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Does Hip-Hop Have A Place In Academia?

March 19, 2013
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Hip-hop, a genre of music that originated from a marginalised people sick and tired of not having a voice in a country they were forced to adopt and call their own, is now trying to fight for a voice in mainstream academia.

Just like in the music industry where hip-hop was seen as radical and attacking the status quo so too in the boring dry world of academia where impartial truths have to be found using even more objective research methods that are devoid of human interest and perspective, hip-hop, the very antithesis of this type of philosophy, is fighting to transform this space.

Many argue that hip-hop does not have a place in academia because the culture lacks to fit into the context of a formal academic curriculum. Hip-hop is not deemed to be “intelligent” enough to be able to impart scholarly knowledge to students. Yet all four aspects of hip-hop culture: rapping/emceeing, DJ’ing, break-dancing and graffiti do indeed require a skill that needs some form of intelligence. Emceeing requires a linguistic intelligence to be able to form multi-syllabic rhyme schemes full of clever lyrical dexterity and to form stories rich in metaphor and every other type of figure of speech. DJ’ing requires a musical intelligence because a DJ needs to know how to count beats and have a strong sense of rhythm to be able to make flawless transitions when mixing. Break-dancing requires a kin-esthetic intelligence to be able to perform incredible physical feats like ‘the head-spin’. Graffiti needs an artistic intelligence to be able to comprehend the relationship between lines and three-dimensional spacing in order to create something truly beautiful out of a bland wall.

The emceeing part of hip-hop alone speaks extensively on issues of race, gender, class and oppression. These are topics found in sociology, anthropology and history, which are popular disciplines found in tertiary institutions. Break-dancing, DJ’ing and graffiti all have a space in dance, music and art disciplines respectively so to have the opinion that hip-hop as a whole cannot have its very own curriculum is unjustifiable and silly.

Even Ivy League schools have realised that hip-hop is brimming with knowledge that can be shared in academia what with Columbia University having its own hip-hop tank. Harvard and Stanford University started a hip-hop archive that collects papers written on the subject of hip-hop and anything hip-hop related. 9th Wonder lectures at Harvard and recently J. Cole was invited by Harvard to give a talk. In America, hundreds of university-level courses are found on hip-hop so it is a pity that the same cannot be said for the academic space here in South Africa. It is a tragedy that local hip-hop is not documented and archived for the future generations by a local tertiary institution like how Harvard has done. It is a tragedy that emcees like Tumi and Proverb are not being invited by local universities to impart knowledge on their art because their art is not deemed ‘scholarly’ enough.

Hip-hop is a genre of music that has crossed geographical, ethnic and generational divides. It has an incredible intellectual standing and so should be given the chance to be taught at local tertiary institutions. Hip-hop reflects society’s issues as well as offer a human perspective on those issues which is something that cannot be found in a typical textbook. By teaching it in a formal academic space it will help students try to change and improve those issues and make the world a better place.

Written By: Nomusa Mthethwa (@NomusaMT)

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