Are HBCUs Letting Hip-Hop Down?

03.05.13 5 years ago 37 Comments


Here are my career goals: become a college professor, write a book and headline WrestleMania 35. Since I’m currently built like undercooked cinnamon roll dough, I’m focusing on the first two – with teaching in a college classroom allowing me the free time to work on America’s next great piece of writing. Originally, I just wanted to parlay my Masters in Journalism into an instructor role for a mass communication or writing class.

That all changed a couple of weeks ago at the Crown Royal “Reign On” event when I got to chop it up with 9th Wonder. The producer, who’s been teaching classes on Hip-Hop production at Harvard and Duke, really encouraged me to go out and seek a unique lane for myself in the collegiate sphere. However, he cautioned me about something: HBCUs are going to be hesitant to back anything related to Hip-Hop.

I remember reading 9th’s interview with HipHopDX a few weeks back where he’d expressed similar thoughts more in depth:

“It’s incredible to me that they don’t study [Hip Hop] at every Black college,” he said “I think that it’s just a sign of the times, man. It happened with Jazz. Jazz was studied somewhere else first. African-American studies was studied somewhere else first. At some point we have to break that cycle. There are some: Florida A&M, North Carolina A&T State University. And then you have some that don’t want that because they think that we’re gonna teach about what happened on BET last night.”

Still, I decided to give it a try by reaching out to a college president I’d spoken to in the past. I felt confident that we could at least build on an idea for the future especially since this individual had expressed a fondness for Hip-Hop both publicly and privately. His response was definitely unexpected.

Basically, he said adding new classes to a curriculum was a long process. Fair enough. But, he went on to say that adding or discussing any sort of Hip-Hop-based education on campus wasn’t a high priority because he hadn’t seen any indication that students would be interested. At an HBCU.

I don’t know any students at this school personally, but I’d bet my shoe collection that anything related to Hip-Hop would be the most-populated class in that school’s history. But the administration here and at so many other HBCUs won’t push the envelope by leading the charge of bringing Hip-Hop into the realm of academia.

Why does this matter to us? Just look at Hip-Hop coverage on the mainstream level. Magazines like Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and GQ are leading the national dialogue about rap music and they have no compelling need to have African-American voices telling these stories. And while Black America may have a gripe that these outlets are neglecting pertinent voices, that argument is slowly becoming obsolete as thousands of White kids are getting taught about Hip-Hop by prominent figures while HBCUs stay behind the 8-ball.

Don’t get me wrong. White guys of course have every right to discuss Hip-Hop and write about the music and culture. But, there’s also been an argument that major media outlets are missing out by not including Black voices to tell the story of Hip-Hop. How can the story be properly told if the prime participants aren’t included? That argument is becoming obsolete as more and more White students are growing up with rap, then moving off to college where they’ll be taught about the intricacies firsthand from people like 9th Wonder and Bun B. The education process they’re experiencing trains them to become forces in rap journalism.

If HBCUs want to help keep Black voices at the forefront of a genre we hold so dear, they should try leading the charge for a change instead of always following behind the innovations of their mostly-white counterparts. If Harvard can have Hip-Hop, why can’t Hampton University?

Unfortunately something has always kept HBCUs from bucking traditional academia to move in line with the passions of their student bodies. My dad tells stories of how he would be suspended by his alma mater every time led a protest or organized a rally across town. Hell, he was effectively kicked out of school for taking part in the Freedom Rides and that school remains one of a few that hasn’t invited him to speak.

I don’t know exactly what it is that keeps so many HBCUs from embracing Hip-Hop. Is it fear? Is it trying to hard to stay in line with the perceived “White” standard of education? Who knows. But it’s already only a matter of time before the story of Hip-Hop is told on a major media level by almost exclusively by White voices. It’s just a shame that HBCUs aren’t doing anything to diversify the pool of storytellers.

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