kanye west, jay z, class

A new course at the University of Missouri offers students the chance to learn about poetry by studying the various collaborations of Jay Z and Kanye West. So that means no analysis of the “Bound 2” video, then.

Offered by the school’s English Department, the course, forthrightly called “Jay Z and Kanye West”, “looks at the career and work of Jay Z and Kanye West from three perspectives,” according to the University of Missouri website. “(1) Where do they fit within, and how do they change, the history of hip-hop music? (2) How is what they do similar to and different from what poets do?, and (3) How does their rise to both celebrity and corporate power alter what we understand as the American dream?”

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Aside from the songs and music videos, the course materials include “Jay Z’s Decoded; histories of and critical works on rap music by Jeff Chang, Adam Bradley, and others; and one or two good studies of how poetry works,” the course description says.

Andrew Hoberek, who first taught the class last year, told the music blog Consequence of Sound that “I really do think that these guys are warming up to the level of major poets, and not many people think of it in those terms. Because it’s not just on a page, but it’s video art, too. So, we looked at how those complicated the questions, and how do books about poetry help us to understand rap with Jay and Kanye at the forefront. We looked at the larger history of rap as an art form.”

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He also told the Huffington Post that he knows some people will doubt how serious this class will be. “The subject matter lends itself to questions about what it means to treat something seriously as a work of art,” but “[w]orking from that point, I wanted to teach them that what we do in English classes isn’t about ‘reading into’ things, or ruining what makes them pleasurable.”

The University of Missouri is not the only school to offer courses with a pop culture twist (or even to offer a course on hip-hop — Georgetown University has one called “Sociology of Hip-Hop — Urban Theodicy of Jay-Z”). To name a few: There’s Duke University’s “’California, Here We Come’: The O.C. and the Self-Aware Culture of 21st Century America,” the University of South Carolina’s “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame,” and “Vampires in Literature and Film” from the Harvard Extension School. There’s even a law course offered by William & Mary Law School that teaches criminal law and criminal procedure with a little help from episodes of The Wire.

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