Picture your former principal in a rap video. Oh, mama. It hurts, psychologically and emotionally, doesn't it? That's because, following the guidelines set by many mainstream rap videos, said principal is probably wearing a gold necklace the size of a newborn baby, performing a circus act of smoking weed, simultaneously taking a bubble bath with scantily clad women while also, somehow, driving a flashy red Jaguar.
OK, that's an exaggeration. Not all rap videos are like that. But Rappers Ain’t Sayin’ Nothin’ is indeed a far cry from the norm. The music video features Academy of Arts and Sciences Assistant Principal Joe Truss, proving that it’s possible for school principals to be in touch, talented -- maybe even hip.
With two of his former Lowell High School classmates, Carlos Teasdale and Daniel Velarde, Truss formed rap group Some of All Parts back in 2007. Now, when kids are sent out of class and walk into his office, he plays his rap for them. “And they’ll be like, ‘Is that you rapping?’” Truss laughed. “We’ll talk for fifteen or twenty minutes about rap, and then I’ll be like, ‘So. Why did you get kicked out of class? How can we get you back in?’”
His attempts to connect with students through music follows recent outcry over the number of students facing suspensions at the SFUSD. This past February, the Board of Education voted unanimously to shift their policy of suspension for “willful defiance” to a new system featuring restorative practice, positive behavior intervention, and support for teachers over a three year span. All that might sound like throwing happy, feel-good keywords into the air and seeing what happens, but according to recent reports, suspensions really are decreasing throughout the SFUSD.
“There’s too many African American students failing and getting pushed out of schools,” Truss said. “Now teachers are talking about it a lot more. Principals are talking about it and saying, ‘How do we get kids to stay in class? Maybe they’re tired of these old books. Maybe they want to read books written 5 years ago by someone who looks like them. We’re much more understanding of where kids come from and where they want to go.”
In the video for ‘Rappers Ain’t Sayin Nothin’, a wannabe rapper throws his corn row wig off his head, his leather jacket on the ground, and realizes that the messages in many rap songs are idiotic. Some of Truss’ students at the Academy appear in the video, doing the Bernie Lean together in harmony.
Most of Some of all Parts’ songs are heartwarming like that. ‘On the Block’ talks about growing up in the Tenderloin and in the Fillmore. It’s also about heartbreak, relationships, and...everything. “We wrote a song about Oscar Grant and police brutality. We have a song about working out, because that’s what we do,” Truss said. “We have a song about riding bikes, song about going green, the environment, and the economy. If it’s a social issue, it comes up in our songs.”
Truss recently got funding at the Academy for a music studio, including sweet mixers, mics, and editing software. He plans on teaching kids how to rap.
Students can connect to that. And, on the whole, it seems like there’s less of a disconnect between students and staff in the SFUSD.
A recent report by the San Francisco Board of Education revealed that student suspensions had decreased significantly, from 2,311 in 2011 to to 1,177 in 2012. African American and Latino student suspensions decreased by 50 percent that same year. These decreases even occurred before schools officially removed “willful defiance” as a reason to suspend students in San Francisco, under the new Safe and Supportive School Policy set to kick in this fall.
Who knows? Maybe some of the rowdy students are even being deferred to Assistant Principal Joe Truss, where making beats, writing rhymes, and becoming rap stars might just be the new meaning of getting sent to the principal’s office.
On September 12th, Some of All Parts will be performing in Hip Hop for Change’s “Fire from the Underground!” show in San Francisco’s Elbo Room. Allegedly, it’ll be fat, or is it phat? Ask Principal Truss. Check out more of Some of All Parts music here.