Hip Hop Storytellers: The Scott Collegiate/ IMP Labs Hip Hop Project
Description of Project
Many Indigenous youth are turning towards the arts practices of hip hop culture as a way to express and make sense of present-day lived experiences including the ongoing legacies of state enforced residential school programs and other practices of colonization, the current climate of contentious government initiated truth and reconciliation processes, and systemic issues of racism, poverty, and violence faced by young Indigenous people today. In spite of the problematic and often racialized and gendered associations made about hip hop, "hip hop programs have the potential to illustrate the creative, thoughtful, and artistic potential of Indigenous youth and to challenge the dominant racialized and racist framework on which the media so often relies, when presenting stories on hip hop culture and Indigenous youth in Canada” (Marsh 2011).
The Hip Hop Project brings grade ten and eleven students from Scott Collegiate (the only high school in North Central) into the IMP Labs at the University of Regina two mornings a week, while students earn English and Arts Education credits, and learn about Hip Hop culture. Through workshops and discussion on the hip hop elements the students create raps, beats (music), graffiti artwork, and break dance choreography in order to stage a final performance along side national and international hip hop artists. As a model of learning, such projects and experienced-based learning is essential to the success of the Hip Hop Project. And through the project more conventional skills are also emphasized: writing, reading, interpreting, presenting – all learned within the framework of art and the development of skills associated with complex new technologies.
Over the years, the project versions changed somewhat in the following ways: in length (some were a year long, others a semester long); matching and developing new curriculum initiatives and goals led by the team and/or by the school board; with funding and various levels of support (for example, one session we were given support to record and produce professional recordings for an album); and staff changes (at Scott and in the IMP Labs’ Research Team). Overall, the focus on teaching the high school curriculum through the principal art forms of hip hop and having the students spend significant time in the IMP Labs at the UofR was upheld. Moreover, each project finished with two public performances, one geared towards the elementary community schools, and one performance open to the public.
The Hip Hop Project has provided the students with a framework within which to build relationships with each other, to develop community, and to represent and expand this community together. No longer seeing themselves as only one among many in a crowd, students in the Hip Hop Project are developing alternative identities rooted in a culture they are making themselves. For these students this project has sparked a curiosity about the university and possible university programs. To see the students immersed within the IMP Labs at work within a university context, to imagine that this could be a university education, and more importantly, to see themselves in this environment as part of a university education, is an exciting aspect of the Hip Hop Project that should not be underestimated. Following the success of their work within the program, these students are now able to view themselves as possible university students. From the perspective of the students’ teachers and principal, the project has assisted in helping to regulate students’ attendance and enthusiasm for the curriculum, in some cases grades have risen, and more students have completed education requirements. Almost all participating students are now expressing interest in post-secondary education.
The Scott Collegiate/ IMP Labs Hip Hop Project is one of the most significant contributions I have made during my term as a Canada Research Chair. The artists, my research teams, and the many young people from Scott Collegiate that I had the privilege of collaborating with over the six years this program existed, were incredibly generous, imaginative, and curious. They challenged me in a myriad of ways, allowed me to learn alongside them, and supported my becoming a better, more community-oriented researcher and mentor.