From Mozart to Mos Def

Not just anyone can vividly trace a thread weaving through a zebra’s stripes, a partly crumbling brick wall, a Jackson Pollock painting, a Mozart piano sonata, Dr. Seuss’ “Fox in Socks,” Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool,” and even a rap duet by Mos Def and Slick Rick.

CU-Boulder’s Adam Bradley can, and the students along for his literary road trip seem to relish the ride. That’s the point.

Bradley, an associate professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder, is on a mission: to unlock the students’ innate understanding of literary forms and, with luck, to unleash a desire to go to college.

During a class last fall at Denver’s Montbello High School, Bradley homed in on patterns. In his examples—Pollock, Mozart, Dr. Seuss and Brooks—patterns and breaks in patterns are intentional and artistic. After listening to “Auditorium,” by Mos Def and Slick Rick, students in CU alum Alison Corbett’s English class at Montbello split into four groups and spent a half-hour trying to formulate the most insightful analysis of the rap song.

This is “Hip Hop in the Classroom,” Bradley’s initiative to enhance diversity on the CU-Boulder campus. The program  targets “communities of students who may not necessarily consider CU an option for their education,” said Bradley, whose credentials include editing Yale University Press’ “Anthology of Rap.”

“My personal investment in this program is to make sure that we have a number of voices from different communities singing in different keys that all can be heard on this campus.”

After the success last fall, Bradley is in the classroom at Montbello again this spring.

A version of this article originally appeared in Colorado Arts & Sciences magazine. For the full story visit