Performers, academics, and music enthusiasts gathered at Howard University on Thursday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.
The conference titled, "Hip Hop 50: Past, Present, and Future," is one of dozens of events taking place across the nation and included workshops focused on women in hip-hop, artificial intelligence in the music industry, and mental health.
The two-day conference also included a panel on the legacy of hip-hop's cultural impact, what experts and icons of the field see as the benefits and downsides of the burgeoning industry.
"As a culture, we need to know our history," said Philoy Williams, president of the DC Hip Hop Congress. "And a lot of us don't really know the foundations, and we just enjoy the fruits of the labor. So, I think it's very beneficial for people to get the experience from people that are in the industry, that tell you about the knowledge, tell you about the passion, tell you about the pathways, and the opportunities that we didn't previously know were even existing."
Over the course of several decades, hip-hop has grown to become one of the most popular genres of music in the world. With its origins in 1970s New York block parties, the art form is rooted in various music subgenres, dance styles, fashion, and politics. It has become a multibillion-dollar industry and one of the staples of American culture.
Lance Pope, membership manager of the Universal Hip Hop Museum, said that it's important to center Black and Brown people in hip hop, despite the changes that are taking place within the industry.
"The inventors of [hip-hop] culture are Black and Brown people, telling stories of Black and Brown experiences," said Pope. "As long as you keep yourself true to who you are in that experience, you will always have someone outside of that inquisitive enough to buy in. … And if you look at some of the most successful artists that we have in hip-hop, they have been true to their own identity without selling themselves short trying to appease other people."
Throughout the day, panelists discussed the entrepreneurial motivation embedded in the music.
June Ambrose, stylist, costume designer, and creative director of Women's Basketball for Puma, noted that there were many legal and financial barriers that hip-hop artists and creators struggled through in the genre's early days. She added that many artists lost their creative independence and control of their self-image due to predatory contracts.
Raina Simone, a performer, and Howard alumna, added that not much has changed in the industry regarding the barriers that impact artists. Simone says capitalism is dangerous for hip-hop because it often looks at artists like human capital to be assessed and used.
"I feel like right now, because capitalism is also kind of taking over hip-hop similarly to other genres," said Simone. "I just want us to keep striving to ensure that entrepreneurship translates to ownership, which translates to ensuring that no one else is owning any part of your intellectual property."
The panelists stressed the importance of supporting artists. For them, hip-hop is an industry that allows people of color the opportunity to find creativity, success, wealth, and an outlet to connect with their culture and community.
Reggie Peters, director of marketing and visitor services at the Universal Hip Hop Museum, described to the audience his dream for the future of hip-hop.
"What I would like to see in hip-hop for the next 50 years is a restart," said Peters. "What we did for the past 50 years is great. It's phenomenal … But it's still an anomaly. It's not the norm. The next 50 years, this should be a structured career path, just like medicine, just like law, just like architecture. It should just be a given that if you follow this blueprint, you will end up successful, not just in the art form or the business, but as a human being."
Veronica Fernandez-Alvarado can be reached at email@example.com