefully, your heart should be beating in sets of two,

7:27

one off, one on, dee-dum, or an iamb, as we call it.

7:30

If it isn't, I do suggest you consult a doctor as soon as possible.

7:34

But because of that -- you can take your hands off your hearts now --

7:36

But because of that, that's why this rhythm is so intrinsic,

7:39

where, really, music is imitating the rhythm of life, the sounds of life.

7:43

The heartbeat of life.

7:45

And so, this rhythm, iambic pentameter, even though being such a simple rhythm,

7:49

is intrinsic to so many forms of music.

7:51

Other places in the world, they have different sorts of rhythms.

7:53

Like the West-African rhythms, it's on the three,

7:55

people speak in triplets, essentially.

7:58

Well, we found that this rhythm really acts as a mnemonic device,

8:01

for young people to remember the lyrics.

8:03

But also, really, as a way to understand some of what is being said.

8:08

The rhythm helps us understand it.

8:10

It helps us to communicate feeling.

8:12

And of course, in hip hop, tonality,

8:14

the way you say what you're saying,

8:16

the mood with which what you're saying,

8:17

the rhythm with which what you're saying,

8:19

is as important as what you're actually saying.

8:21

But revisiting the philosophies

8:23

and the perceptions or conceptions of these two art forms,

8:26

these two things we think we know so much about,

8:29

we'll start with Shakespeare.

8:31

Over the course of the past three or four years,

8:34

having worked with hundreds, thousands of young people now,

8:37

at hundreds of workshops,

8:39

we found out very interesting things

8:41

about people's perception of Shakespeare.

8:43

Who they think he was,

8:45

what the inherited beliefs of the time in which he lived,

8:49

the people he was surrounded by, his background, are.

8:52

Some of them are of course, just as with hip hop, complete nonsense.

8:56

This idea for example that Shakespeare spoke,

8:58

as people say to us, posh, or the Queen's English.

9:01

Received pronunciation.

9:03

Well, received pronunciation we know wasn't invented

9:06

well after 100 years after Shakespeare died.

9:08

He'd never heard what we think of today as the Queen's English.

9:11

When he was alive, people spoke a bit more like a mix

9:13

between people from Yorkshire and Cornwall.

9:16

So for example, the word "hours" was pronounced "urrs."

9:18

"Urrs and urrs and urrs."

9:19

Or: "mood" and "blood" ... rhyme!

9:22

"mu:dd" and "blu:dd" was the way in which people would pronounce those words.

9:26

The times in which he lived, you know,

9:29

the chasm between rich and poor being larger than it is today,

9:31

though we seem to be doing our best to recreate that chasm.

9:35

But... you know, he was living in very tumultuous, very violent times

9:38

and we really receive almost a sanitized vision of that violence,

9:42

you know, coloring our view of the past.

9:44

We know over ninety percent of Shakespeare's audience

9:46

couldn't read or write.

9:48

So how is it that in the 21st century in Britain

9:51

that he's come to be viewed as almost the poster child for [elitism],

9:55

and even within that now we're getting a debate:

9:58

Did he even write his own plays?

10:00

Because of course, this comes down to

10:02

who's allowed to be the custodian of knowledge and who isn't.

10:05

Shakespeare was someone who didn't go [to uni].

10:07

He wasn't Oxbridge. He's seen -- by some -- they need to see him that way --

10:11

as someone who's not entitled to be a custodian of knowledge.

10:15

So we have to find an explanation for his intelligence

10:18

rather than just accepting his intelligence as an actual fact.

10:21

Which brings me on to hip hop.

10:23

Many people have opinions of hip hop --

10:25

of course, the media's had some very loud opinions of hip hop.

10:28

But I've found again over this working with thousands of people,

10:31

and these hundreds of workshops,

10:32

and interactions with these institutions,

10:35

many people who have an opinion of hip hop

10:37

know absolutely nothing about it.

10:39

Zero. Zip. What do I mean by that?

10:40

So... the very words "hip hop,"

10:43

the "hip" in that word comes from the Wolof word "hipi,"

10:46

Wolof is a Senegalese language,

10:48

it means "to open one's eyes and see" as a term of enlightenment.

