Hip Hop and Adult Learning

I like this

As I study Adult Learning, I see more and more how it relates to my life in Hip Hop and how the culture itself, in its True School aspect, is a blueprint of learning. Hip Hop in its best aspects as a cultural expression of Hip Hop elements like Breakin, Emceein (Rap), Graffiti Writing and Deejaying, utilizes the principles of Andragogy and the philosophies of learning expressed by John Dewey and Carl Rogers in obvious ways. There a number of factors from the need for self-concept to the ideas of realness and respect which are mirrored in Hip Hop Kulture (proper) and Andragogy, or the study of adult learning.


The first concept in Hip Hop is self-creation. It is the idea that Hiphoppas name themselves, define themselves and define their World on their own terms. Many Hiphoppas can have acquaintances for years, who we only know by their Hip Hop names, or the ones they choose to be known by among other Hiphoppas. That is who they become to us and it arises out of a desire for self-concept. “Adults have a self-concept of being responsible for their own decisions, for their own lives. Once they have arrived at that self-concept, they develop a deep psychological need to be seen by others and being treated by others as being capable of self-direction. (Knowles)” This is in direct opposition to the pedagogical model of educating children which see the subjects as dependents who must follow instructions. Hip Hop also grows out of a rebellion against an authority who would dictate the rules of how to conduct oneself and which paths to follow in life.


During the Golden Era of Hip Hop, when the music was at its peak, artist like Public Enemy, KRSONE, Poor Righteous Teachers, Brand Nubian, X-Clan and the Native Tongue openly questioned the direction of mainstream culture and whether it was worthy of the Hiphoppa’s interest. The answer was no, because as andragogy states, “adults become ready to learn those things they need to know and be able to do in order to cope effectively with their real-life situations. (Knowles)”


This idea of realness was actually a prime mantra throughout the 1990’s Golden Era; “Keep it Real!” “I’m keeping it real.” As it turns out, this idea is key in understanding how adults learn according to Carl Rogers, an adult learning specialist. Rogers says the facilitator of learning (which in Hip Hop was the rapper during the 1990s) must have three attitudinal qualities. The first of which is, “realness or genuineness. (Knowles)” Next, the facilitator must have “non-possessive caring…trust and respect (for the group). (Knowles)” Respect coming second after realness in Hip Hop is not surprising and would sound completely normal to the average True Schooler as traits of a Hiphoppa.

It is interesting to note here that the branches of Hip Hop are referred to as ‘schools’. There is the new school, the old school and the True School which represents the best of all eras.


Hiphoppas by virtue of coming from challenged conditions have more experience than the average mainstream youth. The average Hiphoppa may have experienced all sorts of societal drama actually meant for adults, in their early life. This life experience is what shapes the adult learning process. It also identifies the person as an accumulation of these experiences. When these experiences, “are ignored or devalued, adults will perceive this as rejecting not only their experience, but rejecting themselves as persons. (Knowles)”


Both Carl Rogers and John Dewey make references which also fit this narrative. Rogers believed it was up to the personal motivation of the learner to activate the right stimuli that helps them learn. Hip Hop agrees and encourages each new member to express themselves in the way familiar to them, which is why hip-hop music has continued to change as new people enter the mix. In Rogers’ model, the facilitator is more like the deejay who provides the platform others use to express their level of experience and add it to the group. The deejays would provide the forum for the poppers to pop, the breakers to break and the emcees to rap. According to Rogers, “the facilitator helps to elicit and clarify the purposes of the individuals in the class as well as the more general purposes of the group…The facilitator accepts both the intellectual content and the emotionalized attitudes, endeavoring to give each aspect the approximate degree of emphasis that is has for the individual or the group. (Knowles)”


Dewey believed that the process of education starts with experience. He believed it should be about, “expression and cultivation of experience,” acquiring skills based on the need to complete a meaningful task, or “making the most of the opportunities of present life (while maintaining) acquaintance with the changing World. (J. Dewey 1938/ Knowles 2012)”

Dewey also organized concepts like the idea of “democratic social arrangements,” that promote quality experiences. The principle of continuity illustrates that intellectual and moral growth and development should be a focus. Dewey also emphasized the interaction of environmental stimuli and internal factors as a way to enrich learning. The educator is seen as a facilitator of social problem solving who understands how to utilize the individual experience of the participants as well as the collective dynamic of the group. This is part of the True School Hip Hop philosophy. In this context a deejay, a Hip Hop promoter, video producer or emcee can be the facilitator who utilizes the individual experience of the participants as well as the collective dynamic of the group to enrich the Hip Hop Kulture experience.



  1. Knowles/Holton/Swanson, the Adult Learner, 7th ed., Routledge, 2012

Kurt Nice

Kurt Nice aka Kurtiss Jackson is a behind the scenes pioneer in the Hip Hop Kulture, creating the first nationally distributed video mix tape series, Shades of Hip Hop, in the late 1990s. Since touring the country with the Stop the Violence Movement and the Temple of Hip Hop as KRS-ONE’s National Marketing Director, Kurt Nice has been a constant commentator on conscious Hip Hop and its relevance to the new rap music of today, through radio and cable appearances. contact Kurt at info@hiphoplives.net

More PostsWebsite

Follow Me:

%d bloggers like this: