To the Academy With Love, From a Hip-Hop Fan
While putting together the cover story for this edition, a source asked me if I thought it was the academy’s responsibility to get to know and understand hip-hop — the music and its accompanying culture.Pausing first, I replied: It may not be a professor’s job to run out and buy the latest Jay-Z CD in order to better identify with her students. But the extent to which academe can develop an empathetic rapport with the devotees of this cultural phenomenon is partly the extent to which academe’s reach will be further enhanced. And yes, I do think it’s the academy’s responsibility to find new ways to extend its reach. Too many potential students, potential dropouts and potential great Black (and other) leaders are at stake.For better or worse, hip-hop has molded several generations of college students — Black, White and every hue in between. With its vulgarities, its Black political consciousness, its misogyny and its soulful nourishment, this latest incarnation of Black expression has quite simply taken the world by storm.So love it or hate it. But do attempt to understand it.As a member of the “hip-hop generation,” and an admitted hip-hop fan, I too am distressed by any celebration of Black sadism, ho-ism and the effect such money-making demoralizing has on our youth. But the fact that violence sells is indicative more of American pop culture in general than of this one particular facet. The recipe for that disaster is easy to explain.Perhaps what disappoints and confounds me more is seeing a cadre of scholars — often clever enough to be unmoved by the media’s misplaced stereotypes — dismiss a whole genre of Black music and its fans.Where else besides higher education’s forgiving, reflective and ideally inclusive sphere should we expect introspective exchanges on the music and the society that shapes it? Who else besides a professor, conscious of the thoughtful and intellectual side of kids otherwise cast as degenerates, should we expect to give a ringing endorsement of hip-hop’s prolific protégés?Hip-hop is so much more than the rump-shaking, “ice”-flossing, gangster revelry that fuels the record industry’s multibillion dollar sales every year.That said, let us all keep in mind that even the dark and demoralized side of hip-hop is no more than a byproduct of the capitalist mindset that higher education often endorses.So before we collectively disregard what the student on this edition’s cover dubbed “the soundtrack of our lives,” it would perhaps be a better strategy to show some understanding. We can accept and reach out to our students — the b-boys, the hoochie mamas and the thugged out among them — without sanctioning the more destructive ethos that unfortunately defines so much of the music today.Truth be told, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of scholars I talked to who see hip-hop’s redemptive aspects. Many even encourage their students to draw on its poetic, solicitous and uplifting facets to prepare their papers, understand current events, indeed to change the world.But I would encourage more of their colleagues to recognize that hip-hop’s fruitage includes the disengaged learner as well as the Rhodes Scholar. It includes the kid who never even made it to college and the one who exceeded everyone’s expectations.It also includes the editor of a magazine devoted to making sure that higher education opens more doors, expands more minds and reaches out to ever more students who traditionally have been left out of the equation.Anyone committed to that mission has got to keep it real.
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