DANIELLE HEARD: It is my pleasure to introduce to you Professor Mark Antony Neal. Dr. Neal is professor of black popular culture in the Department of African and African American studies at Duke University. He has given us What the Music Said, Black Popular Music, and Black Public Culture, and a book which I have found useful in my own writing and teaching, Soul Babies Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic. Here he makes the important observation, and I quote, "that there is an aesthetic center within contemporary black popular culture that at various moments considers issues like deindustrialization, desegregation, the corporate annexation of black popular expression, cybernization in the workforce, the globalization of finance and communication, the general commodification of black life and culture, and the proliferation of black meta identities, while continuously collapsing on modern concepts of blackness and reanimating pre-modern concepts of blackness." He continues, "this aesthetic ultimately renders traditional tropes of blackness dated and even meaningless, and it's borrowing from black modern traditions. It is so consumed with the contemporary existential concerns that such traditions are not just called into question, but obliterated."
He also gave us Songs in the Key of Black Life, A Rhythm and Blues Nation, and most recently he gave us the admirably honest New Black Man, Rethinking Black Masculinity, in which he addresses the problem that quote, "while so many aspects of black identity have flourished in a post Civil Rights era, allowing for rich and diverse visions of blackness, black masculinity has remained one aspect of black identity still in need of radical reconstruction." He thus offers us a progressive black masculinity that will quote, "rescue the new black man from the claws of old school black male patriarchy." I have passed this book on to many of my friends, and I truly believe that it should be required reading for everyone inside and outside this room.
Professor Neal is also the coeditor with Murray Forman of a collection that many of us are familiar with, That's the Joint, the Hip Hop Studies Reader. As well, Dr. Neal is a frequent commentator for National Public Radio's News & Notes with Farai Chideya, a frequent contributor to several online media outlets, such as newsone.com, his blog, Critical Noir at FiveMagazine.com, and his blog, New Black Man. Before I turn it over to Professor Neal, I'd just like to share a brief story about the first time I heard him speak. It was at the Harlem book festival quite a few years back. I'm not sure he remembers being there or not, and I was a rising senior in college. He was speaking on a panel-- actually, Professor Tricia Rose was there, as well-- about the black public intellectual. I was there with my younger brother and his friend, who lived with us at the time who I also kind of considered another brother. They' were both aspiring MCs for whom college was not in the cards.
I recall vividly how the panelists were able to engage a diverse audience of community members, most of whom were not academics. I remember that both my brother and his friend stood up to ask questions about the hip hop industry, which impacted them directly at that time. The model of public intellectualism that I witnessed that day I am certain was formative in my decision to go on to grad school and pursue an academic career. Now, somehow I didn't realize at the time that the model of scholarship that I witnessed at the Harlem Book Festival and that panel on black public intellectual that day was the exception rather than the rule in the academy. In any case, I mention this story only to stress that Dr. Neal has chosen and brilliantly developed a mode of scholarship, which at every turn holds him accountable to communities who have a personal and a political stake in his work, among whom he holds cultural membership, and for whom he apparently fosters deep respect and love. So without further ado, please help me in welcoming Professor Mark Antony Neal.
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: Good morning, folks. That would have been the Harlem Book Fair 2002, and it was a panel with Tricia Rose, and Michael Awkward, and Farah Jasmine Griffin. And I was the moderator, and I was quite happy that day because I was up there with all of my heroes. So it's wonderful to hear that that kind of sensibility got reproduced. I want to thank the folks here at Cornell for the invitation to speak to you this morning. Always good to see good old friends and colleagues. I don't think I've seen Jeff probably in about three months or so. So I'm very happy to be here to talk a little bit.
I wrote about a little two paragraph riff that I'll begin with, and then I got some talking points, and then I very much wanted to get to the conversation point of this morning. When 30-something British journalist and musician David to published his first book, Rap Attack, From African Jive to New York Hip Hop, in 1984, he was just trying to make sense of a scene that was clearly having an impact on American culture, however obscure it may have been viewed by some at the time. Though mainstream depictions of black Americans were dominated by the heavily commodified images of Eddie Murphy, Carl Lewis, and Michael Jackson, Toop, an outsider by many standards, understood perhaps better than anyone that the future of black culture production was being chartered by the sounds and styles that were emanating out of the Bronx for more than a decade.
Toop naturally sought to document the moment in what is generally recognized as the first sustained study of what we now refer to as hip hop culture. Fast forward nearly 25 years later, and the study of hip hop is merely a cog in the often imperialist operation known as the academy, which begs a simple question-- how did we get to this place? Though I've never considered myself a hip hop scholar, finding the term too limiting for both me and hip hop, I am a black scholar and intellectual that is a product of the hip hop generation. My credentials have never shielded me from being interrogated by undergraduate students, underground artists, and self-anointed spokespersons for the pioneers as to what I have the right to talk about and say about in terms of hip hop. And truthfully, my credentials shouldn't protect me from those who might be rightfully suspicious of the presence of a so-called university scholar in the room that we call hip hop, though quiet as it is kept, intellectuals are not nearly eating off of hip hop's entrails to the extent that some might think.
I always remember a graduate conference at Claremont about five years ago, and it was kind of an extraordinary gathering, because it had lost of interesting folks in the room-- myself, Todd Boyd, Michael Eric Dyson popped in, Tricia rose, S. Craig Watkins-- and we were having lunch after we did kind of a panel thing, and there was a freestyle performance in the auditorium while we were off to the side. And it was a young white student there at Claremont who was doing freestyle, and I remember Craig Watkins saying to me, are you listening to what he's saying? And he was doing a freestyle rap about the fact that we didn't know what we were talking about.
So there have been lots of these kinds of occasions. More often than not, when confronted by those who my friend, Bakari Kitwana, calls the hip hop smarty pants, I'm forced to pull out my Bronx issued passport stamped all intact with a quip, I was there. And no, I wasn't standing next to Theodore when he did that first scratch, and neither was I the one who helped Jack [? Cazes ?] notebook, but like so many of us who come of age in New York City in the mid 1970s, I clearly understood that there was something groundbreaking that was occurring.
Far too often we'd like to believe that the same geographic and class ranks that produce hip hop is somehow antithetical to the sites that produce so-called scholars and intellectuals. My story is not that unique, but what if it wasn't? What if there was no boogie down passport in New York City transit issued bus pass in reality? Does that negate the ability of anybody to provide witness to the power of this thing that we call hip hop?
I was struck in yesterday's presentation by Sean Eversley Bradwell. I was joking with him that I don't think he's long for Ithaca College, because it was an absolutely brilliant presentation of what happened in digital media coming from the perspective of a social scientist, but he made the point that scholars ask questions. And I'd like to think about when we think about hip hop scholarship to think about what I call the big bang theory. If we could imagine hip hop as being this giant meteorite that falls down to Earth and creates this giant crater, and so many of us are obsessed with doing analysis of the crater that's produced in the aftermath of the meteor fall, but in fact, when that crater is created, it also creates all kinds of fractures, and fissures, and crevices that go well beyond the site of the impact. And as scholars, we're as concerned about that site of impact as we are what's going on in these crevices and these fissures that are created because of the impact. And in fact, some of us are studying these fractures, and fissures, and crevices far beyond the site and the origins of a place like the South Bronx.
