That’s one way to describe the collaborative composition Kwantlen Polytechnic University students Calvin Tiu and Hanrick (Rick) Kumar submitted for their third-year children’s literature class.
So original was their work – an eight-track album of rap songs called The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of, a music video and a conventional written essay – that their instructor, Dr. Sue Ann Cairns, hadn’t seen anything remotely like it in more than three decades of teaching.
“As I teach in a relatively traditional department, this customized multimodal project that would blend music, video and, of course, writing, was a new learning venture for me,” says Cairns, who gave the work top marks.
Tiu and Kumar’s project explored children’s literature, including the classics Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Giving Tree and Charlotte’s Web, and contemporary young adult novels such as What I Saw and How I Lied, Skim and Tweaked, the latter about drug addiction and set in Vancouver.
Tiu and Kumar used rap to reinterpret the books, and in the end delivered a final submission that, according to Cairns, was alternately “playful, serious and poignant.” Their work has just been published in the University of Texas’s online journal, TheJUMP: The Journal for Undergraduate Multimedia Projects.
“They helped me and members of our class get inside the texts we were studying in fresh, creative ways,” Cairns says.
Tiu and Kumar, both 21, are already accomplished rappers who go by the names of Kalvonix and Big Love, respectively. Though rap is sometimes fraught with controversy for its use of explicit and sometimes suggestive lyrics, they wanted to showcase rap as a thoughtful form of art.
“We’re always looking for different ways to branch out and this was an opportunity to prove that rap doesn’t always have to be so negative,” says Tiu.
Adds Kumar: “One of the reasons we wanted to do this project was to give rap a new voice.”
Tiu has been rapping for nine years and has produced more than 20 solo albums using just his laptop, a studio microphone and recording software. He performed for a crowd of 12,000 at the Yaletown Olympic venue during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and in Surrey at the Sapphire Gala in support of the Child Development Foundation of B.C.
Kumar has been a creative writer since childhood, making the transition into rapping in 2009. He has released one solo album and two collaborative pieces. He is also an avid writer of slam poetry and spoken word, some of which have been published in The Runner, KPU’s non-profit newspaper.
Together, the English majors recently created a seminar for high school and university students on the benefits of self-expression through rap, poetry and spoken word titled “Frontier Poetics.”