To every baby on the album cover existin’/ This trend I was settin’, it came to fruition/I’m assistin’ to push the culture forward/ To all my ghost supporters, go support us…

-Nas, “Nas Album Done”Confidence is important

If Nas isn’t in your top 10 MCs of all time, you don’t know the rap genre.  His single from DJ Khalid’s Major Key album entitled “Nas Album Done” is the triumphant return of one of the dominant poetic voices of all time.  With an expansive discography and hundreds of guest verses, Nas has dropped a few jewels in his time.  How can some of this master wordsmith’s lyrics be applied to education?

1. Confidence is important.

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My poetry’s deep, I never fail/Nas’ raps should be locked in a cell/ It ain’t hard to tell

– Nas, “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”

Nas debuted with a classic.  Though short by contemporary standards and boasting production by Large Professor, Pete Rock, and DJ Premier, the album features classic tracks like NY State of Mind, Halftime, and One Love.  My favorite track is the last one.  “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” is a song that not only thumps but empowers.

I love this lyric as it embodies what classrooms should be.  There’s a level of confidence that should permeate everything that happens at school.  When we stress depth and not coverage, students are empowered.   Failure is seen as a signal to improve, not to stop.  When schools work as intended, it ain’t hard to tell.

2. High expectations of everyone.

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In my own class, operation return/ They tried to say I was incompetent, unable to learn…

-Nas, “John Blaze”

John Blaze is actually a track off of Fat Joe’s Don Cartagena project.  This song features some pretty talented lyricists as Big Pun, Jadakiss and Raekwon accompany the aforementioned Fat Joe and Nas.

Nas’ verse begins with his reminiscing on his schooling.  The lyric I plucked points to teachers having lower expectations of students.  It’s fair to say that a classroom can’t function without a teacher believing that every student is capable of success.  Mr. Jones reminds us that he overcame his teacher’s expectations, though shouldn’t have had to.

3. Design Thinking runs deep.

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So many years of depression make me vision/ The Better livin’, type of place to raise kids in/ Open they eyes to the lies history’s told foul/ But I’m a wise as the old owl…

-Nas, “If I Ruled the World (Imagine that)”

Nas’ second album provided an absolute banger.  Featuring Lauryn Hill and inspired by a Kurtis Blow single of the same name, Jones pens a narrative of how the world would function if he ruled it.

While we don’t want students to “rule the world,” we do want them to dream up solutions to the problems that our world faces. “Opening eyes” and envisioning better livin’ is one of the reasons why design thinking is such an important facet of education.  Empathy, defining the problem, ideating solutions, prototyping, and feedback allow us to help students become as wise as the old owl.

4. Be an artist.

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As far as rap go, it’s only natural I explain/ My plateau, and also, what defines my name/ First, it was Nasty, but times have changed/ Ask me now, I’m the artist, but hardcore, my science for pain…

-Nas, “Nas is Like”

Nas’ third LP featured DMX, Aaliyah, Scarface, and Diddy, but the highlight of the album is the DJ Premier assisted “Nas is Like.” This extended simile about Nas’ abilities is an ode to boom bap.

“Nasty Nas” evolved into an artist.  He went from just raw rhyming to someone who crafted things of beauty.  Our goal with education should be make sure that what we do is functional, but also artistic.

5. Choice and voice are important.

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I never changed nothin’, but people remember this/ If Nas can’t say it/ Think about these talented kids/ With new ideas/ Being told what they can and can’t spit…

-Nas, “Hero”

The Keri Hilson, Polow da Don assisted “Hero” from the Untitled album wasn’t the best track, but it’s one that had some witty word play and an infectious beat.  It also was a poignant critique of the powers-that-be infringing on his creative license an as artist.

We all teach “these talented kid with new ideas.” The problem is that education too often dictates “what they can and can’t spit” instead of allowing students input into the process.  We too often view students as receptacles for information instead of active learners.  Classrooms should be full of heroes, not zombies.

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