Photo by Loyola Marymount University

Bad Bunny headlined the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival earlier this year, but his music also took center stage in a decidedly different venue: a college classroom. Vanessa Díaz, associate professor of Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies in Loyola Marymount University’s (LMU) Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts, taught a course titled “Bad Bunny and Resistance in Puerto Rico,” centering on the music, activism, and homeland of the musician, who has become one of the most streamed artists of all time.

“Bad Bunny is doing something different — from the language politics to his gender and sexuality politics — and he’s breaking records for a reason,” said Díaz. “We need to take him seriously as a cultural figure who is making serious interventions politically in his work. My class centers him as a critical cultural figure and I use his work, artistry, and celebrity status to tackle bigger issues in Puerto Rico and beyond.”

For example, Díaz’s students have used Bad Bunny’s music as an entry point to the history and politics of Puerto Rico, for discussing topics such as gentrification and colonialism. Many of the students enrolled in the course because of an interest in Bad Bunny and his music, but as the course progressed, they developed a deeper understanding of the political and historical contexts that have shaped him and his music.

“Students said they really could never listen to Bad Bunny the same way again because the course made them think so differently not just about his lyrics, but about the history of Puerto Rico, reggaeton and Latin music more broadly,” said Díaz.

Photo by Loyola Marymount University

Last spring, LMU College of Business Administration (CBA) students also engaged deeply with the work of an iconic musical figure: the late rapper and entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle. Mitchell Hamilton, an associate professor of marketing at CBA, partnered with business professional and investor David Gross, to teach a course called “The Marathon Continues: Building Brand Through Culture.” The Marathon name references Hussle’s personal philosophy that life is a marathon and that, when faced with obstacles and adversity, the marathon continues and one perseveres. The course was a new iteration of a 2018 class that had previously been co-taught by Hussle himself.

In 2023, four years after Hussle’s tragic 2019 death, Hamilton and Gross decided to teach the course again, driven by a desire to provide a transformative learning experience to marketing students. Hamilton explains that both the 2018 course and the newest iteration seek to disrupt traditional pedagogies found in business school classrooms.

“In our opinion, much of what was happening in marketing classrooms on college campuses around the world, had become stagnant and was not resonating well with newer generations of students,” said Hamilton. Jye Citizen, MBA ’23, was a student in the course and echoes the importance of a business education that engages students on a cultural level.

“Marketing is very much about culture and consumers. Being taught by Professor Hamilton while diving into the cultural powerhouse that is ‘The Marathon Continues’ was a great level of exposure,” said Citizen. “Gaining firsthand experience speaking with pioneers of the brand was incredible, and I actually instilled some of the principles they taught me into my own business.”

Hamilton’s course also draws on the idea of business as a force for good, a core value of CBA and a key way that the college engages with LMU’s Jesuit and Marymount traditions of innovation and impact.

“In the world of business, culture has often been appropriated, rebranded, and monetized by brands that are not from the culture,” said Hamilton. “This business practice has essentially turned the true creators, influencers, and people of the culture into consumers who have to buy back their own lived experiences. Where is the good in that? When I think of business for good, I think of the triple-bottom line approach to business: profit, people and planet.”

A triple-bottom line approach measures business success not only through profit but through a business’ impact on the environment and society as well. The students’ final projects demonstrated this desire to harness business as a force for good, and to consider the environmental and social impact of business. Graduate students developed a case study on the Marathon brand’s cultural relevance. The undergraduate students focused on creating pitch decks to help rebrand and relaunch a historic community space in South Central Los Angeles.

Similarly, Díaz’s course allows students to deeply engage with the Jesuit values of service and the promotion of justice. Díaz notes that while many of her students enrolled in her course because of their interest in Bad Bunny, they quickly became aware of issues in Puerto Rico and felt called to take action.

“Students were deeply touched by the history of Puerto Rico. At the end of class, all students wanted to know what else they could do to show solidarity, how they could show support for all the struggles that are going on in the island, what groups they could donate to,” said Díaz. “That’s where the Jesuit values come in — you see the students’ desire to take action and to be activists.”

While Díaz’s students have gained new perspectives on Bad Bunny and Puerto Rico, she also noted that teaching the class helped her view her research on Bad Bunny in a new light. Díaz’s students worked on final group projects on topics such as the histories of the Puerto Rican diaspora, and tourism and gentrification in Puerto Rico, bringing in sources that were new and exciting to Díaz. Because Bad Bunny is at the height of his popularity and is therefore an ever-evolving topic, Díaz is excited to teach the course again this year.

“There’s a different meaning teaching the course now because we’ve been living through the actual timeline in history of him becoming the biggest artist in the world, of him breaking records, of him headlining Coachella,” said Díaz.

Hamilton is also co-teaching his course this spring, motivated by a desire to continue offering culturally relevant pedagogy that inspires students to build brands that can become powerful forces for justice.

“Research at the intersection of social injustice, system inequity, and marketing is scant. Industry practices of authentic brand activism have only recently begun to build momentum,” said Hamilton. “My hope is that my work helps to better inform marketing scholars, as well as inspiring the current and future generations of business leaders to see the importance and value of a triple bottom line approach to brand-building.”

By Amanda Ong, Associate Director of Academic Communications, Loyola Marymount University