Graduating from Ghetto Scholarship: Has Hip-Hop Dumbed Us Down?


“Let Freedom ring with a buckshot/but not just yet/ First we have to understand/ the nature of the threat” – “Nature of the Threat”, Ras Kass

After 10 long years, the day had finally come. Juaquin Davis was finally graduating. As he swaggered across the commencement stage with his pants saggin’ just below his graduation robe, he took a moment to give a shout out to his homies in the audience. They returned the love by holding up a giant cardboard sign that said, “Kongrachulashunz!”

We have officially entered graduation season, the time of year when college seniors are taking their final exams and preparing to go out into the real world to make a difference, not only for themselves, but for their communities.

Well, that’s how it’s supposed to be. Unfortunately, in recent times there has been a decrease in the respect for knowledge, even among the college-educated.

There was a time in our history when knowledge was celebrated, and those who were fortunate enough to obtain a higher level of education saw it as their responsibility to uplift others. According to Lerone Bennett in his work, Before the Mayflower, the first Black college graduate, John B. Russwurm, used this intellect, not to open a strip club/rim shop, but to establish the first Black newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, on March 16, 1827.

So, what happened to our sense of communal responsibility?

In his 1903 essay, “The Talented Tenth”, Dr. WEB DuBois blamed the failure of “the educated and intelligent” to raise the level of consciousness of the masses on “slavery and race prejudice.”

However, Dr. E. Franklin Frazier in his 1957 book, Black Bourgeoisie, suggested that they merely, got their degrees, got hooked up with a nice j-o-b-, bought a fat Caddy and left the ‘hood and never looked back.

Perhaps this over emphasis on material wealth is why today’s college-educated rappers make music for kindergartners.

It must be remembered that 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane, Plies, and many others are said to have either graduated from or at least chilled for a semester at institutions of higher learning. Also, although Lil Wayne is said to have taken classes at the University of Houston, a 2009 Wall Street Journal article mentioned a study that alleged that peeps who listened to Weezy had lower SAT scores than those who listened to other types of music.


Unfortunately, these are the people who many high school kids look up to as models of success which carries over into college life.

You may remember the controversy that erupted back in 2009, when according to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, prestigious Morehouse College, initiated a “get back to the legacy ” dress code that cracked down on such official Hip-Hop gear as saggin’ pants, caps, and hoodies.

The glorification of anti-intellectualism has not always been the case in Hip-Hop. Even during the pre-conscious era, Old School pioneers like The Disco 4 were rapping about the value of education on “School Beats” and Kool Moe Dee was droppin’ mad multi-syllabric words in his rhymes. Although not usually mentioned in the same breath with conscious rappers such as Mos Def or Talib Kweli, in ’96, Ras Kass released what remains possibly the hardest hitting, most in-depth “conscious” song ever, “Nature of the Threat,” on which he quoted Dr. Ishakamusa Barashango among others.

But in recent history, this has been the exception, not the rule.

Even today’s more politically conscious Hip-Hop artists rarely rise above the level of what can be called “ghetto scholarship.”

The term “ghetto scholarship,” was popularized a few years back by Dr. Wesley Muhammad, author of several books including, The Book of God. According to Dr. Muhammad, “Ghetto scholarship refers to a type of particularly poor scholarship; poor because the methodologies upon which this scholarship is based are poor” He goes on to say, “Ghetto scholarship has nothing to do with degrees or formal education, or the lack thereof…”

Of course , he was not really referring to Hip-Hop, but if the Jordans fit….

Even though, Nas gets an A for effort for rappin’ that Alexander the so-called Great blasted the nose off the Sphinx on his hit, “I Can” (even though scholars argue that it was Napoleon), I can only imagine how many kids failed their history exams for listening to a Hip-Hop CD instead of doing their own research.

Maybe rappers spent too much time “diggin’ in the crates,” instead of diggin’ in the books ?

With all the “Hip-Hop” courses being offered at universities, you would think that somebody would have started some remedial classes for rappers. Unfortunately, Professor Carlton “C-Money” Banks is more interested in teaching Skippy and Heather in his Wacka Flocka English 101 class the deeper esoteric meaning of “Round of Applause” than he is enlightening the aspiring young rappers who live in the ‘hood surrounding his campus.

This can not be separated from the overall emphasis of Hip-Hop to teach middle-aged, White people how to be hip – the low point being when Busta Rhymes taught Martha Stewart the proper way to pronounce “What-tha-deely-yo?” at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards.

There may be other reasons for the dumbing down of Hip-Hop. Miami’s Tony Muhammad, a.k.a. “the Hip-Hop educator,” believes that Hip-Hop has been dumbed down by corporations to create “an unintelligent consumer base.” He said that the same companies that control the music industry also run the liquor companies and the prison industrial complex.”

As they say, “a fool and his money are soon parted.”

Back in the day, Public Enemy said it was their overall purpose to raise up 5,000 Black leaders. This should be our responsibility now more than ever. Even today, Hip-Hop still can play a major role in educating the masses.

So, as you get ready to grab your degrees, please remember your responsibilty to use your education to raise the consciousness of the Hip-Hop Nation. To remix a line from Dr. Dubois, your task is not to make men better Hip-Hop artists, but to make Hip-Hop artists better men.

In a time when popular opinion says that in order to reach this generation, you have to communicate on fifth grade level, you must stand your ground and yell, NONSENSE!

Lupe Fiasco said on “Dumb em Down”:

“They tell me I should come down, cousin/ But I flatly refused/ I ain’t dumb down nuthin'”

Neither should you.

TRUTH Minista Paul Scott’s weekly column is “This Ain’t Hip Hop,” a column for intelligent Hip Hop headz. He can be reached at, on his website,, or on Twitter (@truthminista).