‘The Elements of Style’ reinvented as rap video by Columbia J-school students

Jake Heller decided a few months ago to “do for journalism nerds what the Keynes vs. Hayek video did for econ nerds, by transforming ‘The Elements of Style’ into a rap video.” He told me about the process by email (below), but first here’s the result:




The Elements of Style from Jake Heller on Vimeo.

Julie Moos: How did you come up with the idea for the video?

Jake Heller: Every year, Columbia Journalism School holds an end-of-semester party called Lucille’s Ball, where students roast the faculty and make light of all the hard work we put in over the semester. I knew that I wanted to make a video, but didn’t know what the video would be. Then, a couple of months ago, it struck me that I could try to do for journalism nerds what the Keynes vs. Hayek video did for econ nerds, by transforming “The Elements of Style” into a rap video. The book is required reading for the whole class, so I figured it would be something that everyone could enjoy. But, basically, I just ripped off the Keynes vs. Hayek idea.

How many people worked on it?

Four of us (with a cameo by our Assistant Dean of Students, Melanie Huff). I came up with the idea months ago, then got Ben Teitelbaum on board. We knew that we were going to produce the video for Lucille’s Ball, so left it alone for a while and continued with our school work. Once we had written the rap, we recruited Nathan Vickers to shoot and Elaisha Stokes to edit.

How long did it take to write the rap?

Ben and I stayed back after class two weeks ago and wrote it in about an hour. Ben had actually already written the chorus on the subway a couple of days earlier, but we wrote everything else that night.

How long did it take to shoot and edit?

We shot and edited the entire video in two days: six hours of shooting last Wednesday, and probably 10 hours of editing last Thursday.

Are you all journalism students (what years)?

We’re all journalism students in the M.S. program at Columbia’s Journalism School. It’s a one-year Master’s program, so we’re all in our first (and last) year. We’re also all in the Broadcast concentration, though we like to write as well.

Have you — will you — produce any other videos?

We’re all in Broadcast, so we have produced other videos throughout the year. (Here are our Vimeo pages: Ben, Nathan, Elaisha, me). Prior to school, Nathan worked at a local television station in Missouri, Elaisha produced nature documentaries for the Royal Ontario Museum, and I was the News Producer at my university’s television station. I also directed a short film in my senior year, which won the local film festival we entered. Ben, meanwhile, had acted in movies, but had never picked up a camera before this year. None of us had ever made a rap video before.

Our student government has also been producing weekly “minutes” videos, which we have all been involved in. You can read about those here.

As for the future: we’ll definitely keep making videos! But I don’t know if another rap is in the cards…some classmates have suggested we tackle “The Power Broker,” but that may be a bit tricky.

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  • http://www.birthplacemag.com Birthplace Magazine

    Eh. Yeah. But parody really only works when it’s funny or profound, and I suspect few beholders of this effort would describe this as such. Plus, parody and expressive art are not automatically immune from criticism. Look, I get it, it was a take on ’Fear The Boom & Bust.’ Truthfully, the rapping, the mustaches, all that is fine. The OE guzzling, taken in comparison context to the high-end, martini and limousine partying of that vid, I understand. (Perhaps even meant to imply that the J world is much more low-budget than the Econ world. Ain’t that the truth!). But understand there are many who are highly protective of the imagery associated with hip hop, and when viewed out of context, this ‘parody’ seems much less creative, and more derogatory, because it is incorporating a particularly overused stereotype. The lower production value also makes it seem much more like a lark than a careful attempt at parody. The unintended effect changes the effort from that of parodying the first video, to also parodying rap music and culture (which admittedly, the first video did a bit, but to a much smaller, less inflammatory way.) Coming from upcoming journalists, I think this can seem particularly threatening to those who work to defend the music and culture against such efforts, as the media has not always been kind to hip hop music and culture, so this sort of backlash from those kinds of vocal defenders of hip hop’s image should be expected.

  • Anonymous

    Please tell me what’s creative or original about this?  It’s been done before – and better.

  • Anonymous

    @BirthplaceMag:disqus it’s called a parody my friend! & expressive art is in the eye of
    the beholder. Creativity and originality should never be frowned upon.

  • http://twitter.com/illspokinn iLLspokinN

    WOW!! I’m not sure this “Reply” button allows enough characters to respond to this correctly.  Although it is refreshing to see what our future journalists at Columbia think of our Art Form/Culture.  I never hit the stage without my OE.  Thanks for highlighting the bullshit gentlemen.  

  • http://www.birthplacemag.com Birthplace Magazine

    Nice to know our future journalists are perfectly fine with embracing dated and insulting stereotypes, while happily butchering an expressive artform.

  • Anonymous

    Jesus Christ. Really?