Exploring the Elements

At Next Level, our approach to education and social development is based on the same cultural principles that form the foundation of hip-hop itself. The main reason for this is simply that we respect hip-hop culture and the people who created it. But we also take this approach because it works: hip-hop has advocated sophisticated educational practices—including self-directed research, creative experimentation, and intellectual collaboration—since its earliest days. These practices provide a powerful and effective framework for the kind of work we do. And an important part of that framework is the concept of “The Elements.”

Traditionally, hip-hop includes four elements: deejaying, emceeing, dance, and graffiti. Many people also recognize a fifth element: knowledge. Pioneering hip-hop educators like Afrika Bambaataa realized that linking these different creative disciplines into a larger movement—hip-hop—would strengthen the culture through creative cross-pollination.

Each element would influence all of others. Learning to deejay can make you a better b-girl; learning to make beats can make you a better MC. In other words, the whole concept of using the elements as a way of thinking about hip-hop was designed for educational purposes. And perhaps even more importantly than the specific techniques that this approach teaches, studying any of these artistic practices in this way teaches you how to educate yourself. How many hip-hop artists have created their own personalized curricula on the history and aesthetic of the art forms they practice? How many apply the knowledge they gained to other aspects of their lives? More than you might imagine.

With that in mind, we use all of the elements in our teaching (though for practical reasons graffiti is less central). And almost all of our artists—as well as many of our support staff—have personal experience with at least two hip-hop elements.

In that spirit, we will be taking some time over the next few months to explore how the principles of each of the elements contributes to the larger goals that Next Level seeks to achieve. From beatmaking and hip-hop production to dance, deejaying, and emceeing, each form contains valuable concepts, lessons and strategies that can be applied to many aspects of life. Ultimately, we believe that there is no solid distinction between teaching hip-hop for its own sake and using hip-hop to teach life skills.

Hip-hop is a life skill.

Be sure to check back here for installments of this ongoing series, and don’t forget to tell us about your own experiences with the elements on our Facebook page…