The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip- Hop

by Carole Boston Weatherford ~ Art by Frank Morrison

Click image for Amazon link

Click image for Amazon link


Award winning author, Carole Boston Weatherford documents the roots, history and 4 pillars of hip-hop in 16 bars (sentences). Artist, Frank Morrison, matches her lyrical flow with vibrant illustrations that pay homage to hip hop origins and icons. The author/illustrator notes, glossary, and Hip-Hop Who’s Who also provide important insights and information to one of America’s most important art forms. This text will appeal to a range of ages. This is a head bobbing, informative read for all ages. A reminder for some that hip-hops roots are not only in the hoods of the underserved, but born deep in black culture’s jazz, funk, oral tradition, poetry and soul. For others it will be a new lesson, not only in the 4 pillars, (graffiti, break dancing, rapping/MCing and DJing), but also in its art, voice, passion and vibrancy.

Genre - non-fiction
Text Structure - picture book
Themes - history of hip hop, hip-hop culture, black artistic influences for hip-hop

Why It’s Culturally Authentic

  • This book pays homage to the roots of hip-hop which encompasses a range of black cultural influences and experiences

  • It’s lyrical text and content illuminate the significance of oral tradition, storytelling and the conversational patterns of black culture

  • It honors the ancestors, and the gifts of folktales, spirituals and poetry

  • Frank Morrison’s sumptuous illustrations juxtapose past and present with careful details that highlight the many facets of hip-hop culture

  • It highlights many elements from the Iceberg of Culture including concepts of beauty, non-verbal communication, motivation to work, body language, handling emotions, preferences for competition or cooperation, attitudes towards elders, concept of past and present.

Ideas for CLR

Set it Off (Into the Text)

Brainstorm Doodle + Roll ‘Em

  1. Seats students in groups of 4 and give each group a blank piece of paper( you can provide crayons or colored pencils, or let them use pen/pencil)

  2. Tell them that once you give them the prompt, they will have 60-90 seconds to quickly doodle as many symbols, single words, images as they can that answer the question.

  3. Once you call time, each student in the group should share/explain their doodles with their group.

  4. Then the group must discuss and come to a consensus on a sentence that synthesizes their ideas as an answer to the prompt.

  5. Use Roll Em to have 3-5 students share out their groups sentences.

Brainstorm Doodle Prompt -

What is hip-hop?/What do you know about hip-hop?

The Get Down (Through the Text)

Read Aloud - A variety of read alouds would work well for this text, and/or a combination of read alouds.

  • Teacher Read Aloud followed by Tag Reading

  • Teacher Read Aloud + Jump In Choral on the “ba bump ba bump ba boom boom buzz” (students beat box)

  • Echo Read

  • Choral Jump In Reading

Whip Around - After reading, Whip Around to respond -“What’s one thing you learned about Hip-Hop that you didn’t know before?”

Reading Response Prompt + Musical Shares + Put Somebody on Blast

Possible prompts -

Directions: Choose one of the following prompts and use a Moment of Silence to respond. Be prepared to share using musical shares afterwards.

  • How do the illustrations in the book help you to have a better understanding of hip-hop?

  • Why is it important to understand that hip-hop culture is more than “rap”?

  • Why did the author think it was important to mention people like James Brown, Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar in a book about hip-hop?

  • Why do you think hip-hop was so important to the young people in the communities in which it began?

  • After reading this book, what would you want contemporary rappers and performers to remember/know?

Put Somebody on Blast - While “Putting Somebody on Blast” usually has a negative connotation, VABBnation uses the opportunity to put a positive spin on it and VA students great thinking and effort. After Musical Shares is finished, tell students they are going to call out one of their classmates that they shared with that had a really good/interesting response to one of the prompts. A student would raise their hand and say “I shared with Kyler and he had a really good response. I am putting Kyler on blast” The student on blast then stands and reads their prompt aloud. If a student chooses to “pass” ask them to put another student “on blast” instead.

The Afterparty(Beyond the Text)

Ideas for continuing the discussion/study of hip-hop culture:

  • Graffiti Art - Divide students into groups to further research the history of hip-hop/the 4 pillars of hip-hop and then have the class create a class graffiti mural on butcher paper to demonstrate what they learned.

  • Have students write and perform their own 16 bars on what they learned from the book and/or from further research.

  • Have students choose a hip-hop icon, i.e DJ Cool Herc, Queen Latifah, Grandmaster Flash, KRS One, Salt and Pepa etc to do research. Create a multi-media presentation, or come dressed as that icon and discuss their lives/hip-hop from their perspective.

  • Compare and contrast the beginnings of hip-hop to hip hop today and find a creative way to evidence their learning.

  • Using the style of Frank Morrison, create a book/illustration that shows the evolution of hip-hop from the beginning to today.

Lydia McClanahan