Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Who Should Teach Hip-Hop Studies?

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Who Should Teach Hip-Hop Studies?

Article excerpt

By most criteria, hip-hop has now been solidified as an essential domain of inquiry and learning in higher education. This status entails a sizable body of scholarship; symposia, conferences and courses devoted to its study; and a growing pool of scholars who have centered it in their research agendas.

This presence of hip-hop in academe is not without some emerging dilemmas. One of these concerns who should teach it and the qualifications to do so. The complexity of this dilemma was recently brought to my attention during a conversation with a student at a Big Ten university who was enrolled in a class on hip-hop in the African American studies department. The student, who is of mixed Caucasian and Vietnamese ancestries, is a member of the Mighty Zulu Kingz, the elite b-boy (i.e., breakdancing) crew of hip-hop's oldest and most prestigious organization founded by Afrika Bambaataa: The Universal Zulu Nation. At one point in the semester, his professor, an African-American scholar from the civil rights generation, admitted, "You know, you probably know more about hip-hop than I do."

Two different answers to this question of who should teach hip-hop help lay the landscape of responses. On one end of the continuum is the answer that classes devoted to analyzing hip-hop should be taught largely by African-American faculty members whose areas of expertise (e.g., Africana studies, Black linguistics, African-American literature) is thought to be best suited to produce fruitful analyses of hip-hop. The logic goes that since hip-hop demonstrates clear connections to these areas, it is most fitting for courses to be taught by faculty members with credentials in Black scholarship and who have personal stakes in these areas.

On the other end of the continuum is the argument that classes devoted to hip-hop should be taught by faculty members who have academic credentials in relevant areas but also have organic experience participating in and creating hip-hop in local spaces. In this position, racial identification matters less than dues paid and stripes earned in the culture itself. From this position, one could cite examples such as music producer 9th Wonder as artist-in-residence at North Carolina Central University or DJ and music archivist Oliver Wang as assistant professor of sociology at CSU-Long Beach.

In some ways, these two responses are emblematic of a tension that has existed for a long time in academe between theoretical training and practical experience. Similar questions have also surrounded disciplines such as ethnic studies and Black studies. …

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