So when we think about examining just that initial impact and some of those crevasses-- the name Robert Moses was evoked yesterday, and I urge you if you haven't yet to read Robert Caro's book, The Power Broker, because Robert Moses is an extraordinary, interesting kind of figure. This is a guy who basically set up all the roads in New York City and New York state, and he himself didn't drive, which raises all kinds of questions about how he's viewing the life that we live. And he was very much concerned about how could there be a steady and easy flow of the white leisure class from the city that was being overrun. And we had signals of that in popular culture already-- those who have ever watched I Love Lucy, and I was a big fan of I Love Lucy when I was a kid, but when Lucy, and Ricky, and little Ricky decide to pack up and leave their apartment on 68th Street in New York in Manhattan-- this is 1956, 1957-- and go to Connecticut, that move was, in fact, mirroring white flight that was already taking place in some place like New York City, though we never saw a black face or a brown face. Desi Arnaz famously hated Puerto Ricans, even though he was quote unquote, "Spanish speaking."
So all of this is playing out, and even think about for a monument that's more well known to the pioneers and all of us growing up in the Bronx. Roberto Clemente Park-- because once black folks, in fact, become-- and brown folks become mobile and can get into their own cars and go up to Henry Hudson Parkway and go up the New York State Thruway to get to these places of white leisure, suddenly there's another crisis. So you get Roberto Clemente State Park to keep folks in the Bronx to make sure that they're not going out to Jones Beach and all these ranges of places. And of course, kind of the greatest monument to that moment is the Cross Bronx Expressway. If any of you have spent any time in the Bronx, you don't travel through the Bronx on the Cross Bronx Expressway. You can't get anywhere in the Bronx realistically by traveling the Cross Bronx Expressway. It's just about from New Jersey to Eastern Long Island.
So these are some of the crevices that folks have been studying within the context of hip hop. The 1965 Immigration Act, for instance, which eradicates quotas in terms of immigration in the United States, which creates a context for a city of New York that becomes even more cosmopolitan than it was before. So at the very beginning of hip hop, we're already talking about a diaspora within the context of hip hop expression akin in terms of the bodies that are there on the ground.
So even as, for instance, African American studies some 30 years later now comes up to speed in terms of the study of diaspora, hip hop was, in fact, doing that kind of diasporic very early within the process because of what's happening in someplace like New York. And then, of course, the thing that's often mentioned within the context of how we describe this broader moment-- post-industrialism. What happens when we see this transition from an industrial factory based economy to a service based economy. Jobs leave the Bronx. Institutions leave the Bronx. White and black flight from these places. Take a tax base and what happens in terms of public schools?
There's a great story. For instance, there's a generation of black musicians that all come from Jamaica, Queens. The most well known is a trumpeter by the name of Tom Browne. He had a song a long time ago called "Funkin for Jamaica," but a whole bunch of these cats grew up together in Queens. And the reason why they play jazz music and funk music, because when Duke Ellington's band wasn't on tour they lived in Queens and gave music lessons to all these cats-- Bernard Wright, and Tom Browne, and this whole generation of stuff. What happens when there's no longer an institutional base in these spaces that allow for an articulation of black culture expressively passed on from one generation to another? And it wasn't just about music. It's about language. It's about a certain kind of moral sensibilities. It's a range of stuff that gets lost when there are no longer institutions in our communities that allow for us to reproduce our sense of what it is to be black and brown in these spaces.
It's in this context of this radical shift that we begin to see a range of stuff that's occurring alongside hip hop that politicizes a generation of black folks. Now, for me, I can always think about being in places like Cornell for the generation of us who went through historically white schools in the 1980s and the time that we would spend, for instance, in the E185 section of the library, because there was very little curriculum for us. There weren't a whole lot of black studies courses, so we literally-- at least was my case-- would go sit in the E185 section and just start pulling books off the shelf. And that's where you would find stuff. That's how I found all of these original prints of Don L. Lee's. This is how I'm introduced to Amiri Baraka's work-- just literally pulling books off the shelf and sitting on the floor, and piecing together curricular history that doesn't yet exist in the classroom to the extent that we recognize it now, but there are lots of other things that are going on that are forcing this generation of folks, the folks who will eventually become the first generation of chroniclers of hip hop.
So we take seriously Jesse Jackson's first two runs 1984 and 1988. I registered to vote for the first time in April of 1984 to vote for Jesse Jackson in the New York state primary. I'm not alone. There's a whole generation of folks. With the emergence of Jesse Jackson in the context we get the first real national emergence, or the emergence of Louis Farrakhan as a national figure, and say what you want about Louis Farrakhan, it politicized a whole generation of folks, because many folks saw Louis Farrakhan as not being tied to a traditional political establishment. And when Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson come together for that short time in 1984, for many of us, it's like King and Malcolm doing the kind of work that they never had a chance to do.
1988, we finally get a soundtrack for that moment. Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back-- and for those of us who were sitting around, plotting on our campuses and our BSUs, that were fighting against South African apartheid at that point in time, that were raising questions on our campus that eventually leads to a multicultural move in the late 1980s and early 1990s. We needed a soundtrack, and rap music wasn't quite providing us with that real soundtrack again. And then we heard Chuck D's voice. 1986 first-- was '98 Oldsmobiles. You're going to get yours. And finally there was a fully fleshed soundtrack for that moment, Public Enemy's 1988 recording, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.
At the same time, in places like New York City, we're dealing with the tragedies of the murder of someone like Michael Stewart. We're dealing with the Tawana Brawley case. We're dealing with the shooting death of Yusef Hawkins and the emergence of an Al Sharpton within this context. And again, however you feel about these figures, these were folks who helped politicize the world that teenage and young black folks were trying to navigate in the 1980s.
At the same time here in the academy, we have the end point of something that we now refer to as British cultural studies, the so-called Birmingham School, of which the black face of was a brilliant scholar by the name of Stuart Hall. And you suddenly had a generation of American scholars that were taking the Birmingham School serious and trying to translate that into an American context. You had African American scholars like a Houston Baker, and Bell Hooks, and Cornel West who were also being influenced by this mode of cultural thinking, and what this cultural studies movement does, it begins to blur the lines between what's happening in the academy, and what journalists are being concerned with, and the kinds of things that black scholars should feel free to be able to talk about, and there are spaces where they can have these conversations.
So when you think about an organ like The Village Voice circa 1988, where at any time you could read Greg Tate, or you could read Nelson George, or Harry Allen, or Lisa Jones, and a range of stuff. Joan Morgan does this incredible piece on Ice Cube, a signature piece in the early stages of her career. All of this stuff is taking place in a journal like The Village Voice, where suddenly what's happening in the academy is bleeding into the mainstream.
You can think about literally what's happening at some of these campuses, and one of my favorite stories is the University of Rochester. And we would never think about the University of Rochester as the center of anything significant, for instance, in the black cultural world, but yet within a four year cohort, what you have coming out of the University of Rochester in the late 1980s and early 1990s are figures like Thabiti Lewis, who writes about sports and race at the University of Washington Vancouver. You have Scott Brown, who wrote a groundbreaking study of [INAUDIBLE] and is currently finishing a book on funk in the Midwest. You have Tracy Sharpley-Whiting, who, of course, is the Chair if Black Studies at Vanderbilt University-- just published a book, Pimps Up, Hoes Down-- and Bakari Kitwana are all at the University of Rochester campus in the late 1980s because of what's happening more broadly politically.