10:51

The word "hop" from the English signifying movement,

10:53

thus "hip hop" means "intelligent movement."

10:57

Hip hop contains five elements

10:59

as codified by its founding fathers in New York City.

11:03

It contains five elements.

11:04

DJing, MCing, break dancing, graffiti art

11:07

and the fifth element, which is the one I want to talk about today:

11:10

Knowledge.

11:12

An element we don't see so much in the television or the radio, perhaps.

11:15

But of course the representations of that culture today are not owned

11:19

by the people who founded that culture.

11:21

But when it's understood,

11:22

if we go back to the medieval West-African empires

11:24

of Mali, Songhai, Gao, ancient Ghana,

11:27

you have a character that the Malians refer to as a griot.

11:30

These griots still exist today, well, who was the griot?

11:32

The griot was a rhythmic, oral poet, singer,

11:36

musician, custodian of the history, of the spiritual tradition, etc. etc. etc.,

11:41

of those empires, of that culture.

11:43

When we start to understand

11:45

how those musical oral cultural traditions manifested in many complex ways,

11:49

in the Americas, and helped influence jazz, blues, funk,

11:53

up to hip hop,

11:54

we get a much greater sense of what the founding fathers,

11:57

Afrika Bambaataa, Kool DJ Herc and Grandmaster Flash were trying to do

12:01

when they codified this culture in this way,

12:03

and understood in that context, of course,

12:05

hip hop becomes a very different proposition

12:08

to a way in which much of the time it has been represented,

12:12

when we understand what was going on in New York City

12:14

in the late seventies, early eighties.

12:16

People coming out of a post-civil rights era,

12:18

aesthetic influence by the literature of Amiri Baraka or James Baldwin,

12:23

influenced by the persona of a Muhammed Ali,

12:25

influenced by the funk of a James Brown.

12:27

James Brown the drummer, incidentally, is the most-sampled drummer in history.

12:30

His famous loop becomes the basis of all hip hop music.

12:33

And that is the only intellectually honest context

12:35

in which to place hip hop as a culture.

12:38

And that's kind of what I grew up in.

12:40

That's what I was massively influenced by.

12:42

And it became, really... Up until the mid-nineties, it was still normal

12:46

for the most commercially successful rappers to boast about how clever they were.

12:50

To talk about kicking science, dropping knowledge,

12:53

spreading mathematics, while simultaneously

12:55

talking about what life was like in the projects of New York City.

12:58

There was no contradiction between both of those elements,

13:01

and again, it was about who was custodian of the knowledge.

13:05

Who was choosing to pick up that baton and run with it?

13:07

And one of the things that was so inspirational about hip hop

13:10

was that people who were told they were not supposed to do that,

13:12

without trying to be anything they weren't,

13:14

without dressing any different,

13:16

without speaking any differently,

13:18

they decided, they made the decision:

13:20

"We're going to become custodians of this knowledge.

13:21

We're gonna educate ourselves

13:23

and we're gonna transmit this knowledge through the music."

13:25

The main exponents of that in my life, the main influence on me,

13:28

was this group I already told you about, the Wu-Tang Clan.

13:30

When "Wu-Tang Forever" came out, when I was in school,

13:33

it was the first album that united people that listened to all different sorts of music.

13:39

And up to then, hip hop, still, in London, really only appealed to

13:43

a particular segment of the people, in my school, anyway.

13:47

And then "Wu-Tang Forever" came out,

13:48

and all of a sudden, kids who listened to Heavy Metal,

13:51

kids who were into Blur and Oasis,

13:52

everybody was united around this one sort of album.

13:55

And what was it about?

13:57

It was this openly proud, intelligent discourse

14:02

that was so undeniable that really appealed,

14:04

in my opinion, and pulled everybody in.

14:06

And I'm gonna show you an example of a poem,

14:08

well, what I would call a poem, but some people would call it rap,

14:11

by the lead member of this group, a gentleman known as the RZA.

14:14

I spoke about him earlier.

