People who are complaining about Michael Eric Dyson’s Georgetown University course (one of the smartest commentators working today, by the way) on Jay-Z by trying to put down the rapper’s lyrics are missing the point.
Of course, when stacked up next to Proust, Dickens or Dickinson, quotes like “Many chicks wanna put Jigga fist in cuffs / Divorce him and split his bucks” really don’t seem to carry the same intellectual weight.
But there’s a time and a place to study Proust, Dickens and Dickinson, and I’m sure all the students at Georgetown will open a copy of Great Expectations at some point in their lives and get a sense of what England was like in the early 19th century. That’s what the great books do – illuminate a time and a place, and give a sense of what the societal and cultural landscape was at that point.
Who, over the past decade, has done a better job of representing modern rap and R&B – the single biggest driving force in modern popular music – than Shawn Carter III? “Hard Knock Life,” “99 Problems” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” are fascinating, complicated songs that prompt discussion and study of hip-hop attitudes and urban living, rich subjects that need to be talked about alongside any look at 21st-century life.
So, teach away, Mr. Dyson. Your class sounds positively fascinating, and I hope we get to see more of these courses in America. Let’s just stop before we get to analyzing Ma$e or Snow.