And then, of course, the thing that really puts this moment out forward is the Rodney King situation. His beating and then the riots in 1992, and suddenly, particularly mainstream America and cable television, a range of other folks-- they need to have literate, so their thinking was-- and folks who could come and explain to what was happening. It's kind of reflected in Adolph Reed, the political scientist, and he meant this very derisively, but it's very useful. When he publishes his piece in The Village Voice called-- the title of it is "Booker, What are the Drums Saying?" And suddenly the culture needed in their mind a Booker T. Washington figure who could describe what was happening in black culture America, because these folks could not read the signs of what hip hop represented.
They couldn't understand the anger of black masculinity at that particular moment. They couldn't understand NWA and F the police. They couldn't understand Public Enemy. They couldn't understand any of these things, and they thought that they needed folks who could articulate-- articulate figures, if you will, who could talk about the range of this moment. And in this context, you start to see the beginning edges of hip hop's relationship with the academy. One of the early pieces that really gets all of us to rethink what we could do in the academy is an essay, Tricia Rose-- "Never Trust a Big Butt and a Smile," which was an opportunity to talk about hip hop and gender, and to talk about hip hop and gender relationships, to talk about masculinity and femininity, to talk about the kind of fear that becomes part of that process.
We start to see a range of texts, and I don't want to do a best of list, but just give you a sense of some of the things that are occurring in these early days. You have Jon Michael Spencer, who publishes a special edition of a journal called Black Sacred Music called The Emergency of Black and the Emergence of Rap. It's actually something that's hard to find on your own. You can find it in the library, but I imagine there are very few people who actually have copies of it.
Houston Baker in 1993 publishes Black Studies, Rap, and the Academy. Very interesting book. I would argue on some level it's unreadable, but that's just me. And it's here you have Houston Baker, who has always functioned in the world of post-structuralist theory, and trying to find a way to talk about race, and black studies, and hip hop in some sort of context, and in some ways, the book has nothing to do with any of the realities that scholars would begin to talk about hip hop a decade later and obviously has nothing to do with hip hop, but because someone as senior-- this is Houston Baker a year after being the president of the Modern Languages Association-- because Houston Baker was Houston Baker, and he decided to take hip hop seriously-- whatever that meant for him at the time-- it literally creates a space in the academy for folks to begin to try to take that seriously.
Tricia Rose's Black Noise, 1994. My favorite story about the book-- my colleague Greg Dimitriadis, who teaches at the University of Buffalo now-- we were grad students at the University of Buffalo, American Studies, the day that the book was shipped to Talking Leaves. The two of us standing there as they literally crack open the box of shipments. They only got two copies. Greg took one copy. I took the other copy, because we immediately understood that something fundamentally was going to change because of the presence of this book, and it becomes much quicker and faster. Michael Eric Dyson's Reflecting Black, his second book, third book, Beyond God and Gangsta Rap. Robin D.G. Kelley's essay from his book Race Rebels-- the book itself a brilliant articulation of what folks are trying to work through in terms of issues of black cultural studies, but his essay "Kickin' Kickin' Reality, Kickin' Ballistics, Gangsta Rap in Post-industrial LA." Todd Boyd's book, Am I Black Enough for You?, in which he makes a very clear claim that if we're going to function in the academy, we actually need to be able to talk to folks who matter to us, and in fact, that's been pretty much the trajectory of his career.
Russell Potter's book, Spectacular Vernacular, Hip Hop and the Politics of Postmodernism, in some ways a book that really has nothing to do with what's going on down the ground, but gave many folks the theoretical tools to work through issues of postmodernism with hip hop being the template in order to do that kind of work. S. Craig Watkins, Representing Hip Hop Culture and the Production of Black Cinema, the clear connection about hip hop and visual images, hip hop in film. And of course, there were folks who were doing incredible work who weren't quote unquote, "scholars" in the traditional sense, but folks that we derisively would call journalists. So of course, when we think about Jeff Chang's work, Can't Stop, Won't Stop being one of the best examples of that. Nelson George's Hip Hop America. My favorite Jeff Chang book, which is actually Total Chaos, because Total Chaos, I really think opens up a whole box on how we can think about what hip hop actually is.
When you think about the work of Joan Morgan, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, My Life as a Hip Hop Feminist. Another opening to allow us to bring other kinds of voices and conversations within the context. Bakari Kitwana's book, The Hip Hop Generation, and then you have figures who aren't journalists in the traditional sense, and they're not scholars, but have been so important in terms of documenting both of these worlds. So you talk about a figure like David Cook, Davey D, who I almost want to asked why he isn't here. And it's in part because he is one of those figures. You can't find him in the academy. You don't find him in a traditional journalist sense. He just has this presence that's so widespread in the culture, and I frankly have gotten comfortable that every place that I've gone in terms of hip hop conferences and hip hop conversations over the last five years I expect to see Davey there with a microphone recording for his radio show.
And it's all these things that we're considering that, when myself and Murray Forman sat down some five years ago, to do That's the Joint!. How do we create a body of work? Because for those of us who have been teaching any form of hip hop content now for the last decade or so, what has the experience been? Let's go find that journal and make a photocopy. Let's find a chapter in this book and find a photocopy, and we're piecing together all these little pieces of things together to come up with some idea of how we can go forward and teach a hip hop course. So That's the Joint! was an attempt to bring together some of the scholarly writing and probably some of the very early writings on hip hop in places like The Village Voice in order to talk about this kind of phenomenon.
And it's an interesting moment, because now that we look at it in terms of 2008, what we have is a hip hop studies cottage industry. And let's be real about what that looks like. We're talking about anywhere from 300 to 600 courses that are being taught annually at American universities and colleges that have some substantial content that's related to hip hop. We're talking about major university funded conferences. In some ways, one of the things that Barack Obama has done successfully-- and I understand the reason why he had to do this-- but he's really obscured the role that hip hop has played in his campaign. And of course, we all want to talk about rappers like Ludacris and Nas. That's the easy narrative. The not so easy narrative are places like the University of Wisconsin 15 years ago or places like the University of Iowa, the white hinterlands, if you will, where you had young white students who weren't afraid to invite grimy rappers onto their campus to give concerts.
We derisively called them back then backpackers, but now these backpackers are 30, and 35, and 40 years old, and when someone like Barack Obama stepped to the scene, they didn't have a difficulty saying, yes, I can vote for him, because I've been listening to Wu Tang for 15 years. I shouldn't really have a problem. We're voting for this particular black man for president. So we've seen this explosion of hip hop's relationship with the academy-- the hip hop archive at Harvard, and then Stanford, and back to Harvard. The fact that one of the narratives that we generally recognize as the official narrative as to why Cornel West leaves Harvard to go to Princeton because the president of Harvard, Larry Summers, who, by the way, is also currently one of Barack Obama's main financial advisers-- because Larry Summers told Cornel West, I hate the fact that you made a rap CD. So now even rap becomes caught up into what basically has always been an expensive game of black bodies going from one institution to others.
