Hip-Hop: Keeping it Real

Visit to a classroom—ENGL 389: Classic Hip-Hop Music, Authenticity, Domestic Colonialism, and the Culture of Modern America

By Mary Loftus

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Photo by Kay Hinton.

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Professor’s CV: Lawrence Jackson, professor of African American studies and English, earned a PhD at Stanford University. He is the author of Ralph Ellison: Emergence of Genius; The Indignant Generation: A Narrative History of African American Writers and Critics, 1934―1960; and My Father’s Name: A Black Virginia Family after the Civil War.

Syllabus: “In this course, we study the development of hip-hop music from the 1970s through the 1990s,” Jackson says. “Mainly hip-hop musicians and lyricists who conceive of their role as providing a public voice for the voiceless and the oppressed, the erased Americans, challenging the sonic, political hegemony of popular mainstream American cultural discourse.”

Today’s lecture: Each class has a “soundtrack” that underscores Jackson’s lecture. Today the class listened to Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” and read the narrative poem “Shine and the Titanic,” as well as the lyrics to Gil Scot-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”

Quotes to note: “This is when American urban landscapes were being dramatically transformed, not just by the burnings—although you can see evidence of the 1968 riots today in some places, like D.C., on Georgia Avenue, the old Howard theater, some fifty years later—but by the highways that cut through black and brown neighborhoods.”

“Some of these songs are radical criticism of black complacency after the passage of civil rights, fair housing, and I might say the same thing [to the artists] that I would say to you all in your papers: don’t get preachy, convince me with the evidence.”

Students say: “Hip-hop is a large part of African American culture, and being from its birthplace—Bronx, New York—it has always been a vital part of my life. Dr. Jackson gives us a chance to express our points of view while giving us historical context.”—Leeanne Fagan 13C, African American studies major

“Dr. Jackson discusses hip-hop, a genre that is maligned by much of the general public, in a scholarly manner to open up minds. So far, I found James Brown and his effects on hip-hop as well as the history of Grandmaster Flash’s ‘The Message’ very compelling.”—Vikram Pursnani 14C, English and econ major

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