14:15

He actually produced the music for the film "Kill Bill" as well,

14:18

so some people may know him better in that capacity.

14:20

There was a poem he wrote called "Twelve Jewels,"

14:22

and this will give you just a sense, as someone, as I said,

14:24

who was one of the most successful MCs of his time,

14:26

how normal it was to be so boastful about one's intellect.

14:30

It's a piece called "Twelve Jewels," you can look it up on the internet.

14:33

I'm only gonna share a little bit.

14:34

It goes like this:

14:37

"In pre-existence of the mathematical, biochemical equations,

14:40

the manifestations of rock, plant, air, fire and water,

14:43

without their basic formations, solids, liquids and gases,

14:46

that cause the land masses and the space catalysts

14:49

and all matter that exists and this dense third dimension

14:52

must observe a physical comprehension.

14:55

It takes a nerve to be struck.

14:56

Wisdom is the wise poet spoken to wake up the dumb who've been sleeping.

15:00

The fourth dimension is time. It goes inside the mind.

15:03

When the shackles energize up through the back of your spine.

15:06

So observe as my Chi energy strikes a vital nerve.

15:09

One swerve with the tongue pierces like a sword through the lung.

15:11

Have you not heard that words kill as fast as bullets?

15:14

When you load negative thoughts from the chamber of your brain,

15:17

and your mouth pulls the trigger that propels wickedness straight from hell.

15:21

From the pits of your stomach where negativity dwells."

15:24

That's just a little piece of the RZA's "Twelve Jewels."

15:27

But it's interesting.

15:29

Because when you understand that kind of lyricism,

15:31

you realize that hip hop carries that same power as with Shakespeare.

15:35

You know, the transmute philosophy, as with any great art,

15:38

to question the world around us.

15:40

And this brings us, really, to the conclusion

15:42

about what the work we do with the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company

15:45

from theater productions to education productions

15:47

to hopefully film and TV, which we're working on at the moment.

15:51

What it's all about

15:52

it's about who is going to be custodian of the knowledge?

15:54

And in the 21st century, particularly moving towards post-industrial societies,

15:58

where we don't need masses of workers,

16:00

we're not training masses of workers to go and work in factories anymore,

16:03

these are big questions.

16:04

What is the purpose of education today?

16:06

What are we teaching young people?

16:08

What are we training the next generation to do and form?

16:12

Are we training each individual human being in a society

16:14

where, increasingly, the success or failure of a society

16:17

is going to be dependent on the mind, or ideas, of the people within that society?

16:22

Are we training people to aspire to be the best they can be?

16:25

To reach their full potential?

16:27

Wherever they're born in that society

16:29

or are we still working in the old, stratified ways of thinking

16:33

that people have stations and places they need to be,

16:35

or are we encouraging people to think as big as possible?

16:37

Because maybe, I don't know who in Shakespeare's life

16:39

encouraged him to become a custodian of the knowledge,

16:42

but if he was not able to do that, we'd be missing his section of work,

16:46

similarly with hip hop.

16:47

So really, that's what we want to think about.

16:49

Education, who does it belong to, who doesn't it belong to.

16:52

And using these seemingly disparate art forms,

16:55

these two seemingly disparate worlds,

16:57

and putting them together,

16:58

to show ourselves a unity in human culture,

17:01

a unity in the ideas that humans pursue,

17:05

in activities humans pursue.

17:07

And to inspire people towards their own form

17:09

of artistic, literary, cultural and societal accents.

17:14

I'm gonna share with you a little bit... one final piece.

17:16

It's a bit more... I don't want to say "fun,"

17:18

but a bit more of a game and a challenge.

17:22

It came out of a radio, "Freestyles" on Radio 1 Extra,

17:26

about two and a half, three years ago.

17:29

And as a bit of a joke, the DJ said to me,

17:31

"Here's a list of 27 Shakespeare plays,

17:33

attempt to fit them in a freestyle."

17:35

Luckily, we did it, I don't know how, we had about ten minutes, though,

17:38

so it wasn't a true freestyle in the truest sense,

17:41

but we did it as a track that we then, subsequently, put on the album,

17:44

so the first part contains 27 Shakespeare plays,

17:46

the next parts contains

17:48

16 of Shakespeare's most famous quotes interwoven.

