10/25/2014 9:54:08 PM

Todd Synder: Nontraditional Hip-hop Teacher

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

By Mitchel Clow '13

Todd Snyder, assistant professor of English, speaks with a West Virginian twang and doesn’t care for the term “pop culture.” He is perhaps the last person that you would expect to be teaching a class studying hip-hop as poetry, called “Rhetoric(s) of Hip-Hop Culture.”

Snyder’s class consists of students analyzing phrases and beats of songs by popular artists such as Kanye West and Jay-Z, all while maintaining the academic integrity expected of a class being taught at Siena College. Snyder teaches students about the deeper meanings of hip-hop, focusing on the intellectual arguments present in hit songs. Furthermore, he said that the skills of the artists writing the songs “lend themselves to culture.”

So how can hip-hop be justified as material fit for studying in an academic setting? Snyder explained that the definition of academia does not have to be limited to what isn’t popular and doesn’t contain controversial material. Citing stories such as Huckleberry Finn and Pride and Prejudice, Snyder stated that their contemporary popularity didn’t negate the importance of the academic arguments they presented.

Despite his Southern upbringing, Snyder finds himself in New York City at least five times a year. He shares his passion for the “Big Apple” with the students in his class, many of whom are from the city that has produced many of today’s hip-hop artists. “They grew up where hip-hop is a cultural force,” Snyder said. “This cultural force has allowed me to connect with the material and my students in ways that haven’t been possible before.”

A common mistake in reference to Snyder’s class is that he teaches his students how to dance in a hip-hop style. “We don’t rap, we don’t dance, we analyze song lyrics as if they were poems,” Snyder said. “Rhetoric’s of Hip-Hop Culture” is Snyder’s dream class to teach because he also grew up being inspired by hip-hop artists. His students have demonstrated a similar passion and the class filled up quickly.

Kimberly Hernandez ’14 registered for the class as soon as she could. “I have enjoyed watching videos of early rappers and learning about how the hip-hop culture came to be,” said Hernandez, a psychology major from Bronx, N.Y.

Even though there are many online resources at his disposal, Snyder hopes to bring his classes to New York city where he would be able to show them where hip-hop took root.

Overall, Snyder is looking to diversify the writing program at Siena College, something that Hernandez appreciated. “I wanted to take this class because it has never been offered at Siena and it seemed like fun,” Hernandez said.

Through the study of hip-hop songs, Snyder is pursuing his passion for the musical genre and sparking the intellectual curiosity of writing students without missing a beat.
 


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