Brown University Alum Teaches Vocab through Hip-Hop

01/12/2018 09:05 am ET Updated Jan 12, 2018

“I’m trying to bring the most cutting edge, innovative stuff to places that don’t have as much access to it.” Such is the mission of Austin Martin, founder and CEO of Rhymes with Reason, an online interactive educational platform that allows users to study vocabulary words through hip-hop lyrics. Rhymes with Reason uses audio clips, games, and quizzes to help kids decipher word meanings through context clues. Students of all ages can step up their game with general vocabulary, history, and soon SAT/ACT-specific vocab with over 500 songs ranging from the 90’s ‘til now, edited for both language and age-appropriate lyrical content.

Martin is a recent graduate of Brown University with a degree in Business, Entrepreneurship and Organizations. His Ivy League alma mater’s emphasis on free thinking and pushing the envelope became defining factors of Rhymes with Reason. While some may not see the value of using hip-hop for educational purposes Martin believes that meeting students where they are can make academic content stick, especially for those who aren’t as engaged in the classroom. “Hip-hop culture has the attention of the hardest kids to reach in the palm of its hand. We need to look over there and ask, how can we incorporate what hip-hop has to offer and tie that to education?”

Martin fought a strong case of disinterest during high school, describing his younger self as a “creatively-brained kid bouncing off the walls” who would rather play sports or get lost in his headphones than hit the books. “I struggled because for me, those things were a priority over what I was supposed to be studying. Eventually, I caught a flow with school and gained confidence once I started doing well.” The social entrepreneur explained that noticing the elevated vocabulary and political references in lyrics from his favorite artists, like Lupe Fiasco, amplified his desire to learn and ultimately made all the difference.

Rhymes with Reason founder Austin Martin (right) posing with rapper Big Sean after presenting at the 2017 internationally acc
RHYMES WITH REASON / INSTAGRAM
Rhymes with Reason founder Austin Martin (right) posing with rapper Big Sean after presenting at the 2017 internationally acclaimed WE Day conference

Martin’s innovative work aligns closely with a larger movement known as Hip-Hop Education, made popular in recent years by the work of urban scholars such as Dr. Chris Emdin, author of the New York Times Best Seller, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… And the Rest of Y’all Too. The rich legacy of making education more interesting and equitable through cultural relevance is in response to teaching methods that miss the mark for many students of color.

Much like the scholarly veterans of Hip-Hop Education, Martin understands that culturally inclusive content has the power to positively impact academic outcomes for youth of color and create a powerful alternative to the problem-based narratives imposed on their intellectual ability. This conviction was strengthened while Martin reluctantly agreed to take Rhymes with Reason to an after-school program for elementary school students in inner-city Oakland. He originally feared that the content might be tough for the young ones, but to his surprise, they were not only able to correctly answer questions but also report back word meanings in their proper context. The eye-opening experience reminded Martin of a pervasive problem in education:

As education practitioners it’s easy for us to fall into the trap of underestimating students who struggle especially those who struggle on standardized tests and we end up giving them remedial education rather than challenging them with exciting and innovative curriculum. When we set limits on youth because of statistics, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where they actually regress to the low level that they've been prescribed.

Martin and a growing number of scholars believe in the power of hip-hop to ignite a fire for academic success. "Hip-hop culture makes everything cool, and when it’s authentically represented — not something that’s prepackaged or culturally appropriated — it works. That’s why Rhymes with Reason uses the real artists that kids are listening to outside the classroom.”

Rhymes with Reason founder Austin Martin (right) co-presenting his organization with Harvard Master’s candidate Jordan Jerome
RHYMES WITH REASON / FACEBOOK
Rhymes with Reason founder Austin Martin (right) co-presenting his organization with Harvard Master’s candidate Jordan Jerome Harrison (left) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

Rhymes with Reason offers packages for purchase starting as low as $20 for individuals and $120 per classroom set. Martin is also looking to partner with school districts, nonprofits, and other educational advocates and organizations. For more information, be sure to contact withreasoneducation@gmail.com or visit the Rhymes with Reason website.

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