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Lesson 2: Learning “Higher”

Aim: How do we find rhythm in words to create hip hop songs?
Summary: Students explore lyrics and message as they learn “Higher,” and explore ways to create their own hip hop songs.
Materials: Musical Explorers digital resources, Musical Explorers Student Guide
Standards: National 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11
Vocabulary: cypher, freestyle, graffiti, message

“Higher” is an original song by Soul Science Lab. The song is a celebration of life and community, acknowledging the past with references to musical greats such as Fela Kuti, Bob Marley, and Paul Robeson. The song also uses elements of African drumming and afrobeat, echoing the commitment of Chen Lo and Asanté to bring their origins into hip hop.

Soul Science Lab Teaches “Higher”

“Higher” Demonstration

Hip Hop duo Soul Science Lab teaches “Higher.”

Sing “Higher”

  • Listen to “Higher,” Track 32.
  • Sing along to the hook of “Higher,” using Track 33.
  • Like many hip hop songs, the lyrics of “Higher” have a message—something that the musicians want you to learn.
    • What do you think the message of the song is?
    • Which lyrics communicate that message?


We’ve come to take you higher
We’ve come to take you higher
We’ve come to take you higher
Soul Science takes you higher

Now move to the left, to the left, to the left, to the left
Now move to the right, to the right,
Stand up for your rights
Now move to the left, to the left, to the left, to the left
Now move to the right, to the right
Don’t give up the fight

Who got the power (Yeah yeah)
You got the power (Yeah yeah)
We got the power (Yeah yeah)
This is the hour (Yeah yeah)
I hear the whispers (Yeah yeah)
Of my ancestors (Yeah yeah)
We can’t be denied (Yeah yeah)
’Cuz God will provide (Yeah yeah)
I thought I told you that we come to free these minds
Too many people drop the ball for dollar signs
My music is the scripture of the future times
We resurrect the dead and give sight to the blind

Chen Lo:
The time is now they told me it would never come
Now count yourself a member of the chosen ones
My baba told me freedom is a state of mind,
I’m flying high, I’ll see you on the other side
Let’s go to a higher vibration, elevating to a permanent vacation
On deck, we’re escaping, palace in an undisclosed location
Celebrating like we’re caught in the rapture,
Living right now like it’s life hereafter
Gotta bring along your visa and your passport,
Higher heights though will require your life force


Explore MCing in “Higher”

  • In the song “Higher,” the hook contains lyrics where Asanté and Chen Lo are MCing, instructing the listeners to perform movements during the song. MCs often do this during live performances, encouraging the audience to move to the music. The MC also sometimes will call out a phrase, instructing the audience to respond with certain lyrics.
  • Using the hip hop rhythm track, Track 34, demonstrate the role of the MC using the examples below.
  • Ask for student volunteers to take on the role of MC. Once they have tried the examples below, either ask them to come up with their own personal call and response or ask them to call out instructions on ways for the class to dance to the beat. Try prompts related to different themes (e.g., names, food, sports).

MC Examples

MC: When I say “hip,” you say “hop.” Hip!
Class: Hop!
MC: Hip!
Class: Hop!

MC: When I say “up,” you say “down.” Up!
Class: Down!
MC: Up!
Class: Down!

MC: When I say “don’t,” you say “stop.” Don’t!
Class: Stop!
MC: Don’t!
Class: Stop!

Explore MCing—Get Your Message Heard

Teaching artist Shanna Whitney shows how to use simple phrases to explore the hip hop element MCing.

Creative Extension

Collective Freestyle

  • In hip hop, the meaning of the term freestyle has evolved over time. Originally, a freestyle was a verse that was literally “free of style”—it had no particular structure, but was just an opportunity to show off one’s lyrical skill. Today, it is most often defined as an improvisational verse performed on the spot by an artist. Hip hop artists can often refer to people and things in their immediate surroundings as they are creating their freestyle.
  • Select a broad topic that students can generate multiple ideas about, (e.g., favorite foods).
  • You can either listen to the hip hop rhythm track, Track 34, or have the class create a rhythm with body percussion using the activity outlined in Lesson 1.
  • Have each student speak a word in rhythm, generating a list of the terms that students have created.
  • With the unifying theme in mind, have students contribute to creating a simple hook to go with the beat through group brainstorming. The hook can be a few words as in “Hip Hop Hooray,” or a phrase like, “We’re gonna take you higher.”
  • Have students create a short freestyle verse to be performed either in groups or individually. It does not need to have any particular form or even rhyme.
  • Have students form a cypher, which is a collective circle that is commonly formed during a freestyle to promote community around the artist who is performing. Perform the new verses with the hook.
  • For an added challenge, allow individual students to come up with verses on the spot, keeping the same beat. The hook that the class created can be performed as students switch off to perform their verses.
Creative Extension

Create Your Own Graffiti Artwork

  • Graffiti has an important role in the culture of hip hop. It started as a highly stylized form of decorative writing that quickly expanded into broader styles of decorative arts. Although sometimes derided as vandalism, artists can use graffiti to communicate messages that they feel are important for their communities to know. One of the original elements of hip hop, graffiti calls for social change just as hip hop lyrics do.
  • Using Create Your Own Graffiti Artwork (PDF), have your students create their own murals with a message that they would like to impart to their communities.
  • Use the following prompts to give your students some inspiration:
    • Imagine the possibilities of the best version of your community.
    • What would it look like?
    • How would you feel if your community got to that place?
  • With the messages gathered in the class discussion, you can also create one large class mural.

It’s Elemental—Message through Musical Form

Music educator Margaret Jenks teaches how to write your own hook and where the inspiration can come from in this lesson for students in grades 3–5.

Literacy Extension

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and When the Beat Was Born

The text to the classic children’s book Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and Jim Archabault makes great lyrics for a hip hop song. Using either the basic drumbeat, Track 30, or the hip hop rhythm track, Track 34, you can rap the text of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, with the students joining in on the hook: “Chicka chicka boom boom. Will there be enough room?” Students who are at the appropriate reading level can stand in a circle, or cypher, and pass the book around, with each student rapping a different page, and all students joining in the hook.

When the Beat Was Born by Laban Carrick Hill is the true story of DJ Kool Herc, who is credited with creating hip hop in the 1970s. It tells the story of how he came to be a DJ, how kids stopped fighting in order to break dance, and how hip hop was born.

Book cover for "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" depicting a tree

Book cover for "When the Beat Was Born" depicting a deejay spinning a record

Musical Word Wall

Review the word graffiti, and add the words cypher, freestyle, and message to the Musical Word Wall.

Don't Forget

Image Credits

“A Little Help From Our Friends,” Robert Hieronimus 1996, photo by Baltimore Heritage.

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