Mike Hawkins: The Remix Renaissance

Filed by Mike Hawkins


10.23.07 | Many of our students have been marketed and sold a grand idea of whom they should be. One of the fastest and most effective ways these falsehoods and misrepresentations reach our students is through the mass media (music and videos).  Hip-Hop and R&B (images, expressions, style, and attitude) dominate the definition of our urban youth.


I have come to understand that we are at a point in history where the consumer has infiltrated the gatekeepers world of mass media.  We have the power to participate in the media, to react to the media, to create the media, to be the media.  With this newfound power our youth don’t have to simply be fed what the media presents, they can join in the process, provide a broader more relevant perspective, and define themselves in new, powerful ways.  This idea of redefinition would influence the birth of a new youth renaissance.

iRemix America Records (Multi-Media Arts Class) 

I teach a multi-media arts class at the North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School in Chicago.  The class is taught during the school day, which provides all 6th grade students at the school the opportunity to participate in the Digital Youth Network. This post describes my work with students last year.

In our initial weeks the students were surveyed about favorite songs, videos, and television shows.  We took a detailed and critical look at the media that they were consuming. Students analyzed lyrics, as well explored imagery and stereotypes present throughout the mass media.  The students noticed recurring themes and techniques that had shaped their ideas of cool, manhood, beauty, and success.  After these deconstruction sessions the students engaged in journal/blog responses.  These responses were shared out loud with the class, and used as creative foundation for song material.

Next, we had a screening of a PBS Frontline Special, Merchants of Cool, on under the radar youth marketing.

The presentation showed the students how what Frontline called, “The Big Media 5,” controls what we buy, and consequently shapes our identity and perceptions of others. When the video began to focus on a marketer’s idea of what/who a teenage girl is, the young women in the class were particularly engaged with questions.  They saw little accurate reflections of themselves in the media’s characterization, and took issue with the reaction of many of the boys in the class.  In response, I prompted the class with a journal entry titled: “Respect our Ladies!”

The girls presented some powerful responses to the class: some with disappointment, some with anger, and others with a desire to be considered.  The ladies expressed that they wanted to record what they had written. One group that I had sent to the studio would use their journal entries as inspiration and content for an all girl collaboration.

Definition: Jappin’ -to perform well or at a high level, with the intent of inspiring group and or self-empowerment.

Jappin is a remix that, (re) presents young women on a mission: to be heard, to be seen, to be respected at all causes. This was a direct challenge to their male peers and negative imagery of women in the media, typified through the song’s chorus:  “Respect ME, because I respect YOU. Without ME what would YOU do?”

Jappin’ breaks down walls, laughs in the faces of doubters, while proudly proclaiming “I am woman. Hear me Rap and RESPECT ME WHILE I’M DOING IT!”


It is our belief that students who are able to critically deconstruct media, have developed agency for defining themselves and their world, and are empowered with the necessary technical skills, will transform/remix misrepresentations with a new declaration of identity.

In the context of the record label the students are able to criticize the media that they are presented with, reflect through journal activities, produce their own media, and in turn, strengthen their ideas of self while presenting more balanced honest representations to the world.

Empowering students to act as active producers in this growing participatory culture is contingent on supporting their growth as responsible, informed and discerning consumers of media. We have used the classroom as a focused space to allow students to develop habits of reflection and criticism, while strengthening the technical fluency that will allow them to be the equal participants in a changing landscape.

Listen to the song, view the music video and other Female Stunnaz materials here.

Editor’s Note: See also here and here for more discussion of the Digital Youth Network.




Picture of Elizabeth Whittaker
Elizabeth Whittaker


Awesome work you’re doing, Mike.  Getting our youth to think about the images they’re bombarded with is critical…only then can they challenge them…only then can they begin to envision themselves and their communities as they should be…only then will they be inspired to master the skills necessary to permanently change those images for themselves, and the world at-large. 

What are your biggest challenges?


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