Last month the Hip-Hop Archive at Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute co-hosted Hiphop Worldwide: More Than a Nation. This three-day conference focused on both the ongoing local expressions of hip-hop and their expansions into Cuba, Morocco, Japan, Tanzania, and other countries around the world. The gathering featured documentaries, lectures, and demonstrations from independent filmmakers, academicians and journalists, as well as pioneers and current creators of hip-hop. This conference coincides with one of the central purposes of the Archive: to curate different manifestations of hip-hop including recordings, videos, films, interviews, and more.
An important subtext of a conference such as this is the tension that exists when an organic culture such as hip-hop is institutionalized into academe through such an event, courses, and research. At present time when over 100 universities have courses that address hip-hop from various disciplinary approaches, these tensions are at an all-time high. Posted below is an interview with Rennie Harris that was conduced by Professor Dawn-Elissa Fischer during the conference. Harris, who is a pioneer in the areas of hip-hop theater and dance from Philadelphia, articulates some of these tensions. These tensions generate from a number of questions: Who has rights and credentials to each hip-hop content in higher education? What can be done to preserve the histories of hip-hop as a primarily Black expression when the histories of other arts like jazz and rock-and-roll have been revised (i.e., whitewashed) due in part to their institutionalization? How can the gaps between community and university engagement via hip-hop be decreased?
These are important questions for scholars to consider as hip-hop becomes more a part of higher education through research, centers and new courses.
Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his current research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences, and lives.