Edgar Tyson, Ph.D., Social Work Professor
Edgar Tyson, Ph.D., is assistant professor of social work at the Graduate School of Social Service.
In the mid-1990s, Edgar Tyson, Ph.D., assistant professor of social work in the Graduate School of Social Service, was a social worker at a Miami residential treatment center, where he worked primarily with adolescents.
“One of the hardest things to do was to get these young men to come to group therapy to talk about their issues,” said Tyson.
Tyson recalled trying to draw out one of his clients for a few weeks without success, a 13-year-old boy who had just lost his grandmother and caretaker.
One afternoon after lunch, he observed the boy in the cafeteria singing along to “Tha Crossroads,” a rap song by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony.
“It was a song about how when our loved ones die, we will see them again at the crossroads,” Tyson said. “I remember saying to myself, 'I wonder if he realizes what this song is about.’”
At their next meeting, Tyson asked the boy if he knew what the song was about. To Tyson’s surprise, the boy said he knew precisely what it was about.
Tyson said this was his first “ah-ha” moment, when he realized that hip-hop could be tapped to reach troubled adolescents—not just for grief and abandonment issues, but for a whole host of issues.
Since then, Tyson has written and taught on the use of hip-hop in social work therapy. One of his articles, “Hip-Hop Healing: Rap Music in Grief Therapy with an African-American Adolescent Male,” is forthcoming in an edited compilation, Therapeutic Uses of Rap and Hip-Hop (Routledge, 2011).
“Some social work material given to this population is remote to them,” Tyson said. “Because it is so sanitized, it is hard to translate to them. But rap music is instantly translatable; they recognize the themes—whether it’s relationships, poverty, crime, betrayal, rage—and they can relate to them.”
In a quantitative study he did in 2002, Tyson said that such culturally specific interventions inspired critical thinking outside of therapy and led clients to write their own rap songs as a means of working through issues.
Tyson admits that many social workers don’t see the “utility” in using hip-hop therapy, but he still believes in its potential.
“I wanted to become a professor for two reasons,” he said. “One, to produce research on this approach so others can use it; and two, to be influential in teaching future social workers working with high-risk youth.”