There’s no arguing the effect hip-hop has had on American pop culture. The rapid-fire delivery and vivid images rappers have painted throughout the decades owe its success to verbal artists whose use of intricate wordplay continues to captivate listeners across the globe.
Houston itself is no stranger to being a major player on the rap stage, with legendary artists Scarface, the late Fat Pat, Paul Wall and Bun B. now sharing the spotlight with up-and-coming artists like Tobe Ngwigue, G.T. Garza and Travis Scott.
In another effort to showcase how hip-hop’s intellectual prowess can shape education, the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs has teamed up with Houston-based literacy program Reading With A Rapper to address low literacy rates in Texas through its #TurnTexasYellow” campaign.
The goal for RWAR is to meet the student where they are when it comes to how they learn, MOCA Director Necole Irvin said. “RWAR presents new ways to engage students so that they enjoy learning. Students that undergo the RWAR program substantially strengthen their literacy skills and become more confident and active readers and writers.”
Along with MOCA, RWAR will also partner with HTV, Houston ISDTV and Houston Community College TV. The partnership was announced at a press conference at city hall on Feb. 6. RWAR also seeks to install pilot programs across the state within the next three to five years.
"This partnership with RAWR will enhance our ability to continue making a difference in literacy through the arts,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said during the press conference. “This work is significant because low literacy affects the entire family and every area of the economy.”
“We can make systemic changes and need organizations like this creatively impacting our youth while lifting up local musicians,” Turner said.
Irvin said MOCA has consistently advocated for individual artists and creatives. “Last year we increased that advocacy focus within music, creating the Houston Music Advisory Board and Music Directory,” she said.
“This work has been led by Gracie Chavez, our music and cultural tourism officer, who was instrumental in achieving this partnership between MOCA and RWAR. Partnering with RWAR aligns with the city’s literacy work and the music community’s priority of support for local musicians,” Irwin said.
The RWAR curriculum is fee-based. The organization provides training to the school instructors and seek to assist schools via partnerships, like the one with CM Thomas, to manage costs, she said.
RWAR CEO and co-founder Jarren Small said MOCA has given his organization a platform to showcase their initiative which in turn amplified their efforts. “There will be several collaborations between RWAR and MOCA between now and January 2024,” he said.
Seven HISD schools and one Alief ISD school were chosen to participate in the #TurnTexasYellow” campaign. “The selected schools either expressed a need to us or were identified by our recruiters. Additionally, through our collaboration with city officials, such as Council Member Tiffany Thomas, we provided grants and assistance to two schools in her district to participate in the program,” Small said.
Each campus that has the RWAR program will host a class either during or after school, two to three days a week for eight weeks. During this class, the students will gain an understanding of English language arts metrics such as figurative language and sentence structure by studying a particular artist's music catalog.
“This will enable them to construct their own passages and develop their reading and writing abilities with greater confidence,” Small said.