Diagram of the Rhymes with Reason method for teaching vocabulary through music. Graphic from Rhymes with Reason website.

Diagram of the Rhymes with Reason method for teaching vocabulary through music. Graphic from Rhymes with Reason website.

Students these days are studying to the beat of Beyoncé, Drake and Kendrick Lamar — not just for background music. Rhymes with Reason is using popular music to teach students literacy skills through an online platform and ultimately create equity in education.

The company founder and CEO, Austin Martin explained that focusing on literacy education at an early age can help close the word gap and the language gap that stratifies social classes in society.

“This is connected to education it’s connected to workforce development it’s connected to financial literacy — all of these things that kind of equate to upward social mobility in America,” Martin said.

The idea started in 2014 during his freshman year at Brown University and in his early research, he found that of the top 100 words that appeared on the SAT — 67 of them showed up in popular, hip-hop songs.

The San Diego-native developed the online platform throughout his undergraduate career and ultimately brought Rhymes with Reason to market in 2017.

The way it works is the Rhymes with Reason team customizes each curriculum, or “playlist,” to meet the needs of the students and the partner organization. From there, they find vocabulary related to a topic, such as college prep words, and select the most accurate usage in popular lyrics by relevant artists that students are already listening to.

Since the company’s launch, Martin has been named a 2019 Echoing Green Fellow for social innovation and in 2020 he was named to Forbes 30 Under 30 list of top entrepreneurs in the education category.

The small business has collaborated with local groups like The Blue Heart Foundation, a nonprofit that offers opportunities to boys in South East San Diego, and even Chance The Rapper’s foundation Socialworks, to create The Chicago Learning Playlist for students.

Expanding Literacy

Recently, Rhymes with Reason collaborated with local Black-Owned accelerator and investment firm Founder’s First Capital Partners to create a “CEO Playlist” that highlights terms related to entrepreneurship.

“Our goal really is to change lives,” Martin said. “Of course we want to change educational outcomes, but we also want to make it so that even for students who don’t go to college, ‘hey, let’s learn some terminology that is going to help you get a job.’ I want to give you a resource that is going to improve the quality of your life and increase your chances of success in America.”

Martin explained that the platform seeks to expand student’s literacy in more ways than one, including financial literacy.

Since 2017, Rhymes with Reason has worked with more than 150 schools across the country and Martin said they have big plans to work with 60 new schools in 2021.

When the pandemic shifted schools online, Martin said he’s seen an increased demand in people looking for alternative education tools like his platform to keep students engaged. By encouraging students to expand their vocabulary with something they love, Martin believes this is one way he can create a social change in how we deliver education.