Hoyas, Meet Hova: Georgetown Class Gets Jay-Z as a Surprise Guest Speaker

The rapper called in to Professor Michael Eric Dyson’s Jay-Z-focused sociology class to discuss his life and work.
Image via Adam J. Sablich/Shutterstock.

Georgetown students who made it into school early Monday morning for the last SOCI-124
class of the semester were rewarded with an hour-long phone call from a very special
guest speaker:
Jay-Z. Student newspaper The Hoya
reported
that the rapper and entrepreneur called the class from Europe, where he’s
accompanying his wife,
Beyoncé, on her sold-out Mrs. Carter tour.

Granted, this wasn’t any old sociology class. Professor
Michael Eric Dyson, an academic who’s written books about figures from Malcolm X and Bill Cosby to Marvin
Gaye and Tupac Shakur, was wrapping up Sociology of Hip Hop: Jay-Z, a class exploring
the meaning of the artist’s life and work, and his role in black culture. “He’s a
friend of mine, so teaching this class on him was an exercise in both the critical
engagement with a towering icon and an attempt to understand the nature of his craft
and his appeal in the world,” Dyson said in a phone interview.

The class of 156 students had already spoken with rappers Common, Lupe Fiasco, and
J. Cole, but none of the students expected a call from the subject of so much of critical
thinking over the semester. “They were stunned,” Dyson said. He fielded a few questions
to Jay-Z during the phone call but mostly let the artist do the talking. Jay, whose
real name is Shawn Carter, discussed hip-hop and art as a gift of discovery, and how
humans should exercise their abilities to explore their own identities through art.
He also covered religion and its often negative impact on the world, as well as the
positive impact of spirituality. “He was very affable, insightful, and talkative,
and he didn’t hold back,” said Dyson.

The Jay-Z-themed class made
headlines

when it was first offered in 2011, winning both praise and
criticism for its discussion
of the rapper’s canon. “It speaks volumes that we engage in the
beat of Carter’s pseudo-music
while we scrounge to find serious academic offerings on
Beethoven and Liszt,” wrote
one student in an editorial in
The Hoya.

Dyson, who said he had to turn away 100 students this year because the class was oversubscribed,
thinks the artist is a worthy subject for academic debate. “He’s a smart man, he’s
very thoughtful and reflective, and in this case the students got a chance to see
that behind the fame and the global iconic status is a living, thinking human being
who’s quite reflective on the issues that are important to a lot of people.” For students
who agree, Dyson will be offering the class again in the fall.

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