At the same time, we've seen an expansive body of inquiry about the subject of hip hop that's now become part of the Academy so that when you talk about hip hop feminism-- and again, when Joan Morgan publishes When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, when you read Black Noise and Professor Rose is trying to have these conversations with women rappers about what they think about feminism, no one in the room is trying to call themselves feminist 20 years ago, but yet today you can go into a bookstore and a library and pick up a 400 page volume called Home Girls Make Some Noise that's edited by Elaine Pough right up here at Syracuse University-- excuse me, Gwendolyn Pough and Elaine Richardson-- a hip hop feminist anthology.
We can talk about what's happening around questions about hip hop and sexuality-- the fact that there's things out there-- homo hop is passe. So now we're talking about sissy rap coming out of places like New Orleans at this point in time. We can talk about hip hop literature, and one of the best examples I like to use is the work of Sofia Quintero, whose publishing name is Black Artemis. And here is someone who has come out of a public policy experience, got a master's degree in public policy from Columbia University, and needed to find a way to translate her issues as this black Latino woman working in public policy. She decided to start writing these novels, street fiction, in order to translate her concerns as someone who's a public policy analysis into a venue where everyone could have access to this.
We're talking about what's happening in hip hop theater and folks like Danny Hoch and Marc Bamuthi Joseph, who have been traveling the country, really spreading the word. See quick step out there. See all these kind of folks out there doing this kind of work. I'm looking here at [? Willie Nay, ?] and of course, the groundbreaking program that's now in its second year the he has at the University of Wisconsin, where basically you have students who are coming into the campus on scholarship to do work around basically hip hop arts.
So there's all this expansive thing that's being created on the ground here. We can see what's happening in terms of K through 12. My friend, [INAUDIBLE] Clemens, who works with a group called Flocabulary that is using hip hop to teach social studies, and math, and science, and language arts. 9th Wonder, the ward winning producer from Durham, North Carolina, is involved also in this project. So it's all this stuff that's happening at this kind of moment, and there's some fundamental questions that occur within this context.
Obvious question. So when we think about these classes, who is teaching these classes? When we think about publication, who is publishing these books? Who's writing these books? What is the vetting process? And this is kind of a complicated question, because it raises all kinds of questions about what the demands are for scholars in the academy who are doing this work. And how do those demands come into conversation with the expectation of what this work is supposed to look like for those inside of hip hop the academy and for those like Pioneers, who for the most part are very suspicious of what's being produced, quote unquote, "in their name."
I think about Adam Mansbach's review of John McWhorter's book in The Los Angeles Times, and part of the reason why Adam does the review, because his general feeling is that, look, and think about-- do a Google on John McWhorter and hip hop. Are we at a point that somehow we can allow someone like John McWhorter, given a body of work that's already been produced, given the labor that's already been entailed in terms of procreating hip hop studies, that suddenly we wake up one morning and The Wall Street Journal decides that he is now the expert on hip hop? And that's just a high profile example of what we're talking about.
So how do we think about the vetting process? And in that regard, the university seems like the logical place for us to do this kind of work, but then we have to raise questions about even how the academy functions within this context. If we think about the academy as an imperialist operation that's really about capturing and containing knowledge, and finding a way to reproduce that knowledge in the name of the institution, and distributing it in the name of the institution, when we talk about, for instance, folks that are doing really great hip hop studies work, it's no surprise that much of that work is occurring at elite institutions that, in fact, have the financial ability to spread out like imperialist figures do within that context, but hip hop is also in it of itself a site where knowledge is produced and distributed, but also it's a kind of knowledge that has been very much devalued by the mainstream.
When you think about, for instance, watching The Pioneers last night, and that was an extraordinary moment for us to have them in conversation. I had the opportunity to talk to Cass a little bit afterwards, and when you hear Cass be Cass, what you realize that this is a man who just has a remarkable gift for storytelling. And if he had never picked up a mic in the Bronx, he'd be telling those stories one at his barber shop, running some business in some cut, teaching school, maybe even a university professor if that would have been an option for him, but just a fabulous storyteller, but so many aspects of their identity we only choose to recognize when it's legible to us as a commodity.
So the idea of sitting down and listening to them talk is something that we've never placed value on, for instance. One of things I love about Arsenio Hall-- and I was a critic of his show when his show was on, but of the things that I appreciate about it Arsenio Hall in relationship to hip hop is that, not only was he the one who booked hip hop acts that suddenly you could see on television every night, but he let them sit down in the chair, the kind of opportunity-- the main reason why we know of KRS-One, for instance, as something more than just a rapper, because Arsenio wasn't afraid to put a seat next to him with KRS-One, and let KRS-One be KRS-One.
So it becomes a struggle for us to recognize that there is a legitimate knowledge that's being produced outside of the Academy that we divide, and in fact, our students in these classes do the same thing all the time. Those of us who teach hip hop studies courses, the challenges of getting our students to think that somehow this is going to be 15 weeks that's more than having a discussion about whether or not Jay Z was better than Nas.
That when you actually bring hip hop into conversation with theory and social theory, folks are like, what does this have to do with anything? One of my favorite things I do in terms of teaching these courses is around the issue of gender and sexual violence. And Elizabeth Mendez Berry wrote an incredible piece about four years ago about violence in hip hop that she did for Vibe magazine, and I always love teaching that in my course, because it's one of the only ways that I get the men in the room to ever have these conversations, because in a best case scenario, I'd love to teach a class on gender against black-- race, gender, violence, and black women, but I also realize if I taught a class like that I wouldn't have any men in the room.
Teach a class on the hip hop aesthetic, not only do I got men, I got 15 football players, a couple of basketball players. And so this gives us an opportunity to bring them in the room-- the kind of bait and switch. So now we're actually going to have a conversation about sexual violence within the context of hip hop, but very often when students are confronted with this kind of curriculum it's like, well, what does this have anything to do with the conversations that we want to have? In some ways you have students who take for granted the kind of labor that is entailed in thinking about a hip hop studies curriculum.
And I think one of the things we can look to is the example that's been set out by black studies, particularly early black studies, because early black studies was really not all that concerned with who gets tenured. Early black studies wasn't concerned with those kinds of issues-- who would hired? Early black studies was concerned about how do we take the resources of the university, and one, make it accessible to people who aren't in the university, but in the real case scenario, literally taking those resources off of the campus and bringing it to these communities, so that when we think about a hip hop studies at this point in time, can we have a conversation about hip hop in the academy and intellectual property?
Are The Pioneers-- and this was a great conversation I had with Johan yesterday that's really kind of pushing my thinking along these linee-- is there going to be a context where the pioneers will get fair market value for their intellectual property? Given the ability of the academy really to take intellectual property and create it as something that's of value to its own. Is there going to be a space for us to value them as something that's more than commodities? Because the archive is one part of it, and I commend Cornell for the great work it's doing. I commend Marcyliena Morgan for the work that she's doing at Harvard, but how do we take these conversations further? Where are the visiting artist programs that allow these folks to be there to be accessible to talk about their craft, whether in terms of we're talking about folks who are doing the physical arts, to dancing, the B boys, the B girls, whether or not we're talking about theater arts, whether or not we're talking about the literature aspect of it, the rapping, the turntable, where in the space is the academy?
