A significant advancement made in juvenile delinquency prevention and intervention research has been the increased use of culturally-specific interventions. In fact, one of the most promising methods of intervening in the lives of youth is the use of hip hop culture. While there have been several practitioners that have begun to use this innovative approach, few have appropriately evaluated their work to determine its effectiveness. To address this problem, I (and practitioners I mentor) have developed one of the most comprehensive, evidence-based hip hop interventions to date.
The intervention I am now writing my first textbook on resulted after 10 years of practice in using the model with youth and training other facilitators in applying the model. After many trails of utilizing hip hop in youth interventions a new version was adopted. Its name (i.e., Hip Hop Critical Consciousness Circles [H2C3]) and structure was decided on after significant feedback from youth and facilitators and a thorough review of the literature in this area of research. The H2C3 program is a model based on a variety of established principles and theories of youth development and overall well-being and builds on the work of the early pioneers in the use of hip hop-based intervention (e.g., De Carlo & Hockman, 2003; Watts, Abdil, & Pratt, 2002) and the work of several exceptional scholars in the field of education (e.g., Akom, 2009; Alridge, 2005; Ginwright & Cammarota, 2002; Williams, 2009). Furthermore, the model examined in this study uses an innovative and unique set of principles taken from a holistic understanding and view of Hip Hop Kulture (One, 2009), which are also consistent with the early work of Freire (1974). Indeed, it was the scholarship of Friere (1970) and the compelling analysis of One (2009) that helped to frame the central components of the H2C 3 model.
One of the main assumptions of H2C 3 model is that hip hop music has lyrical content and themes such as racial, cultural, gender and class conflict, racial, class and feminist unity and triumph, community and personal struggle, empowerment, perseverance, and triumph, as well as personal spiritual, psychological and emotional strength. Essentially, a significant part of the H2C 3 model converges knowledge gathered from and built upon the concepts and ideas of One (2009), Watts et al., (2002) and Williams (2009).
Hip Hop History and Youth Rights (H3YR). Conceptually, this component of the program is referred to as “Higher” and youth are socialized to refer to it as the “Higher Session or Activity” when making decisions about which activity or session “they want” to have that particular day. Although each group session is prescribed, in terms of the goals and objectives attached to that particular song (or sets of songs), this model gives youth the power to decide which “target behavior or idea” that they want to deal with in group that particular day, as long as every 8 -12 days (depending on the version [how many sessions] of model that is being implemented). In practice, the first (or first two) session of the model involves a discussion of the program (brief overview) and detailed dialogue about the history of hip hop culture and music specifically. The facilitator must ensure that youth understand that Higher Sessions are for the purpose of providing youth with a “higher” level of understanding and thinking in terms of what is ‘hip hop.”
It is important to note here that the historical (hip hop history), spiritual, cultural, psychological, and social components of the model are guided by the work of One (2009). The themes of anti-oppression and anti-poverty found in this text (i.e., One, 2009) are consistent with and support the social justice and human rights approach to service and practice that the social work profession has been utilizing for the past 40 years. Moreover, the justification and rationale for using hip hop as a core component of a youth intervention focused on “critical consciousness-raising” is thoroughly explained in One (2009). KRS One refers to himself as the, “…divine word-warrior [emcee] who Reaches Above Poverty skillfully,” (RAP) and refers to hip hop as, “…the Love that rescued us from oppression and ignorance,” (p. 6). Furthermore, One refers to DJs as those among us who “delivers justice.” The themes of anti-oppression and anti-poverty discussed in this model are part of why it is referred to as a critical consciousness model and are areas that youth become quasi-experts in.
The justification and rationale for using hip hop as a core component of a youth intervention focused on “critical consciousness-raising” is explained well by One (2009). This text is very critical to the model and organizations implementing H2C3 must commit to having in their library at least one copy of KRS One’s text per 8-12 youth that are participating in the H2C3 groups. During periods in between group sessions youth are encouraged, through assignments and activities, to read, not only specific sections of One (2009), but specific sections of other strategically selected textbooks (e.g., Don’t Stop Won’t Stop, Manchild in the Promise Land, Auto-biography of Malcolm X, A People’s History of the United States, from 1492 to 1992, Decoded [by Jay-Z], Course in Miracles, etc. ). Youth become thoroughly familiar with the importance of knowing history and studying, and preparing for a critical dialogue on a particular topic. Critical thinking skills and their importance are also introduced here in this first session (or two).
The human rights-based, and specifically “youth rights-based” (United Nations Assembly, 1980) framework of this model of practice and research is among its several new unique and important assumptions. This model makes the assumption that all youth have self-worth, dignity and have just as much value as I have. Many view young black males who dress a certain kind of way, and talk a certain kind of way and have body gestures that make people feel a certain kind of way (i.e., fearful, distrusting). Simply because of the way young men dress and socialize with others, some people instantly label them “thugs” and pre-judge them to be youth that should be feared. In fact, some people have such severe, negative and harmful feelings and thoughts (i.e., stereotypes) about young black males, that it causes them (e.g. police officers) to take the life of these young men and this fear is usually based on a stereotype, without real, hard evidence. H2C3 is based on a genuine appreciation, respect and love for these young men and they realize and understand this. Tyson (2003) found that using hip hop as a means of starting and maintaining a dialogue with youth is interpreted by youth as a sign of having respect, rather than disdain, for them and their world.
