Rap Workshops: What I Learned

Last week came the arrival of a series of workshops arranged earlier this year. With a break in play now, I took some time to reflect on how it went and what I learned.

Where I was

When I started out rapping seriously in 2019 I knew that this wasn’t going to be a flash in the pan. I’d wanted to be a musician for all my life but I didn’t want to do it half-heartedly. I was tired of living a life where I was too scared to try new things or take risks through a fear of failure or worrying about what other people might say. I said to myself I’d go all in, explore every avenue and make it about learning, discovery and enjoyment.

When the opportunity came up to run some workshops for different audiences it seemed like another great opportunity to expand my horizons and grow. I have an NVQ Level 3 in Training & Education but I’ve not used it loads until now and I’d never taught children. It was a little daunting but I like kids and it seemed a good fit to bring together some of the skills I’ve acquired.

I wanted the workshops to be educational but fun, with me introducing myself, performing a couple of tracks, getting the kids writing and giving them a chance to perform their own work.

One of the slides I used

I started researching and it’s a good job I had time as there were several hurdles I had to overcome. Working with children in schools was a new ballgame for me and I had to arrange professional indemnity insurance as well as registering for DBS and writing a risk assessment for my sessions. All things I hadn’t really considered when I said yes, they gave me a little bit of a headache but ultimately bulked up my professional credentials and helped me to plan.

With about 3 weeks to go I started working on a slide deck which began to consume me. I thought, overthought and thought some more and I ended up making 26 slides covering all sorts of subjects.

With only a few days to go, the panic was setting in. I was starting to feel physical anxiety and it was on my mind all the time. What if it’s boring? What if the kids don’t engage? What if I mess up? Do I have enough slides? Too many? Are they good enough? Is my lesson plan good or useless? Am I a fraud? What is the meaning of life? Is cauliflower traditional?

I started googling to try and find other rappers who are running workshops or doing a similar thing and I found Rob Bradley at The Rap School. I messaged him on the off-chance asking if I could pick his brains. To my delight he responded and we arranged a video chat where I bombarded him with confused questions.

Rob told me he recognised all my questions from when he was starting out, reassured me and gave me some priceless tips. He told me to make it all about the students and to get them doing the legwork, he gave me examples of exercises etc. and in one conversation it all became massively less daunting and much more simplified. I decided to ditch most of the slides I’d spent so long preparing and to just go in with 6 basic slides.

One of the slides I didn’t use

Another tip that Rob gave me was that I could plan the session as much as I like, but it will probably all go out the window within 5 minutes anyway. He was bang on, as within minutes of starting my first session I was now the one being bombarded – Am I famous? Have I been on TV? Do I like Little Mix? How many subscribers have I got on Youtube? What team do I support? Do I shop at Wilko?

Having got used to the endemic apathy of adult life I’d forgotten how excitable and inquisitive kids can be, it was refreshing to see their faces light up as they took a genuine interest, listening attentively to my lyrics and asking follow-up questions. I rattled quickly through my 6 slides, talked about the benefits of creativity and the need to respect and support each other, then got them writing.

Believe and you will achieve

I said they could write about whatever they wanted and gave some ideas, all of them wrote about their love for their families or their dogs. I went round 121 giving some tips and at the end I asked if anyone wanted to come up and share their raps and most of them did. It was amazing seeing young people rapping their own rhymes to my beats and the work they produced so quickly was impressive.

Another lesson from Rob came to mind as when I spoke to him I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough to fill 60 or 90 minutes, but he rightly told me that I’d probably find the time would fly.

With that first successful session under my belt I had the wind in my sails. My anxiety had subsided and been replaced with excitement. I refined the timings and made some notes about my own spiel, ready for the next five.

Sharing my art

Every session I ran I learned something new from the feedback I was given or the reaction of the kids, and I also saw how different groups can be. In one session at Headingley with a group of Year 2 children it was party time and they all had a dance-off during my performance of Stick Around, in the next session I said “you can get up and dance if you like” and they all looked at me like I’d stolen their birthday presents.

I’m generally a stickler for timings and I can get testy when things start to go off-plan, it’s something I’ve tried to improve and it ties in with trying to live more in the moment rather than constantly scanning the future or ruminating about the past. Doing these workshops really helped me with that as I quickly realised I was going to have to go with the flow, every session was different and full of different characters who had an influence on the flow. I enjoyed having the opportunity to adapt and follow the energy.

The kids all had different but defined personalities and I recognised them all from my own school days. The quiet shy ones who need a bit of coaxing, the attention seeking ones who want to disrupt you, the cool ones who don’t want to participate, the curious ones who want to know everything, the ones who can’t/won’t pay attention, the lads who think it’s absolutely hilarious to talk about poo all the time… (it was quite funny the first 20-30 times)

Opening up

The more sessions I did, the more my own confidence grew. Each one had its own challenges and required a lot of focus and concentration to constantly make sure everyone was ok, and they each provided plenty of magic moments. Not least the smiles on the faces of the performers and their friends as they delivered some killer bars to a supportive audience.

These girls had flow

I’m looking forward to going back to Art Camp in the summer and I know I’ll do more of these workshops in the future. With all the slides I didn’t use I’ve got enough for a full programme! Where it’ll take me next I’m not sure, but I know that if I keep doing what I’m doing and levelling up slowly but surely more doors will open. My enthusiasm never wanes, my resilience is sky high and the fulfilment I get from pursuing something I never really thought was possible is addictive.

I got loads of great feedback about the sessions which a lot of the kids said was their favourite part of the day and there were great vibes all round.

Looking back on the experience as a whole I’m hugely satisfied with how it all panned out. I went in thinking that I’d be teaching, but it turned out that I was being taught.

Wise words

Special thanks to Kat & Paul at Art Camp UK, Saira at West Bowling Centre, Rob from The Rap School, Ros Beeson and Refugee Action and all the volunteers and support staff that I met at each venue who all helped me along. See you soon.

Preaching to the converted

If you’re involved with an educational institute or have ideas to collaborate on workshops, music or art programmes etc. please don’t hesitate to get in touch

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