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Flocabulary: World War II in Hip-Hop

When I'm not doing comedy, I make my living as an SAT tutor. A damned good one, if I may say so. Every time I hear about some dumb gimmick for studying the SAT (study on your cellphone, "yo momma" … Read More

By / July 20, 2007

When I'm not doing comedy, I make my living as an SAT tutor. A damned good one, if I may say so. Every time I hear about some dumb gimmick for studying the SAT (study on your cellphone, "yo momma" jokes, the SAT shower curtain), I think "Well, that'll work for vocabulary." (It's not, however, likely to teach you to deal with fractional exponents, or any serious comparison of long reading passages).

When Flocabulary came out with a hip-hop vocabulary book and CD, I shrugged. That could work. But when the same people came out with Flocabulary: The Hip-Hop Approach to U.S. History, I bought the book and CD. So I could laugh. Blog and laugh.

I loaded the tracks on my iPod … and proceeded to have a religious experience. Pedagogically religious, anyway. The music didn't suck. In fact, the first song, about the founding of America, began like this:

Black Male Voice Portraying a European, and Rapping in the Most Drippingly Sarcastic Rapper Voice I Have Ever Heard: Wow, I just discovered America!

Black Male Voice Portraying an Angry Native American Speaking as Though to a Small, Racist Child: You didn't discover it. We were already here.

The song goes on to talk about migration over the Bering Strait, the five "civilized" tribes, and the fact that some Native Americans had slaves ("Indians weren't living on some heaven on earth tip"), and to comment, "Isn't that cheap? They call my Jeep a Jeep Cherokee — what if they called my Jeep a Jeep Jew?"

In the course of this album, Harriet Tubman gets a Lil Kim-like solo ("Reward for my capture? 40 G's"), Frederick Douglass gets to sound like the incredible badass he was, Carnegie (in "Big Ballin' in the Gilded Age") raps about Social Darwinism while Rockefeller points out that Jay-Z named his company "after me," and Sacajawea guides Lewis and Clark through the Rockies "like Mapquest." Lincoln (whose Emancipation Proclamation, of course, failed to free any actual slaves) is portrayed with a dorky, squeaky white guy voice — but FDR gets a booming, dignified white guy voice. Perhaps my favorite line is when Sally Hemings first attracts Thomas Jefferson:

She's dressed in yellow. She says "Hello,

You probably noticed me in the fields of Monticello."

Below is a sound clip (a couple verses, so as to say within fair use) from a song called "Would You Drop It?", which presents, I think, a not-bad-at-all explanation of World War II up to Truman's decision to drop the bomb. I challenge anyone to better explain fascism and its appeal to Germans, isolationism, the Great Depression, and Europe's falling to the Germans until Pearl Harbor galvanized us "like 9/11" — in one minute, in rhyme.

All these tracks are on iTunes (search "Flocabulary"). If I could buy them for every teenager in America, I would.

"Would You Drop It"? (clip)

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