And it's not like this isn't done all the time for filmmakers, for poets, for novelists, for visual artists, for folks who, in their own time, folks would have looked at and went, well, how dare we teach, say, a course on this particular artist in the academy? So how do we create an infrastructure that takes seriously what these folks represent in terms of a connection to what's going on in the academy. And it's a difficult thing because we also need to have a conversation about how the academy functions-- who gets hired? Who gets tenured? I see a few senior folks-- and I mean that in terms of rank-- in the room. And I could ask, how many notes do you get from university publishers and other publishers about manuscripts that have anything to do with hip hop that you're asked to read, because that's how the process goes? And very often, if we're not asked to weigh in on the quality of this work, who then is in a position to weigh in on the quality of this work?
How many hiring committees are there where folks are being asked to evaluate the profile of someone who may or may not be doing credible work in hip hop studies and which no one around the table-- no one around the table-- obviously not only are they literate in terms of the body of scholarship that's been produced in the name of hip hop, which in and of itself, is expansive-- expansive now-- let alone understanding what hip hop is on the ground. So when I do these K through 12 sessions, it's always fun, and let me be real about what these sessions look like. These are very often young-- well, older, middle age white teachers with some real anxieties about the black and brown children that they can't communicate with anymore.
So I get brought in to do these K through 12 sessions with the teachers to give them an overview of what hip hop is, and the standard question-- well, how old is hip hop? And literally they're going, it's 12 years old. It's 14 years old. Maybe you'll get someone to go, well, yeah, I remember Run DMC, so maybe it's 20 years old. And if you start talking the Bronx August 1973, they're like, what? What are you talking about? And that's with K through 12 people. If you're talking about scholars, scholars generally speaking are even that much more far removed from the world if we want to be honest.
So who is in a position to talk about the criteria that is accessible and available to make sure that quality work gets done? And how do we find the most creative ways to take advantage of the body of knowledge that's been produced by The Pioneers? And of course, in the academy where everything is so logo centric, all we want talk about is books, and the books are great. I love Charlie's Yes, Yes, Y'all, and sometimes that's the only context without physically bringing people into the classroom that my students get to hear these voices, but how do we think about creative ways to talk about the body of knowledge that these folks have produced that doesn't get reproduced in the same kind the ways that have always been reproduced in terms of books? And we value books.
How do we get to a version of, for instance, value and sound within this conversation? One of the things I love about conversations about hip hop, because everybody is talking about how bad mainstream hip hop is, how somehow it's a devaluing of what we saw, say, 20 years ago. And in terms of we're talking about content, if we're talking about the visual aspect of it, yes then we can have a conversation, but if we're actually talking about the quality of production, if we're talking about sound for the sake of sound, I love [INAUDIBLE]. I find it hard to listen to two or three of those songs back to back 20 years removed from that particular moment.
If you think about how the production level, the quality of production has been brought up to a higher level in the context of contemporary hip hop, you understand why, in fact, the kids are so addicted to it, because in terms of the technology that's available, the sampling processes that are available, the creativity that's been created because of the new technology, what we've seen in terms of the sound of hip hop is really unprecedented. And even if you heard elements of that last night when some of the DJs talked about-- it may have been Cass-- really talked about-- when we talk about turntablism now and what folks like Hubert can do, it's a product of a technology that has been refined over a long period of time, and it's very hard to compare these two technologies. They really do sound differently, and we need to recognize that within the context.
So the question becomes, if we think about Cornell as being at the cutting edge at this moment-- and rightfully so-- of what we want to call hip hop studies in the academy, what do we need to do? What kind of conversations do we need to have as communities invested in what this is going to mean both in and outside of the academy? What kind of conversations do we need to have?
I'm struck by the fact-- the question that's come up time and time again this weekend about why isn't it in the Bronx? And I'm thinking, Bronx Community College would have been the ideal place to have this museum, but you're confronted by a couple of things. We know they ain't got resources. They ain't got resources to pay their faculty if we're going to be realistic if we're talking about state and city university at this point in time. We also know they're probably not people in a position, the gatekeepers of that institution, to even recognize the value of what this is.
So at what point are we, as the community, able to push back and put pressure on those institutions to recognize the value of what this is? And in this regard, the artists themselves can't be the only people carrying the water for this. This has to be a community-wide effort, just as it has to be a community-wide effort both here and in the academy to carry the water for why it needs to be accessible in certain kinds of ways to folks who aren't going to have the credentials as was talked about in the last-- and how do we talk about even raising folks? Because this is what this is about.
I was struck by the conversation about archiving and putting something in about hip hop and having Cornell come up first, and I realize that college recruiters-- that's kind of how they think about the world. Can we provision ourselves on the internet in a way that, if someone asks a certain kind of question, that we're the first representation of what that means. So I'd be like, I'm proud of the fact that if you put black male feminist in on Google, if my name doesn't come up first, it will surely come up second.
So you just think about that from an institutional standpoint for universities. What can someone put into a Google search that guarantees that when they put in this Google search our institution comes up first? And folks spend millions of dollars to make sure that this occurs. Let's be realistic about this, and I was struck by that because at some point for a 15-year-old to come up and put, say, Flash in and get Cornell University, that's too late in the process, because really what has to happen is how do we create the institutions and sustain the institutions where folks recognize the value of this stuff as intellectual property, as being knowledge that's produced in the best of what represents their community before they're even thinking about college?
And how do we get them to even think about the value of the tools that the university offers without hip hop being the carrot that gets them to that conversation? And that's the kind of conversation that has to occur well before a 15-year-old is trying to piece together a history that they hope they can piece together online. So this is the opportunity. How can we now have a broad based conversation starting in about three minutes about what we need to do really to push back and push forward in certain kinds of ways to make sure that there are more projects like the Cornell archive and there are more projects that bring together communities and conversation with these folks who are on the ground.
One of the things I love about the British press, and it's one of the reason why I actually have an interest in 50 Cent these days. When 50 Cent first hit, I absolutely despised him. The marketing plan-- the best marketing plan, if you aren't a dead rapper, is the nearly dead rapper. So let's celebrate the fact that I got shot nine times. Let's do a music video in the club that basically argues that I'm bionic rapper. You all grew up in the 70s, watched bionic man, watched the bionic man opening, and then watch the "In the Club" video. Same thing. We can rebuild him. He'll be faster, stronger, make more money, 10 million strong.
So the very idea of 50 Cent really, really bothered me, because that's the point where I get off the train. It's like, OK, I'm done with this. I need to find something else to do, something else to write about. I can't be buying this stuff anymore, et cetera, and I read a piece that 50 Cent did in one of the newspapers in London when I was in Birmingham, Britain last year. And what struck me about the interview was that the British journalist just simply asked him questions that you would never expect American journalists to ask rap stars. And that doesn't mean that there aren't American journalists who don't ask those questions. It just means that there are very often American editors that don't think there's any values to those questions. So those questions don't show up in the pieces.
And it gave me a kind of depth of understanding of the man that I didn't have before, and I keep wondering what kinds of things haven't we asked these Pioneers, because we're always asking so what made you think of the scratch? Who was at that first jam? And understand these questions they've been answering now for 30 years. Has anyone asked him, were you cognizant of the Cross Bronx Expressway? Did you grow up in one of those neighborhoods that got displaced? What was your experience in public school? Then vis a vis music and expression, what kind of opportunities were you? Were you cognizant of how radical a move stealing electricity from the light bulbs-- and how did that reflect how you as a community already in your family and amongst your friends were trying to figure out how to gather resources that you didn't have access to, so that it was almost a no brainer to do that because you were already doing that in the name of surviving in the communities in the first place?
