SOUTH LOS ANGELES — If you hear rhythmic vocals flowing to a heavy bass beat at View Park Preparatory High School, don’t be alarmed; that’s just the sound of high school students with a passion for hip hop.
Founded by Sebastien Elkouby, Global Awareness through Hip Hop Culture, which is now a University of California and California State University-approved college-preparatory course, isn’t your ordinary music class.
In the class, students learn about the culture of hip hop as well as social issues, current events and media literacy. Elkouby also teaches a music production component where students learn about songwriting, beat-making and how to record their own music using the built-in professional recording studio located right in the classroom.
Elkouby refers to himself as a “product of hip hop.” The course was created not only because of his passion for music, but on its influence in his personal life which he says made him more socially aware and media literate.
“Years ago, I set out to create a program that would use hip hop to enrich and empower teens the same way I was empowered by it in the 80’s,” Elkouby said.
He first taught hip hop as a series of workshops to high school students throughout the Los Angeles area. The program was later picked up as an actual class in 2007.
While teaching is Elkouby’s current passion, the zealous educator had other plans for himself years back.
“I started out as an aspiring rapper and producer in the 80s and early 90s and then made my way through the music industry, working for a few record labels and eventually going into business for myself as a publisher and a freelance publicist, writer and creative consultant.”
On Monday mornings between 8:20 and 10 a.m., Elkouby and his class of around 20 enthusiastic students begin their day with an open discussion question for students to voice their opinions on different topics related to music. Last week’s discussion question was if female rappers were treated the same as male rappers.
Many students felt that female rappers are more exploited and those who as one student said, are more “visually attractive” get more attention.
Led by Elkouby, the students then had a discussion about how many of today’s artists get signed based on views and image and not talent. The discussion shifted to how the younger generation is heavily influenced by the lyrics in today’s hip hop music.
After voicing their opinions on that topic, the heavily opinionated group of young men and women then deciphered Rapsody’s symbolic music video and lyrics to her single, “Hard To Choose.” The students who all equally enjoyed the song, all wondered why female lyricists such as her don’t receive the same exposure as other artists in today’s music industry. The class ended with students forming groups to define what their part of the song meant to them.
The class allows students to become more media literate in which they are able to acknowledge the hold mainstream media has on society at large.
“Students become more aware of the world around them and develop a greater sense of self,” Elkouby said.
Senior students Exavier Muhammad and Kayla Simon are witnesses to how influential the class has become.
Muhammad, who aspires to be an entrepreneur and YouTube vlogger, believes the class gives him a window to talk about things he can’t normally talk about in other classes.
“The stuff we talk about like hip hop through global awareness, it’s not just about music; it’s about politics and the culture of hip hop and what’s going on with artists like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole to express ways of how we feel as high school students.”
Simon, who aspires to be an archaeologist and was the first student in her school to record a song, says the class allows her and her classmates to discuss different issues in academic manners.
“This classroom allows us to talk about social issues, not just at home or with our friends but in an educational classroom.”
As of now, Global Awareness through Hip Hop Culture is an official college preparatory elective course. Last year, Elkouby was informed that the class would have to be UC-approved moving forward since View Prep is a college prep school.
“One of the school’s staff members had been appointed as a UC point person and helped me to apply for it. It was approved in June of this year.”
His students are beyond grateful for his dedication to his students and the class.
Muhammad says Elkouby is an “actual teacher.” He feels his teacher lets them learn from each other.
“Things we say to each other like I may not know that she knows it or she may not know that I know it so when I say it, she gets a different point of view and it’ll help her,” he said.
Simon also holds similar admiration for her teacher and calls him “real.” She feels his teaching technique is helpful as Elkouby doesn’t simply just lecture; he lets them talk as well.
“He’s not like a teacher that goes by the book like “OK, turn this page and do this,” Simon said.