17:51

It's entitled "Comedy, Tragedy, History,"

17:54

you can look it up on the web, and it goes like this.

17:56

I'm just gonna do it here, let's see how it goes.

17:58

"Dat boy Akala's a diamond fella.

18:00

All you little boys are a comedy of errors.

18:01

You bellow but you fellows get played like the cello.

18:03

I'm doing my thing, you're jealous like Othello.

18:05

Who're you? What're you gonna do? Little boys get Tamed like the Shrew.

18:08

You're mid-summer dreamin', Your tunes aren't appealing.

18:10

I'm Capulet, you're Montague, I ain't feeling. I am the Julius Caesar, hear me?

18:12

The Merchant Of Venice couldn't sell your CD. As to me, All's Well That Ends Well.

18:16

Your boy's like Macbeth, you're going to Hell. Measure for Measure, I am the best here,

18:20

You're Merry Wives of Windsor, not King Lear.

18:21

I don't know about Timon, I know he was at Athens.

18:23

When I come back like Hamlet you pay for your action.

18:25

Dat boy Akala, I do it As You Like It.

18:27

You're Much Ado About Nothing, All you do is bite it.

18:28

I'm too tight, I don't need 12 Nights. All you little Tempests get murked on the mic.

18:31

Of course I'm the one with the force. You're history just like Henry IV.

18:34

I'm fire, things look dire. Better run like Pericles Prince Of Tyre.

18:38

Off the scale, cold as a Winter's Tale Titus Andronicus was bound to fail."

18:41

That's 27 plays.

18:44

(Laughter) (Applause) Listen up.

18:50

And there is one final bit, this contains 16 of Shakespeare's most famous quotes.

18:54

"Wise is the man that knows he's a fool Tempt not a desperate man with a jewel.

18:58

Why take from Peter to go and pay Paul? Some rise by sin and by virtue fall.

19:01

What have you made if you gain the whole world. But sell your own soul for the price of a pearl?

19:04

The world is my oyster and I am starving. I want much more than a penny or a farthing.

19:07

I told no joke, I hope you're not laughing. Poet or pauper which do you class him?

19:11

Speak eloquent, though I am resident to the gritty inner city, surely irrelevant.

19:14

Call it urban, call it street. A rose by any other name, smell just as sweet

19:17

Spit so hard, but I'm smart as the Bard. Come through with a Union Jack, full of yard.

19:21

Akala, Akala, wherefore art thou?

19:22

[I rap] Shakespeare and the secret's out now.

19:24

Chance never did crown me, this is destiny. You still talk but it still perplexes me.

19:27

Devour cowards, thousands per hour. Don't you know the king's name is a tower?

19:31

You should never speak it, it is not a secret. I teach thesis, like ancient Greece's

19:34

Or Egyptology, never no apology. In my mind's eye, I see things properly.

19:38

Stopping me, nah you could never possibly. I bear a charmed life, most probably.

19:41

For certain I speak daggers in a phrase. I'll put an end to your dancing days.

19:44

No matter what you say it will never work. Wrens can't make prey where eagles don't perch.

19:48

I'm the worst with the words 'cause I curse all my verbs.

19:50

I'm the first with a verse to rehearse with a nurse.

19:51

There's a hearse for the first jerk who turn berserk. Off with his head, 'cos it must not work.

19:54

Ramp with Akala, that's true madness. And there's no method in it, just sadness.

19:58

I speak with the daggers and the hammers of a passion when I'm rappin' I attack 'em.

20:00

In a military fashion the pattern of my rappin' chattin couldn't ever map it.

20:03

And I run more rings round things than Saturn. Verses split big kids wigs when I'm rappin'.

20:08

That boy Akala, the rap Shakespeare. Didn't want to listen, when I said last year.

20:11

Rich like a gem in a Ethiopia's ear. Tell them again for them who never hear."

20:15

It's a pleasure.

20:17

(Applause)

#II46leanenglishshakespeare

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