Springsteen and hip-hop educate freshmen

Springsteen’s Lyrics as Literature, and Hip-Hop and Beyond aim to teach deep lyrical meaning. (AP Photo)
Springsteen’s Lyrics as Literature, and Hip-Hop and Beyond aim to teach deep lyrical meaning. (AP Photo)

Students strolling the hallways of Bliss Hall should not be alarmed to hear “Baby we were born to run” or “Let me hear you say fight the power.”

The noise is not booming from an inconsiderate student, it is coming from Lincoln Konkle, professor of English, and Cassandra Jackson, associate professor of English, preparing for class.

The professors teach two of this semester’s freshman seminar programs (FSP). Konkle plays the role of lead guitarist in Springsteen’s Lyrics as Literature, while Jackson is the disc jockey of Hip-Hop and Beyond.

Both FSPs portray music not only as words and rhythms, but as literature and expression. According to the professors, goals are to show students that songs have deeper meaning than what first meets the ear.

Konkle used to teach an FSP on Thornton Wilder in the past, but said “it was time for a new topic.”

He has had a passion for Bruce Springsteen ever since he was introduced to his music in college, but the idea of teaching The Boss’s music as literature did not develop until five years ago.

The objective of the course is to regard Springsteen as more of a poet or short-story writer than a music artist.

“Springsteen isn’t like Kiss. He puts a lot of thought into his lyrics,” Konkle said.

One of Konkle’s favorite Springsteen lines comes from the song “Growing Up.” The line reads, “And I swear I found the key to the universe in the engine of an old parked car.” The line takes a dead metaphor and brings it to life, according to Konkle.

Each week Konkle focuses on one album and has the class discuss themes and symbolism hidden in the lyrics.

“I’ve always loved Springsteen’s music, but now it actually applies to school. It’s pretty awesome,” freshman history and secondary education major Joe Palmisano said.

Konkle also provides links to Springsteen songs on his SOCS page and allows his students to analyze and discuss songs in interactive threads.

“It’s like having a course on Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson … but instead of them we’re listening to Springsteen,” Konkle said.

Jackson’s class, Hip-Hop and Beyond, focuses on the scholarship, politics and literature hidden in the lyrics of the trendy tunes as well as rap music and graffiti art.

Jackson’s course canvasses the influence that slavery, the civil rights movement and the 1960’s Black Art’s movement had on hip-hop. These actions are believed to be the roots of the first hip-hop movement started in New York City in the 1970’s.

“It is amazing that (hip-hop) was sprung up by a bunch of kids in the ghetto,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s SOCS page — like Konkle’s — also includes selections of music for her students to listen to. However, instead of Springsteen, Jackson has selections from groups such as Public Enemy and The Sugarhill Gang.

Jackson acknowledges that older hip-hop may be difficult for the students to interpret, so she encourages her classes to bring in samples of new-age hip-hop.

Jackson has heard the likes of Lil Wayne, Drake and Kanye West during the course of the year. Her students have begun to apply the same concepts to new-age music that Jackson applies to her old-school beats.

“I learn as much from them as they’ll ever learn from me,” she said.

The students are required to write several papers and do a presentation on a topic of their choosing. Jackson has seen presentations on topics like hip-hop dance and “turntablism.”

Shabani Ahluwalia, freshman psychology major, performed and explained the expression of hip-hop in popping and locking.

Popping is the quick contraction and relaxation of the muscles that causes a jerk in the dancer’s body, Ahluwalia explained. Locking relies on fast and distinct arm and hand movements along with a more relaxed motion in the hips and legs.

“I love to dance and I love the style of hip-hop,” Ahluwalia said.

Whether students enjoy popping and locking to Lil Wayne or rocking out to Springsteen, the College has found a place for them to funnel those interests.