Those kind of questions never get asked, because we don't think there's any value to these folks. There's that great scene Bulworth-- and I'm a big fan of the film Bulworth, because it's hilarious, and a lot of folks were turned off on it because it's Warren Beatty, and why is he trying to rap? And is he making fun of hip hop? And I think if you watch that movie closely, part of what he's articulating is that these folks have made the analysis you have not taken the analysis serious because of who the message was coming from. So I take on the uniform of the messenger as the white patriarch, and suddenly folks are like, oh, well that's kind of innovative. Spread the wealth, which is one of the things that Bulworth is arguing in that movie, by the way. It's the reason why he gets shot, lest we count our ducats too soon this year, but of course, there's a certain kind of logic and knowledge that's been produced on the ground that allows people to get to their day to day that hip hop is the embodiment of, but we never take it seriously as a body of knowledge that not only needs to be interrogated obviously as scholars do, but is doing its own form of interrogation on the ground that we need to recognize and respect on its own terms.
And of course, a lot of this is well beyond any conversation that we can have today. And if any of you have spent any time in any of these rooms having any of these conversations over the last 15 years, that's why some of us-- these conversations occur. It's like, damn, didn't we talk about that at somebody's new music seminar in 1987.
I'm just being real. Didn't Greg Tate write about that in The Village Voice in 1992. Same conversations over and over again. We have not gotten very good about how do we sustain this conversation, and I don't think we can sustain it without a real investment institutionally from institutions of higher education, which at this point in time represent one of the few spaces where we can sustain these conversations. So I'm open to hear everything that you all have to bring to this conversation. Thank you.
DANIELLE HEARD: People, please feel free to come forward and take the mic, and if anybody would like me to bring the mic to them, just raise your hand and I'll bring it.
SPEAKER 1: Yes, peace and blessings, [? Hotep, ?] assalamu alaikum.
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 1: Yes, thank you. My name is Tony Muhammad. I'm a journalist. I'm an educator during the day. There's some comments I just want to make. I myself, when I was growing up, I wasn't looking for an academic to explain life to me. When the Rodney King riots took place, I wasn't looking at CNN and trying to find some answers. I remember MTV was asking questions of KRS-One and Chuck D. He was like, well, what's going on here? And I remember KRS-One saying, this is not the way. We need to organize, and mobilize, and figure out a way to do things better. And just seeing the intelligence on the part of these men, the way that they articulated themselves, it was like, man, I want to be more intelligent.
I heard Malcolm X being mentioned in much of Public Enemy's music. I was like, well, who is this Malcolm X? I'm a Latino. I'm originally from New York, but I grew up in Miami. And I was like, well, Malcolm X wasn't really being emphasized in Miami. I'm like, who's Malcolm X? So I went ahead and read the autobiography of Malcolm X on my own when I was in high school. And then I was inspired when I started going to college to really major in something social-- first psychology, then I changed my major to sociology, and then I became a teacher.
That's where I ended up, but what inspired me to become a teacher it was really seeing the teacher teaching on the screen. It was really the music of the time. Today, who are teaching our children? And I do my part in the classroom. I've also reformed African American voices curriculum for the Miami Dade County Public school system, incorporating several lessons on hip hop culture. I've also organized several conferences on hip hop throughout the year. In Miami, one of them is called Organic Hip Hop, which talking about the Nation of Islam, I am a proud member of the Nation of Islam, and I create an event called organic hip hop, which basically teaches the hip hop community how to eat to live and introduces a vegetarian diet to this generation of children that are coming up now.
It's very, very important that I believe that institutions such as Cornell, and colleges, and universities throughout the country really make an extra effort to bridge the gap between community life and the university, because what's the quality of students that are coming to Cornell in the next 5, 10 years? It's not being cultivated in the community, then you don't have a right to complain. You really don't.
It will take radicals such as Dr. Carole Davies, who's now a professor here at Cornell. I came up under Dr. Davies at Florida International University. I became so fed up with academia that I just went a ahead and abandoned it, and just did my own thing in the classroom. She called on me a couple years after I was done with my master's degree. She was like, Tony, we really need your help. We need to create a hip hop event here at FIU, but make it authentic and make it representative of the culture. And I went ahead and did, and we had Pioneers come out and speak about what inspired them. We had KRS-One speak a couple times at FIU, and Brother J of X Clan. We had Davey D speak at FIU. And really they speak the language of the people, and we had children bussed over to the college. What I'm going to say is that it will take an extra effort to really get accomplished what we set to accomplish with this archive. I think this archive is a wonderful thing, and we should strive to make bigger moves. Thank you.
SPEAKER 2: Professor Neal, you spoke about the diasporic roots of hip hop culture and what role specifically the South Bronx had in not only cultivating, but also facilitating the growth of hip hop culture. And with that being said, I wanted to ask, where do we begin to have a conversation that allows us to talk about patterns of migration and the impact that hip hop culture has had on other music genres when we talk about genres that have been specifically associated with particular groups of people?
So when you begin to talk about hip hop culture and its influence, you begin to talk about reggaeton. You begin to talk about rap en espanol. In particular places like Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, which is something totally different aesthetically than what you hear when listening to hip hop or reggaeton, or even you begin to talk about crunkchata music, which mixes crunk music with bachata, or the bachata urbano movement, which is the infusion of hip hop with traditional Dominican music. Where do you begin to have that conversation where you link both music genres with hip hop culture?
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: Thank you, Wilfredo. One of the things I have always found interesting about talking about hip hop is that hip hop is this template, and it gets recovered globally in all kinds of localized context that we never can really explain. For a better way to describe it, there's something about it that's magical, and the idea of something that's magical really resists empirical data, though were scholars. We keep wanting to do the empirical work that can explain the very things that you just identified. And so I don't have an answer for that in the sense that it is, in fact, when we look at how it's traveled globally, and it's not traveling globally by accident obviously. It's part of a global system, particularly in terms on the corporate level, but that doesn't explain how it gets picked up in these localized places, and gets gutted of the global content, and gets applied in very localized contexts.
And I think that's where the conversation gets very interesting, because we're wedded to this nostalgia about origins, and as somebody that's born and raised in the South Bronx, I love the fact that hip hop was born and raised in the South Bronx, because everywhere I go in the world I get to claim that. And that's something that's important to me, but there are origins and original narratives and stories every place that they respond to what hip hop-- when hip hop came to this place, we had to respond to it. Everybody has those stories. It's the reason why Johan is in the room now, because in Sweden right, he had to respond when he first heard the sound of this.
And I think that gets us away from having an easy way to control the conversation, because it demands on us not to just know the origins of hip hop in a certain kind of aesthetic, but we have to actually be in tune to the global local. What is happening in this little province in South Africa at this moment in time that hip hop became important? And I think for American academics, that puts us off out game, because we're always thinking about ourselves to be in a position to dominating and controlling the conversation, to having the most information.
