Music Is the Message: How I Teach with Kendrick Lamar

As a new teacher, it’s easy to feel frustrated when your students aren’t as jazzed about the class material as you are. Teachers put in so much effort to plan lessons, craft dope Power Points, and input grade data, all while avoiding the temptation of binge watching “Orange is the New Black.”

Luckily, Kendrick Lamar’s music is a common enthusiasm we share, and is as much a part of my English class as my students and their teacher. We recently used two of his pieces to analyze literary terms. During our first full week of school, I played the music video for his song “i” to highlight setting and mood. I could instantly see how much more engaged my students became.

As Kendrick addresses in his music, children of color grow up with messages that they can excel only in a limited number of careers: athletics, music, and dance. They aren’t afforded the opportunity of being students in classrooms where their teachers look like them. As someone of mixed race, I grew up wondering where I fit in. In high school, I started to feel more connected to my black heritage, not only because of the rich history that our people have, but also because I began recognizing that society treated me as a man of color. I was able to apply for diversity scholarships, but I definitely struggled to find my identity.

I aspire to be a relatable figure for my students. I love teaching high school English because I can have conversations with students that have an impact far outside of the classroom.

For example, we can engage in class discussions on the recent tragedy in South Carolina. We were reading The Pedestrian by Ray Bradbury, a 1951 science fiction short story about a technology-centered society in 2052, and I began class by playing Kendrick Lamar’s “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” We focused on analyzing how the song portrays conflict, and every student in the class was so attentive. I even had a few students share their experiences of living in inner-city Memphis.

That morning was the perfect combination of beauty and insight. I look forward to continuing these conversations during the school year—and engaging in more forms of poetic justice.