Hip-hop vacation marks a turning point in the education of a musical form that began at a back-to-school party in the Bronx


Whenever I teach hip-hop classes at the University of Virginia, I give a brief overview of the origins of hip-hop music. One of the important dates I use is August 11, 1973. That’s when DJ Kool Herc, who was 18 at the time, started a “Back To School Jam” for his sister. Cindy in the South Bronx – in the playroom at 3:20 pm Sedgwick Ave., to be precise.

Flyer for the Back To School Jam hosted by DJ Kool Herc.

The historic back-to-school party hosted by Jamaican-American DJ, whose first name is Clive Campbell, will be officially and rightfully recognized on August 11, 2021, as Hip-Hop Celebration Day, as designated by Congress. August 2021 has also been designated Hip-Hop Recognition Month and November 2021 will be recognized Hip-Hop History Month.

The hip-hop vacation, if you will, represents another milestone for hip-hop as its stature and importance as a literary art and musical form continues to grow.

Multiple origins

Of course, the true genealogy of hip-hop is far more varied and complex than a simple back-to-school party in the Bronx.

In his introduction to “Yale Rap Anthology, “historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. writes that the first person he heard” rap “was his father, who was born in 1913 because he” meant “or played”dozens, a hobby in which participants exchange scathing insults against members of their family, usually their mother, as a means teach mental toughness.

In the 1968 memoir of Black Panthers frontman Eldridge Cleaver, “Soul on Ice, “Cleaver – in an entry dated August 16, 1965 – describes a type of rap he heard following the Watts Uprising, a six-day rebellion in the predominantly black Los Angeles neighborhood sparked by a violent exchange between police and passers-by when a young black motorist was pulled over and pulled over by a member of the California Highway Patrol.

He is referring to young men he calls “low riders” gathered in a circle on the basketball court after leaving the mess at Folsom State Prison the previous Sunday morning. The Watts uprising had then lasted four days. The men “wore jubilant, triumphant smiles, animated by the spirit of another”. A series of meaningful hand gestures turned into speech after one of them asked, “What are they doing there? Break it down for me, baby.

Cleaver writes that one of the low riders entered the middle of the circle and began to speak:

“They walk in foursome and kick doors / drop reds and break heads / drink wine and commit crimes / shoot and loot / up and down / set fire and cut tires / flip over cars and burn bars / make Parker crazy and make me happy / end that ‘go slow’ shit and put the sweet Watts on the map / my black ass is in Folsom this morning but my black heart is in Watts! ”

Cleaver describes the laughter shared by the men in the figure – or small circular gathering – as “cleansing, revolutionary”, while “tears of joy flowed from (the speaker’s) eyes”.

Californian rapper Ras Kass named his first album, released in 1996, based on Cleaver’s book.

Kool Herc, the pioneer

Herc is described in the Yale anthology as “the man most often mentioned as the sound creator of hip-hop.” He invented “the break” by using two turntables – and two copies of the same album – to extend the instrumental part, usually very percussive, of a song. He then took the meaning that Gates and Cleaver describe and performed a version of it on separate song breaks that he blew up on his sound system. His pauses and jokes invited the dancers to improvise on the music he was playing. Tricia Rose, author of Pioneering Hip-Hop Scholarships, including “Black Noise: rap music and black culture in contemporary America“writes that” DJ Kool Herc was a graffiti artist and dancer before he started playing records. “

Although modern graffiti writing originated in the 1960s when a 12-year-old Philadelphia child named Darryl McCray began labeling his nickname, “Cornbread,” on the walls of the Philadelphia Youth Development Center, and then eventually throughout. the city, DJ Kool Herc embodied all original elements hip-hop: DJing, entertainer, break dance and graffiti writing.

Global phenomenon

In the years since this back-to-school party, hip-hop has become a well-recognized global phenomenon. He is one of the most consumed musical forms worldwide. It is also a widely sampled and highly scrutinized cultural movement.

Since hip-hop started out as a back-to-school party, it follows that it should be taught in the halls of universities. College courses from the 1980s adopted hip-hop culture and artists as objects and subjects of study.

In 2013, the Hiphop Archive and the WEB Du Bois Institute at Harvard University created the Nasir Jones Hiphop Scholarship. The scholarship – named after rapper Nas – is intended for selected researchers and artists with “an exceptional capacity for productive scholarship and exceptional creative capacity in the arts, related to hiphop”.

“DAMN” by Kendrick Lamar. moved back Pulitzer Prize for Music 2018. In 2019, New Orleans rapper Mia X joined the faculty of music industry at Loyola University. She is one of the many rappers and producers teach at a university. Black Thought by widely acclaimed rap group The Roots will be residential accommodation at the Kennedy Center in October 2021 during which he will speak with contemporaries on art, inspiration and creative consciousness.

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A hip-hop essay

My own forays into academia are rooted squarely in hip-hop. I accepted my current job – assistant professor of hip-hop – after submitting my doctoral thesis as a rap album and digital archives in 2017.

I had few academic role models for my job – those presented by Gates’ father, people like the low riders in Cleaver’s memoir, academics like Tricia Rose, and trailblazers like DJ Kool Herc. I wanted my work, in the form of rap, be the purse all alone. Hip-hop has always been academic for me, although it often seems that doing music, DJing, break dancing or doing graffiti painting as scholarships is generally only acceptable outside of formal learning spaces, as part of an alternative program.

Cover of AD Carson’s thesis album, ‘Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes & Revolutions.’

The official establishment by Congress of a hip-hop party and recognition month – at least in 2021 – gives credence to the idea that hip-hop finally deserves a place in academia as a as a discipline in its own right. From my point of view, it is high time that hip-hop was seen not only as a subject of study, but as a tool to continue to generate new knowledge and new ways of presenting it.

The influence of hip-hop on other disciplines is as abundant as its influence on other forms of music and art. Perhaps soon, to celebrate Cindy and Clive Campbell’s historic “Back To School Jam”, some students will return to school to fully immerse themselves in the academic rigors of the nationally celebrated culture on August 11. .


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