It puts us at a disadvantage that I don't think we are yet comfortable with, and I think that disadvantage of us articulating the economics or political theory, folks work through that. If it's articulated in hip hop, I think our reaction is just to toss hip hop aside without really having those conversations, but I think that's the reason why this doesn't go anyplace, because the conversations I think will only be richer once we really understand the full weight of how this is traveling the globe and how it's enriching local places in very specific ways.
Stepping up to the mic. How you doing, Mark?
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: I'm good, Tricia.
TRICIA ROSE: So I want to try to tie a couple things together here, and thank you very much for your very kind words about Black Noise. I'm interested in-- I'm going to start out with the big question, and then I'm going to try to bring it down. The big question is, why frame the study of hip hop as hip hop studies? And I guess-- and I'm not saying you are. I'm saying the field is being framed this way, but I'm interested in your take on it, because what really concerns me about that framing is that it actually disables a lot of what this young gentleman, who I met. What are you doing here? How are you doing? I didn't realize that was you talking. Anyway--
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: You realize how much Wilfredo gets around at conferences?
TRICIA ROSE: Yeah, exactly. Anyway, that these various synergies that might be global that are harder to see if it's just about a genre, but more importantly there's this huge generational gap in knowledge, particularly about afro diasporic traditions, which is what hip hop is a product of. It's global in many ways, but it's aesthetics, it's fundamental aesthetics, are part of African diasporic traditions, which is why Puerto Ricans and African Americans are so important in its formation. It's not random. There are other people living in the Bronx. They're just not participating in this particular set of aesthetic traditions.
So if we branch it further than hip hop studies, it seems to me we're able to see how so many of these patterns have happened with many other musical cultural formations in working class and nonwhite communities. So I guess my question is, are we actually ironically, even as we preserve and even as we carve out a field-- are we not contributing maybe intentionally for some, maybe unintentionally, to the market categorizations, the dehistoricization of various cultural traditions in doing so? And can we frame this in another way to make those links? Because I actually think a certain kind of illiteracy is produced by this category.
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: That's a great question, and it's personal in a lot of ways. When I made the kind of passing comment that I don't think of myself as a hip hop scholar, because I find it limiting. And it's a difficulty trying to find a way to articulate that, because on the one hand, you want to affirm everything that hip hop is, and not making that distinction because you're trying to denigrate what hip hop is, but at the same time, trying to recognize that hip hop is part of a larger trajectory.
As someone who spent a lot of time studying black popular music, hip hop is just the thing-- not just the thing, but hip hop is the thing that sits at the feet soul and funk of the 70s. And soul and the funk of the 70s is a thing that sits at the feet of the origins of soul and rhythm and blues music, as rhythm and blues sits at the feet of gospel. There's a whole trajectory, and I think very often because we get caught up in the legibility of the term hip hop, we close down conversations about all this other stuff that hip hop clearly is in conversation and influences.
I also think in terms of the academy it's problematic because it ghettoizes us in very real ways. I don't know how many colleagues that don't know what the hell I do. And I wish they were all colleagues who didn't look like me. I don't know how many of my colleagues don't know what the hell I do who feel compelled-- every description of me, he's a hip hop scholar. And it's like, have you actually read my work? And I'm sure there are lots of folks who, on the one hand, understand the value politically of being tied to hip hop studies, but also don't want to be ghettoized in the academy, because then that becomes the articulation, the reason to articulate, well, you just do this hip hop stuff. You don't need to be anywhere near an English department. You don't need to be anywhere near a sociology, political science, and history, and when we finally decide to pull the resources on this little hip hop studies program, you're going to have to go find another job, because-- All kinds of questions about who gets tenured where.
One of my favorite almost tragic stories in hip hop is someone like Joe Schloss, who did a brilliant book on hip hop and ethnography of hip hop producers. Has a brilliant book on break dancing that's coming out of Oxford Press in March. He can't get a tenure track job, because folks in the academy are like, where do we tenure this guy? Is he in a dance department? Is he in African American studies? Is he in ethnomusicology? And that's where you see where these things become very problematic, because I think Tricia is absolutely right.
How do we find a way to articulate what this is with the gravitas that it demands, and it demands that gravitas because it is, in fact, linked to so many more expansive things, and how do we find the language in the academy to best represent how expansive this really is? And again, it's a difficult thing, because at the same time, we're not trying to push any of the people outside of the conversation for which hip hop is the only way to represent what this is.
I'm pretty sure that if you had a conversation with some of The Pioneers and you would describe what they do as part of a broader African diasporic politics, not all of them will be on board with that, because in that particular articulation of what it is, they get obscured within that conversation. The term hip hop, rap music gives them a certain kind of presence in the conversation, and we need to find a way to do both/and, instead of either/or. Thank you, Tricia.
MARGARET WASHINGTON: Well, my name is Margaret Washington, and I'm a professor of history here at Cornell and one of the people who helped organize this fabulous conference, and let's pat ourselves on the back. I think we're doing a great job.
And in regard to the question that the gentleman asked, last night The Pioneers, especially Bambaataa, really put hip hop in a historical perspective, and he did it in about five minutes. And I said to myself-- I could have run up and kissed him. I said to myself, wow, wouldn't it be wonderful to have someone like that giving that kind of a historical analysis of hip hop in a classroom? And that brings me to Mark Anthony Neal's point about the role of the university in terms of education and cultural dissemination, because hip hop isn't just black culture. It isn't just Latino culture. It's American culture, and wouldn't it be wonderful if, when black studies began and these other so-called area studies in the late 60s and early 70s-- if some of The Pioneers who gave us this wonderful information and all of this historical knowledge about the development of this cultural genre-- if they couldn't be at the university, why do they have to be separate from the artifacts that are here?
And so one of the things-- now, this is supposed to be a round table, so we're supposed to be talking about what can be done, right?
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: Right.
MARGARET WASHINGTON: So Paul, professor of English here at Cornell, one of the things that Cornell can do or can start the dialogue about is getting some of these Pioneers on campus as residential scholars to talk about this collection. Think of what they can tell us about this image-- much more so than me or any of the other scholars-- and what the students can learn from actually having them in the presence of these archives. And so maybe one of the things we ought to think about, especially here on this campus, is not separating the creators from what they've created.
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: That's a great point.
SPEAKER 3: Can I just piggy back off of that for a hot minute?
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: Mm-hm.
SPEAKER 3: All right. Thank you so much for sharing that. I think that I was sitting back there, and my mind was flying everywhere. First and foremost, I totally appreciate the effort that's being made here. It's a great achievement, but I do remember not so long ago when panels were put together, and there was not even one hip hop practitioner on it.
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: Absolutely.
SPEAKER 3: And it was nothing but academics and so-called scholars. I also appreciate the point that Professor Tricia Rose made, because that's real. And the same way Bambaataa in five minutes gave us a timeline of how hip hop doesn't come from a void and how it's totally a reflection of ancestral inheritance, if you will, on a long legacy. Many of us have taken it upon ourselves, and when I say us, I mean the practitioners, the people that break, the people that beat-- and by the way, we have to be careful even among us in here of using these terms that were given to us by the media. Quite often people who use the word breaking or break dancing where you have to recognize pop and locking, and the whole west coast culture, et cetera, but I don't want to spread myself too thin.
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: Because that's a class.
