Wu-Tang Clan grandee GZA has been quietly reinventing himself as East Coast hip-hop’s answer to Brian Cox.
As reported, the rapper is hard at work on a physics-inspired rap album, titled Dark Matter. He’s also been sitting down with physicists at Harvard and MIT to swot up on the mysteries of the cosmos. As The New York Times report, he’s now employing his science fascination to more philanthropic ends.
In December, GZA will team up with Rap Genius and Columbia University professor Chistopher Emdin (author of the book Urban Science Education For The Hip-Hop Generation) to launch a new rap/physics educational scheme across New York. The pilot scheme will extend across ten schools, and will see the pair use hip-hop to explain and promote scientific concepts.
The scheme will see Emdin and his graduate students using rhymes and cyphers – i.e. when rappers stand in a circle and pass rhymes to one another – to teach rudimentary science. Rather than sitting tests, students will write rhymes; the best couplets will be judged by GZA, and will subsequently be placed on online hip-hop palimpsest Rap Genius.
As the article notes, GZA and Emdin were motivated by the huge gulf in science attainment rates between white and African American students. According to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, 27% of white seniors were proficient in sciences; among African American seniors, the figure was a shocking 4%.
GZA’s approaching the project with laudable ambition: “You never know. This could turn into something in the future as big as the spelling bee.” Emdin, meanwhile, had some fascinating observations about hip-hop’s potential as a pedagogic tool: “A hip-hop cypher is the perfect pedagogical moment, where someone’s at the helm of a conversation, and then one person stops and another picks up. There’s equal turns at talking. When somebody has a great line, the whole audience makes a ‘whoo,’ which is positive reinforcement.”