Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hip-Hop and Shakespeare: Best Friends? Yes, According to MC Lars

When you catch your teenager nodding in time to his headphones, don’t accuse him of shirking his English homework. If he’s listening to MC Lars, chances are he may be diligently contemplating themes in Moby Dick. Don’t believe us? Visit Lars’s homepage. The first thing you’ll notice is a cartoon drawing of Edgar Allan Poe (and his trusty raven, of course). MC Lars’s popularity, mostly outside of classrooms, is proof that intellect and hip-hop are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can go together as well as his well-crafted lyrics pair with his infectious beats.

When MC Lars was sixteen and a self-described geeky white guy, he starred in his first hip hop performance. Back then, of course, he was known as Andrew Nielson, and his audience was made up not of dancing club go-ers but his teachers and classmates at an assembly at his high school. Nielson’s class had been assigned to write a parody of Macbeth, and, intrigued by the rhythmic witches’ chant, he wrote some lyrics and laid them over a self-made house beat. “Rapbeth” was the first hip-hop performance of Nielson’s career, though it was a while before MC Lars made it big. He had to graduate from Stanford first, where he majored in 19th century American literature but also spent hours in Stanford’s campus radio station poring over their hip-hop vinyl collection.

Lars’s tracks are catchy, often humorous, and always smart. They’re also family-friendly; though songs like “Hey There Ophelia” may leave younger kids unschooled in Hamlet scratching their heads, rest assured that his lyrics are never offensive. Lars has written about topics as diverse as the absurdity of airport security, the self-defeatism of some environmentalists, and the baffling nature of hipsters and of emo music. But as educators, we admit that we’re partial to his more scholarly tracks about things like manifest destiny, the metric system, Harper’s Ferry, and, of course, literature.

MC Lars loves showing audiences how hip-hop and literature really aren’t strange bedfellows. He’s done seminars on the topic and even gave a Tedx Talk at USC on the topic. Currently, he’s working on a book on the history of hip-hop culture. He’s also putting together a pilot for an educational hip-hop TV show for children, and does educational hip-hop outreach work (did you know there was such a thing?) with various historical organizations to raise awareness and preserve American literary history.

Eager for a taste? MC Lars shares lots of his videos freely; “Ahab,”  a hip-hop retelling of Moby Dick by Ahab himself is one of our favorites. (Some of our favorite lyrics include “The first one to spot him gets this gold doubloon / Now excuse me while I go be melancholy in my room,” and “He charged the boat, and it began to sink / I’m like, ‘How about that? Hubris really stinks.’”) And we love “Flow Like Poe”  off of his most recent album, The Edgar Allan Poe EP. Though MC Lars plays at venues and concerts around the world, this track premiered at the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards in 2012. 

So hip-hop-wary parents: Let your kids listen to MC Lars. He’s a living, breathing, rapping embodiment of the way passion and creativity can revolutionize education.

1 comment:

  1. love this... MC Lars is the true 19th Century American Transcendentalist hip hop king