Jay-Z Reminds Us that When Students Have Something to Say, You Can’t Stop Them From Writing

"...grab a paper bag..."

I love scouring the internet for hidden gems of insight about learning and teaching. The other night, I was binge-watching videos of producers and MCs in the studio. Up popped an interview with Jay-Z and producer SKI, talking about how Jigga approaches rhyming. At the 5 minute mark, he shared how when he was hustling, he would constantly write down rhymes he had in his head. He’d use any piece of paper he could find. (Eminem does something similar to this day.) 

I was just getting a ton of wealth of knowledge from, you know, just living life–having experiences. And this music was just so infectious–I had to write. So I would go inside these grocery stores, grab a paper bag, write on it, and put it in my pocket.

Eventually, Jay had so many rhymes that writing was slowing him down. So he started to memorize bars: 4, 8, 16, and so on. Now, Jay-Z has declared himself “the only rapper to write history without a pen.”

But, his self-description masks the important role authentic writing played in Jay-Z’s career. There’s a lot to learn here about what it means to teach writing and literacy more broadly to our students. The question HOV raises to me is this: How are you helping students find what is worth saying to them? Start there; see where it takes you.

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