Solidifying Hip-hop Studies

By Emery Petchauer

Research on hip-hop has expanded in breadth, rigor and nuance in the past ten years. Currently, this body of work signals the emergence of an interdisciplinary field gaining notoriety as hip-hop studies. The most recognized area of scholarship within hip-hop studies centers on commercial rap lyrics and their potential moral implications on young people. This area has been most recognizable because such scholarship is often co-opted into the ebbs and flows of moral panic associated with rap music in popular news sources.

In hip-hop studies, however, hip-hop is more than rap music, and its relevance extends beyond the moral realm. Rather, rap music is one element in an interrelated array of expressive practices that are built for youth, by youth from previous cultural traditions — mostly Black and Hispanic. These other expressions include but are not limited to forms of dance such as breakin’; musical production, manipulation, and performance such as DJing; graffiti art; and language particular to hip-hop. This is an important caveat to the field of hip-hop studies.

As scholarship on hip-hop expands and the field of hip-hop studies solidifies over the next few years, it is helpful to recognize that the field is made up of at least three areas of scholarship:

Hip-Hop Based Education: Scholarship in this area explores how different elements of hip-hop such as rap music can be used as educational resources in classrooms. Hip-hop has been used most frequently in language arts classrooms to teach skills such as literary interpretation, but it has also been used to develop critical consciousness particularly among ethnic minority students in urban schools. The recent Hip-Hop Education Guidebook published by the Hip-Hop Association illustrates that hip-hop is useful as an educational resource well beyond the language arts classroom.

Meanings and Identities: Scholarship in this area explores how hip-hop “works” on the ground and in the daily lives of youth and young adults who create and consume it. For example, scholars look at how hip-hop-identified folks mobilize texts to construct racial or generational identity or how hip-hop may function as social or (sub)cultural capital. Importantly, this scholarship is relevant both in and outside of the United States and among many different student populations (e.g., recent immigrants). Research that examines the potential moral implications of rap texts is one thread of scholarship in this area.

Aesthetic Forms: Scholarship in this area explores the habits of body and mind and the ways of doing within situated hip-hop practices. This scholarship draws most heavily on the full breadth of hip-hop activities. With the expressive whole of hip-hop as a guiding resource, researchers explore how learning, practice, community, assessment, and other processes work within hip-hop and their implication on pedagogy, curriculum, and other areas of education.

Here are some resources for further reading:

Alim, H. S., & Pennycook, A. (Eds.). (2007). Global linguistic flows: Hip-hop culture(s), identities, and the politics of language education [special issue]. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 6(2).

Christen, R. S. (2003). Hip-hop learning: Graffiti as an educator of urban teenagers. Educational Foundations, 17(4), 57-82.

Clay, A. (2003). Keepin’ it real: Black youth, hip-hop culture, and black identity. American Behavioral Scientist, 46(10), 1346-1358.

Dimitriadis, G. (2001). Performing identity/performing text: Hip hop as text, pedagogy, and lived practice. New York: Peter Lang.

Forman, M., & Neil, M. A. (Eds.) (2004). That’s the joint! The hip hop studies reader. New York: Routledge.

Rose, T. (1994). Black noise: Rap music and black culture in contemporary America. Hanover, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Runell, M. & Diaz, M. (2007). The hip-hop education guidebook, volume 1: A sourcebook of inspiration & practical application. New York: Hip-Hop Association, Inc.


3 responses to “Solidifying Hip-hop Studies

  1. Despite the fact that rap lyrics/music is the last component to appear, it is indeed its emergence that necessitated its coagulation, with graffiti and dance; thereby establishing Hip Hop culture, defined by Professor Petchauer as “an interrelated array of expressive practices.”

    With all due respect to Professor Petchauer, who is distinguished in educational matters, his article abates critical information regarding hip hop as art(s) and as a field of academic study. In order to integrate and embed hip hop studies into academe credibly, the fundamental origin of hip hop–African American Literature (AAL)– must first be acknowledged and understood as such.

    AAL is the “previous cultural tradition,” the integral unit, the glue that connects each aspect of hip hop culture to the other, thereby “solidifying” hip hop culture. As with most things Black and American, music, its lyrics and genres, documents the most important benchmarks in our socio-cultural history. To negate this point in teaching hip hop is to not only minimize the relevance and importance of this cultural field of study, but also to relegate it with a limited interdisciplinarity. To be plain, without African American literary tradition–call and response–there would be no rap lyrics/music, and without rap, there would be no hip hop.

    I must address the Professor’s statement that this “interrelated array of expressive practices” are “built for youth, by youth.” This is certainly not the case. It is important to remember that those who pioneered rap music are no longer considered “youth.” From the Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron, who began making rap music in the mid-1960s, to Carlton Douglas Ridenhour and William Michael Griffin, Jr., a.k.a. Chuck D and Rakim, respectively, who penned some of the most socially critical rap lyrics in the 1980s and 1990s, the range in age is from 38 to mid-to late 50s. Because Ridenhour is now 48 and the original members of The Last Poets are in their mid-late 50s, and are still releasing rap music that people buy and love (Public Enemy released their latest CD in 2007 and performed yesterday, 9/18/2008 in Atlanta; The Last Poets contributed to Nas’ current CD), those who chose to disseminate information about rap music must acknowledge that we who performed rap, played rap music as DJs on radio stations, and continue to buy rap are getting older, but our age does not negate our contributions, nor does it move us from the center of the rap game where we have supported and promoted for 30 years and onto the margins of hip hop culture or studies.

    Finally, although I commend Professor Petchauer for listing Tricia Rose’s Black Noise and Andreana Clay’s Keepin’ it Real, I must add some readings that did not make his list and certainly document rap lyrics/music’s place in African American literature:
    1. Jeffery O.G. Ogbar’s Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap. 2007
    2. Patricia Liggins-Hill’s Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of African American Literary Tradition, Houghton-Mifflin, 2003.
    3. Ishmel Reed’s From Totems to Hip-Hop: A Multicultural Anthology of Poetry Across the Americas 1900-2002, De Capo Press, 2002.
    4. My articles on the topic: “Hip-Hop” and “Rap” in the Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature, edited by J. David Macey, Jr. and Hans Ostrom on Greenwood Press, 2005, and “College Courses in Hip Hop Literature, ” in the Greenwood Encyclopedia of Hip Hop Literature, edited by Tarshia Stanley, also on Greenwood Press, 2008.

    Thanks for reading, and remember, “I don’t rhyme for the sake of riddlin’,” Chuck D.

    EABlaque, Professor of Africana Literatures, author, and yes, former rapper and DJ.

  2. Pingback: Rap Lyrics ‘R Literature « TheBlaqueProfessor

  3. Pingback: Solidifying Hip-hop Studies " The Academy… | Black Info.Net

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