Hip-hop may sound like useless noise to some people. But to Austin Martin, rap is a gateway to expanding vocabulary.
The Brown University junior created Rhymes with Reason. It’s an interactive vocabulary program that utilizes rap lyrics to help high schoolers prepare for college entrance exams.
His method for teaching college-level words often raises eyebrows, but Martin is unfazed.
“Hip-hop is vocabulary rich,” he asserted in an interview with NewsOne. “It’s often cast as not intellectual, but that’s not true. Rappers are using words that are found on the SATs.”
In his initial research, Martin discovered 67 of the top 100 SAT words in hip-hop lyrics. He now has a collection of more than 500 vocabulary words, which he’s introducing in classrooms.
NPR accompanied Martin to an eighth-grade class at Community Preparatory School in Providence, R.I. for a test of his website. He plays this short clip from a rapper: “So rude that your mentality is distorting your reality.”
Focusing on the word “distort,” he asks, “OK, so in this example, when they say ‘so rude that your mentality is distorting this reality,’ what do you think he means?”
The students then have no trouble understanding the meaning of “distort.”
But Martin doesn’t stop there. He challenges them to illustrate their comprehension by creating their own rap lyric with the word. Martin told NewsOne it took them less than a minute to create an original rap lyric using the word in context.
Martin, 20, explained that his program doesn’t rely on memorization, but triggering a memory of applying new vocabulary words.
He said, “What this does is bridge the gap between academics and interest in hip-hop.”
The idea is rooted in Martin’s high school days, when he wished there was a way to learn the periodic table as easily as he learned rap lyrics.
Martin recalls that he wasn’t “a five-star student”—more interested in sports and hip-hop culture than books. It wasn’t until high school that Martin began reaching the potential everyone believed he had.
“Black boys are smart, but not in a way that’s rewarded in academics. I was one of those kids,” he told NewsOne. “We have to meet them where they are.”
The Ivy Leaguer is a business major. “I’m more of an entrepreneur who’s interested in education with the goal of helping children of color get into college and succeed,” he explained. “That’s a large part of my inspiration.”
He has an ambitious agenda: “My number one goal is to make as large of an impact as possible. I want to change the face of education, open doors for more programs like this—put a creative spin on education that focuses on children of color achieving academic dreams.”
Martin tested Rhymes With Reason at five schools so far, and hundreds of teachers reach out to him. He’s in the process of developing data on his program’s effectiveness and fine-tuning the program as he moves forward.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty