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.