Spirituality and Personal Growth. Spirituality (although sometimes in the form of dogmatic religious conceptualizations of spirituality) has historically been at the forefront of many movements of oppressed people and mental health practitioners are increasingly realizing the potential utility of sprirituality. One thing youth are told is that few would argue the critical role that spirituality and spiritual strength and growth played in the abolishment of slavery movement and the civil rights movement. In his groundbreaking text, “The Gospel of Hip Hop,” One (2009) eloquently explains the powerfully spiritual message(s) that hip hop has for oppressed communities and people (e.g., our youth living in poverty) when he asserted,
To all my hustlers, thugs, and gangstas trying to survive in these mean streets, this [Hip Hop] is Your gospel! To all my Gods, Goddesses, street scholars and conscious Hiphoppas, this is Your heritage and birthright! This is the “good news” for YOU! ALL PRAISE, GLORY AND WORSHIP BE TO GOD - the Love that loved us first as Hip Hop, (p. 7).
In this quote, One states that hip hop is the “love that loved us first”, and less directly that this love came from God. Research on the spiritual and religious themes and messages are scarce, but those that do exist, nearly all have found that many rap songs have spiritual and religious connotations. An important limitation to most of this research is that these studies are mostly qualitative and there is a dearth of systematic, rigorous, quantitative assessments of the “effect size,” magnitude, or level of spirituality and religious lyrical content and principles in rap music songs. An exception to this is Tyson, Konstantine, et al., (2012), which found a moderate level of spiritual messages in a sample of 100 songs that (some) were randomly and (others were) non-randomly selected. In a currently ongoing study (Konstantine & Tyson, chapter 11, in my forthcoming book), a larger sample (N = 450) of songs is being analyzed and soon we will have estimates of the proportionate magnitude of spiritual and lyrical content and themes in rap music.
During the period of the study, there were many very popular, mainstream and underground (e.g., internet circulation and independent artists websites, local rappers in all or most major cities in this country and around the world) rap songs, with high levels and proportions of spiritual and religious representations and themes. For example, some of the rap songs that were used in this study because of the timing of their rise in the (mainstream and underground) music charts were “Jesus Walks,” (West, 2003), “only God Can Judge Me,” (2 Pac, 2004) and ‘Thug Holiday” (Trick Daddy, 2004). One of the most unique and engaging aspects of this model of youth intervention is that it can maintain its excitement conceivably forever, because there will always be new and current rap songs created to be used in the intervention. In the 6th Chapter of the text, One (2009) wrote, “Such an Overstanding is designed to build up the spiritual character and awareness of the Hiphoppa in preparation for the deeper spiritual knowledge to come.”- This program shows youth how to harness their gift to the world and gives them the courage and confidence that they can activate and use their gifts for good and success.
The H2C3 intervention consisted of 12 1-hour sessions (delivered twice a week – for 6 weeks). The first session is an orientation session in which “hip hop” will be described and discussed, allowing youth the time and space to reframe their views of hip hop. Subsequent sessions included listening to and reading “prosocial” rap lyrics. Youth are assisted in de-constructing and re-constructing these lyrics and comparing and contrasting their thoughts, feelings and experiences with those expressed in the lyrics. During each session, trained facilitators focus on the importance of the prosocial concepts including in each song. Roughly 3-4 songs are processed each session, addressing issues of social consciousness, determination, race, culture, and community pride and additional prosocial themes. There are also several activities that youth complete while not in group. Essentially, there are homework activities that require youth to engage others (such as friend s and family) in their treatment. This aspect of the model is called a ”maintenance” tool. It is used to maintain knowledge and information gained during treatment. Finally, youth also write and record music in one version of this hip hop intervention.
The evidence in my textbook will show that this intervention was able to significantly improve youth behavior. Youth in the treatment group were compared to youth in a control group using a quasi-experimental methodology. For example, the results showed that youth in the H2C3 group had lower recidivism rates and when they did re-offend the offenses were less likely to be violent offenses than those in the control group. In addition, the results from the study showed that staff had increased self-efficacy as a result of being trained to utilize this hip hop intervention. More importantly, the administration of the facility also was very happy and satisfied with the outcomes of the study and allowed staff to continue to use this innovative approach long after the study had ended. This is another aspect of the intervention that should be celebrated and highlighted. Unlike many standardized interventions, this innovation does not require constant over-site by the developer and creator. Once staff are thoroughly trained in the application of the model they can be left to themselves and remain very effective. In fact, the most important aspect of the model is that it becomes unique to each organization that uses it. Once the group of youths take ownership of the model it becomes idiosyncratic to each individual site.