UCLA Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies today launched its sweeping Hip Hop initiative, which will make UCLA a leading center for hip-hop studies in the world through artist residencies, community engagement programs, a book series , an oral history and digital archive project, postdoctoral fellowships and more.
Chuck D, the longtime frontman of the politically and socially aware rap group Public Enemy, is the program’s first artist-in-residence.
The initiative focuses on hip-hop as one of the most powerful cultural movements in modern history and the most visible symbols of contemporary black performance and protest.
“As we celebrate 50 years of hip-hop music and cultural history, the rigorous study of culture offers us a wealth of intellectual insights into the massive social and political impact of black music, black history and of black people on global culture – from language to dance, visual art and fashion to electoral politics, political activism and more,” said anthropology professor H. Samy Alim, who leads the initiative.
The initiative is co-led with Alim by Bunche Center Deputy Director Tabia Shawel and Samuel Lamontagne, PhD candidate in the Department of Ethnomusicology.
The initiative is something Alim and his colleagues have been working on for decades. It builds on the wealth of hip-hop scholarship produced at UCLA and institutes of higher learning since the 1990s, and comes at a “moment of convergence” where music and hip-hop culture have become dominant in the public sphere, as evidenced by the recent Super Bowl Halftime Show and the addition of break dancing to the 2024 Olympics.
“We’re also at a historic moment for hip-hop culture entering its ‘museum phase,'” said dream hampton, a writer and filmmaker who sits on the group’s advisory board.
Indeed, the Smithsonian Institution recently published a comprehensive hip-hop anthology, and museums like the Universal Hip Hop Museum in the Bronx and the South African Hip Hop Museum in Johannesburg are solely dedicated to music and culture.
Highlighting the West Coast and Los Angeles
With the launch of the initiative, UCLA becomes the West Coast’s first major destination for scholarly explorations of hip-hop culture, enabling a greater focus on local hip-hop development and impact, a said Lamontagne, whose thesis re-examines Los Angeles hip-hop. the story.
“Our goal,” he said, “is also to advance UCLA’s legacy by producing original, creative, audience-oriented, social justice-oriented work and by building bridges between the world academic and community by discussing the implications of academic research and how it can serve black and brown communities in Los Angeles.
The concentration of world-renowned hip-hop scholars at UCLA makes the campus uniquely suited for taking hip-hop studies, both locally and globally, into the future, Shawel noted.
“Right now, the UCLA Bunche Center has a critical mass of innovative and highly regarded faculty who, in some cases, have been writing about hip-hop culture for more than four decades, exploring its musical, social and political impact on the world, from south-central to South Africa,” she said.
The Hip Hop Initiative’s advisory board includes some of the nation’s leading hip-hop artists and thinkers, like Hampton, Chuck D, Joan Morgan, Davey D, and UCLA alumni Jeff Chang and Ben Caldwell, who will serve alongside UCLA professors Cheryl Keyes, Bryonn Bain, Adam Bradley, Scot Brown, Gaye Theresa Johnson, Robin Kelley, Kyle Mays, and Shana Redmond.
HRDWRKER/Courtesy of the California African American Museum
Left to right: Hip-hop legends Chuck D, Rakim and Talib Kweli, curator and journalist Tyree Boyd-Pates, and UCLA’s H. Samy Alim at an event at the California African American Museum co-sponsored by the hip-hop studies task force at UCLA. (March 11, 2020)
Hip-Hop Studies: Growing from UCLA Roots
One of the pioneering scholars in the field, Keyes is a professor at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and chair of the Department of African American Studies. Nearly two decades ago, a group of graduate students started an informal hip-hop research group with Keyes as their guide. In 2005, Alim organized his efforts in the formal Hip-Hop Studies Task Force at UCLA, which has become a space for graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and advanced undergraduate students to explore methodological and theoretical issues in the study of hip-hop culture.
“It’s amazing to witness and mentor so many students as they explore the stories and experiences of the communities that gave birth to hip-hop,” Keyes said. “There is a richness, depth and context yet to be discovered and revealed, and this initiative will support many more.”
Students have also benefited from the Task Force’s ongoing series of speakers and events, which recently featured hip-hop icons Rakim, Chuck D and Talib Kweli at the California African American Museum and a film screening and discussion with rapper and filmmaker Boots Riley at the Fowler Museum at UCLA.
In addition to supporting the efforts of the Hip Hop Studies Task Force, the Hip Hop Initiative will include a wide variety of programs, including:
- Artists in residence
UCLA will host hip-hop artists whose work highlights issues of community engagement and social justice. Chuck D, who begins his residency at UCLA this week, will participate in a series of on-campus events that will bring together artists and community members.
- Global Community Engagement
Community projects include the Hip Hop High School–to–Higher Education Pipeline, the Hip Hop Disability Justice Project (with the Krip-Hop movement), and a long-running project exploring hip-hop as a culturally supportive pedagogy in Spain and in South Africa. .
- Book series and publications
The initiative will expand the University of California Press Hip Hop Studies Series, which is edited by Alim and Chang along with leading hip-hop intellectuals Tricia Rose, Mark Anthony Neal, Marc Lamont Hill and others. The second book in this series, “Rebel Speak: A Justice Movement Mixtape” by Bryonn Bain, will hit bookstores this spring. The initiative will also support the work of emerging scholars through manuscript development workshops.
- Postdoctoral fellowships
The initiative will support a research position for hip-hop studies scholars whose work aims to improve the lives of black people. Fellows will be housed at the Bunche Center.
- Hip-hop lecture series
The public lectures will feature cutting-edge hip-hop scholarship presented by international scholars.
- Oral history and digital archives
UCLA is the first West Coast institution to develop an archive dedicated to the study of hip-hop in Los Angeles, which has long been a major hub for hip-hop cultural production and the hip-hop industry. Faculty and staff involved in the initiative have begun a community oral history and digital archive focused on preserving West Coast hip-hop history.
Learn more from UCLA Newsroom and UCLA Magazine about studying hip-hop at UCLA:
► Teaching rap lyrics as literature
► Cheryl Keyes hits the right notes with the Smithsonian anthology
► Are the majors spending profits by playing on racial stereotypes?
► Bryan Bain: ‘Words of lockdown‘