Students will learn the elements of hip hop culture, which include rap, DJ-ing/MC-ing, scratching, and graffiti; and explore the connection between the West African “griot” and today’s signifying rappers by acting out a traditional story, “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears”, and learned how to recognize samples in a variety of contexts; both in classical pieces such as Steve Reich’s “Different Trains” and pop and rap hits. They will eventually record their own samples of neighborhood sounds and combine them with their observations and reflections regarding their neighborhood conditions to create their pieces. We will enhance literacy by writing poems, first with a given structure “In Humboldt Park” , and then based on students’ own ideas organized around a rhyme scheme of their choice. Study of “West Side Story” and Tito Puente will address the Puerto Rican culture represented in our class, as well as the situation in the immediate neighborhood; Lafayette is located on the West Side at the intersection of four gang territories. Our final rap & rhythms recording will incorporate elements of both cultures.



Student #1

This student is highly intelligent and contributes positively in class. I hope we can keep her engaged as many of the other kids in this class tend to be chatty or disruptive.

Student #2

This student has learning issues and has had disciplinary problems as well. Yet, he offers very insightful comments in class and is very well-behaved for us. I feel we are providing him with something of interest. We will see how that develops.

Student #3

This student writes very well and is involved in orchestra with Mr. Weible. He is somewhat shy and does not take risks in class by answering or participating. I hope we can change that.


The students created poignant rap lyrics about Humboldt Park, in the African-American cultural unit. We emphasized that rap originated as social protest and a means of giving voice to those who might not otherwise be heard, and asked the students to share what they thought was positive, and negative, about their neighborhood. An incredible compiled rap resulted. Click here to access the entire word document:  humboldt park rap One of our students, one who had been having problems, started writing raps throughout the week. Ms. Gust showed them to me and I coaxed him into letting us use them in our class project. One of his powerful stanzas appears above; his contributions constitute more than a third of the final project. We next progressed to a unit combining study of West Side Story and Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va,” comparing orchestration in “Dance at the Gym,” with a live performance of Tito’s. We then attempted to recreate those rhythms, or “ostinati” using Puerto Rican instruments; and then to compose and play our own original beats for eventual use in our rap recording. Students were also asked to notate their own original ostinati in standard musical notation.

Student #1

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Lexy told me that her dad told her to “Pay attention!” when she told him that we were studying West Side Story! Lexy is a positive presence in class. Here are some of her thoughts about our project with regard to the rhythms we’ve been composing.


Student #2

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Here several students share their contributions to our class rap.

Student #3

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Deshaun plays string bass in Art’s after-school string orchestra. Listen as students attempt to read their notated original ostinati and play for the class on the drum!


Students compared the orchestration in West Side Story numbers such as “Dance at the Gymn” with “Oye Como Va” by Tito Puente, who was active in NYC at the time that Bernstein was composing his masterpiece. I was amazed by the degree to which Bernstein successfully and faithfully incorporated elements of the Puerto Rican musical culture in his score. They then began improvising and scoring their own rhythmic ostinati, with Puente as an influence, and playing them solo and in groups in class on Puerto Rican and other percussion instruments. Our final project will combine these rhythms with the rap and sampled neighborhood sounds for a multi-cultural rap composition.

Student #1

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Here Shawone and Faith rap a small portion of “In Humboldt Park”; the full text is available above — Students used Garage Band to record their own rhythmic ostinati in separate tracks while staying in time with a “click” track laid down by an awesome student conga player, Lexy. The girls’ rap texts are their own writing, as well.
“Humboldt Park is not all that bad, it’s probably crazy and nearly sad
But I guess that’s all between the flags
so I better stop before I gag
You could play break dance sleep under a tree
also your phone can go beep beep beep
You can fish and learn your needs . . .In Humboldt Park.”

“I want my family to come together have fun
have fun like they did when I was young
When I grow up I want a college degree
And a brand new car, nothing gonna stop me
I used to go to block parties and we all had fun
Now I’m older, what’s in the folder?
I see next year, next year I’m absent…
In Humboldt Park.”

Student #2


Student #3

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Here we hear Bisali rapping her stanza with different student musicians, excepting Lexy, who is still playing the congas:

“I feel like it’s a mystery in HP
I see people singing from the heart.
I say that they’re a work of art.
Most people are sweet, I say they are neat,
I like to hear the stereos playing the beats
So if you want to have a blast, and don’t know where to start,
Why not look in Humboldt Park?”

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