The Science

Research agenda

I conduct asset-based research that highlights ways in which the cultural practices of different peoples uniquely contribute to our understanding of human abilities. Scientific knowledge of such contributions potentially enable us to change the prevailing discourse regarding education and culture, shifting it away from deficit and dominance narratives of certain facets of humanity, toward a narrative of collective human progress—a necessary step in building a more socially just, sustainable, and equitable society. My specific research focus is on learning and expertise in lyricism, which I define as the practice of communicating ideas through the composition and performance of song lyrics. Lyricism is an age-old educational technology involving the organization of human language (including music) for the transmission and preservation of human knowledge or experience. 

Although lyricism was once central to the education of perhaps all cultures, in our present educational and scientific landscapes, the educative or developmental benefits that may result from attending to lyricism more deeply remain largely unexplored. Accordingly, I see the first phase of my research agenda as cultivating an awareness and appreciation for lyricism as an area of scientific inquiry and educational significance. My artistic and scientific endeavors play complementary roles in communicating the value of lyricism as an interdisciplinary education research field in our present era. For example, my scientific articles on:

are components in a larger whole that includes my musical volumes of The Kings' Lessons, which contextualize the research in the most authentic way possiblei.e., embedding it in the knowledge forms of the Hip Hop Kulture from which it is derived

I provide a model of lyricism as an interdisciplinary scientific discipline below:


Lyricism exists at the intersection of music, language, and cognition as indicated by the vertices of the center triangle above. In my research and experiences as a Hip Hop Kultural practitioner (specifically, a MC), I examine the affordances of using and attending to lyricism in relation to these vertices and areas of broader educational concern to which each vertex is connected. Essentially, I am guided by the question(s): What/How can the practice and study of lyricism contribute to our understanding and/or optimization of: (1) cognitive function and metacognitive habits; (2) language learning and learning through language; (3) our social/cultural and environmental bonds?


Neurological Adaptation in Expert Rappers

Expert lyricists were compared to demographically similar non-lyricists in their judgment of non-word sequences in terms of their level of rhyme congruence (see key below) using EEG. 

Full: vowels match; consonants match

Half: vowels match; consonants differ, with matched voicing (favorable) , or different voicing (unfavorable, circled)

Non: vowels differ; consonants differ

The figure above shows EEG responses of lyricists and non-lyricists to full-rhyme, unfavorable half-rhyme (different voicing) and non-rhyme. Non-lyricists processed all conditions as distinct at electrodes above brain regions specializing in language structure, but processed conditions as non-distinct for regions specializing in music structure. By contrast, lyricists processed full-rhyme and unfavorable half-rhyme similarly in the left hemisphere, but distinct from non-rhyme, while in the right hemisphere, they processed non-rhyme and unsatisfactory half-rhyme similarly but distinct from full-rhyme. 

Findings suggest that lyricists have neuroplastically adapted to a "musico-linguistic" syntax for the integration of music and language elements. In this proposed adaptation, words are processed in the left-hemisphere as either rhyme or non-rhyme, based on whether words have identical vowels; thus, full- and half-rhymes are treated as the same. Final consonants for full- and half-rhymes are treated as a separate grammatical marker that determines whether the word sequence is musically appropriate, which is processed in the right-hemisphere, where both non-rhymes and unfavorable half-rhymes are treated as the same, namely, as inappropriate conclusions to the established rhyme phrase structure.