Shakespeare and Hip-Hop

Learning Target OR Standards & Connections
  • NCAS Creating – Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
  • NCAS Performing (Extension Activity) –  Select, analyze, and interpret artistic work for presentation.

  • NCAS Responding – Organize and develop artistic ideas and work
  • NCAS Connecting (Extension Activity) – Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art. 
Essential Outcome(s) Level(s)
Students will…

  • Demonstrate an understanding of rhythm in poetry by creating hip-hop versions of Shakespeare’s sonnets. 
Middle School to High School
  1. Students pick (or are assigned) a Shakespeare sonnet to rap and record in Soundtrap.
  2. Students begin by using loops to create a drum-based groove. More advanced students could also add bass, piano, or other instruments. 
  3. As the groove is set up, students can see and hear that each line of sonnet should fit in one measure of music. 
  4. To fit within expected norms of hip-hop music, the students should pick two lines to be repeated at the end so that the sonnet will be performed over 16 measures. 
  5. To create interest, students could switch back and forth on each line or even get “guest artists” such as other teachers or principals to perform lines.
  6. To create additional interest, after all vocals are recorded, students should pick a measure or two to cut out to create a break. During this section, the drums and other instruments stop playing so the lyrics are emphasized.
  7. Use the split track tool (CMD+E) to split the tracks, then delete the instruments in the break. 
  8. After the recording is done, students should export to a class website for sharing and/or perform live with the tracks in class. 
Extended Learning
  1. This Ted Talk by Akala provides an in-depth look at connections between hip-hop and Shakespeare: . It begins with a quiz over quotes from Shakespeare or Hip-Hop artists and includes a rap edition of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet, Sonnet 18. 
  2. Many linguists believe that the words in Shakespeare’s sonnets that appear not to rhyme are a function of various dialects that do not reflect how Shakespeare would have spoken, even suggesting that Shakespeare would have sounded more “American” than “British” to our modern ears. Students could research this work to perform their raps in more historically accurate dialects. 
  3. Many hip-hop songs feature a verse section that is rapped trading off with a repetitive chorus that is sung. Students could compose their own choruses that would summarize the poem and create a larger musical form. 

Lesson plan submitted by Bill Manchester. Bill is a music specialist in the Bexley City Schools, a public school district in Columbus, OH, USA. He teaches a required middle school course that builds students’ performance, creativity, and critical thinking skills through music and other performing arts. He holds degrees from the Ohio State University and Belmont University teaching experience spanning from kindergarten to college in music, math, STEAM, and reading.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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