Around Augusta, Georgia, the only thing that can be heard blasting from Patrick Frits’ car is Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. But, for the junior sociology and criminal justice major, listening to the album isn’t just recreational — it’s scholastic.
The 2012 album is the focus of Frits’ English composition class at Georgia Regents University. The research-based course requires students to write a major paper in response to selected texts.
This fall, students are juxtaposing Lamar’s music with literary works from James Joyce, James Baldwin and Gwendolyn Brooks and the 1991 film, Boys n the Hood.
Frits said he finds the course’s integration of modern work refreshing.
He also said the intimacy of the album — particularly its account of abject conditions in Compton, Calif. — has bonded him and his classmates.
“We’re all from different backgrounds, we’re all from different demographics, but we’re all connecting together in the class over this,” he said.
Lauren Ringel, a sophomore history major at Georgia Regents, said the course was her first exposure to Lamar’s music and the hardships of inner-city life.
“Hip-hop is about immediate feedback to the world people observe around them” — Georgia Regents University professor Adam Diehl
“It’s a little surreal because, of course, we don’t live in the situation Kendrick Lamar grew up in, but it’s almost like he’s telling a story and then you have to step outside of that and realize he’s not telling a story. He’s telling about his life,” she said.
Instructor Adam Diehl said that he chose to organize the course around good kid, m.A.A.d citybecause of the social issues broached in the album.
“With Kendrick’s album, you’ve got gang violence, you’ve got child-family development in the inner city, you’ve got drug use and the war on drugs, you’ve got sex slavery, human trafficking – a lot of the things that are hot-button issues for today are just inherent in the world of Compton, California,” he said.
Asked about the place of hip-hop in the classroom, Diehl said the art form should not be excluded from academia because it gives visibility to current, underrepresented issues.
“I think the main thing that hip-hop brings — it’s the more journalistic art form within pop culture,” he said. “Whether it’s White Lines, which is about the cocaine epidemic in the ‘80s, or J. Cole’s new song on the Mike Brown situation, hip-hop is about immediate feedback to the world people observe around them.”
Diehl also said that he hopes the course prompts discussion about what should be allowed in the canon.
“What if people had said, we shouldn’t study Toni Morrison or Hemingway or Emily Dickinson because they’re too new? Everything was new or too popular or too risqué at the time, but I just think that great stories last and the story of good kid, m.A.A.d city, is lasting.”