SPEAKER 3: Right, exactly, but what I will say is that, even when there are-- for instance, every single panel here-- and I may be sort of overstepping my boundaries, and I don't mean to step on people's toes, but if there is a professor lecturing or a doctor lecturing, then there should be one of us doing a presentation, as well, and we do this. I'm not the only one who does it. I do these lectures. I have one called The Great Hip Hop Swindle, where I clearly talk about the birth, rise, and fall of hip hop culture, and not only that, I totally tie it back to its deeper roots with footage from Thomas Edison of [? Three Hoofers, ?] and one of them gets down and breaks in 1895 and does some B boy moves.
I show Earl Snakehips Tucker doing boogaloo rolls and slides in 1932, and of course it could go way beyond that, and even the element of so-called graffiti or aerosol art and how that in itself had its own life, where you had white dudes who listened to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin putting it down just as hard as PHASE 2 and everybody else. So the thing is that it gets so detailed that, in order to really cover all of that, you totally have to give the platform to someone who lived it. And for those of you who are teaching in these institutions, we need to totally be a collaborative effort on this, and I'm hoping that what you propose becomes a reality.
I've been blessed to teach at the Tisch School of the Arts at ETW at New York University for the last seven years. That's a blessing. I'm an adjunct faculty, though, because of I don't have a degree. Still and all, at least it's a foot in the door, and I'm hoping that we can blast those doors wide open.
RICHE RICHARDSON: Professor Neal, thank you for your rich talk. I am Riche Richardson, and I'm an associate professor here at Cornell in the Africana Studies and Research Center. I work and write on southern rap, or the dirty south rap movement, and I have been struck really by how these rappers, for better and for worse, have really in some ways helped to revolutionize southern studies as a filed so that there's this conservatism that has been inherited and entrenched in southern studies, and yet I've seen over the past few years of my career that even the most conventional scholars have had to really acknowledge that this strata of rappers articulates a kind of southern alienation in a different way, because they're anthem has really been about rectifying the exclusion of the south from the mainstream in much the same way that all of these arguments have been broached elsewhere.
I've been concerned in certain ways by how there's this paradox that seems to exist in rap discourse, though, where you have, on the one hand, the inherent vernacular of rap as a form, and it's also inherently urban in some ways, as has been acknowledged. And yet and still the genealogy that extends back to the south oftentimes gets [INAUDIBLE] in these genealogies, and so I think that part of my work has been about filling in that gap. So that's one thing.
The second thing is that I very much identify with what you say about the institutional difficulties in terms of doing scholarship related to hip hop. After I-- or even before really that I finished my-- the moment that I finished my first book on southern rap I was invited by a major university press to do a short tract on the southern rap movement, and yet and still the imperatives of the particular university system that I was in at the time that mandated, oh, you have to go from this first monograph to the second monograph, made it really impractical to do that study, which in that system might have been counted as a long essay as opposed to a real book because they kind of want it in 100 pages. And so the institutional waters that we have to navigate, I think, are really complicated. The globalization of hip hop discourse, particularly through southern rap as a gateway, is another thing that I'd be interested in hearing your perspective on, or in terms of how that represents one particular strata through which hip hop has been globalized in more recent years.
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: Thank you. A bunch of references there. I think you're absolutely right about how southern rap has been devalued, particularly even within the context of mainstream hip hop. I think the stuff that we privilege as important rap music-- let me clarify. The things that we privilege as important rap music tends to be east coast based, New York centric, and cerebral. So you know we'll lift up Nas and Rakim, and rightfully so-- Gang Starr. We'll lift them up because of those elements, and part of how we've reacted to southern rap is that these guys don't sound literate.
In fact, they sound illiterate to us. We don't understand what we're saying. It's too southern. It's too vernacular, and what's the whole deal with the anthems. And I think it really demands that we create or use critical blinders that take into consideration what the American south is. The one thing about southern hip hop-- and say what you want about-- and I got a bias. Born and raised in the Bronx. I got an east coast bias. I'm an east coast cat. East coast 91, 96, that's all I want to talk about, but even within that context, the thing that I love about southern hip hop is that it is participatory in the way that hip hop was participatory 30 years ago.
Those anthems are about having a common language that everybody in the club can articulate in unison together, like call and response. It's all those kind of elements. It's about being up in a sweaty club all together working these things out. The reason why Outkast has become Outkast, because they understood the cerebral piece. So in some way, they're kind of a New York centric southern group, but I think you're absolutely right about the value of what's happening in the American south, and I think increasingly the American south gets left out of any conversation about what black people are-- even in the post Katrina moment, and I've been struck by even in the commentary about the election and how all these electoral maps are changing because of migration, and I'm like, OK, all those folks who left New Orleans-- what's their impact in terms of how some of these maps are changing at this point in time, but it's black folks in the south, whether it's kind of main street gatekeeper black culture or white mainstream, is absolutely forgets about that kind of articulation, so I think in that regard alone I think it's ironic. Who would think that southern rap would suddenly bring this energy to southern studies.
As you rightfully said, it's always been so conservative, and yet the great thing about hip hop across the board-- it always creates its own markets. That's the brilliance of the thing, it always creates its own context to be taken seriously. So thank you. Great question.
SPEAKER 4: I have a question. I just wanted to point out the first hip records that didn't come out of the tri-state area came out of the south in '79 and '80, so that's for the first records that weren't [INAUDIBLE] general, ordinary [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 5: Professor Neal, I want to broaden-- I want to go back to something you said a little earlier. You were asked about why people don't ask [INAUDIBLE] to The Pioneers, and I want to try to extrapolate that to find a space where the African American experience might be able to help in a global context. Right now we're seeing China. We're seeing India go through elements of the African American experience-- massive migration on a scale never seen before from agrarian to industrial. And the question I have is whether anyone is looking at the opportunity to engage these Pioneers globally.
What does fable have to offer to a Chinese policy maker when we're hearing reports now that in 40 years Beijing and Shanghai are going to have ghettos larger than the entire population of [? Sao Paulo ?] or New York City. What does our experience- native of the South Bronx as well-- what does my experience running from the gunfights, watching my civil infrastructure implode, not necessarily by people who are at evil intent, mind you-- some of the policies were supposed to help us-- what do we have to inform global leaders in a policy context. You see where I'm going? Rap is a time specific response, a time specific response to a particular--
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 5: We encounter, but the African American experience in its totality-- I'm watching it play out in the global context, and watching these Pioneers be excluded from even being involved in that conversation.
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: I think that's one of the reasons why Tricia's earlier question about why simply call this hip hop studies. If you take into consideration what the gentleman just put on the table, what might this study look like if it was able to articulate itself fully if it had the access to the resources. I like to joke about hip hop studies being the sociology of the 21st century. Folks are always like, what? But 100 years ago, the only time you could talk about race, and gender, and identity was in the context of sociology, the study of sociology.
You could argue that call it hip hop studies or whatever hip hop allows us to have those kind of conversations in the academy and elsewhere that we're not having. And when you put it into a context now of talking about globalization and the way that individual localized communities respond to particular kind of changes in the society, I think this is a wonderful moment to think about doing this kind of work. It's not that it's not a difficult moment, because it will be. Clearly in terms of just [INAUDIBLE] the deal on the level of resources, but all the questions-- going back to the presentation yesterday, all the questions that we ask as scholars and practitioners and we think about within the guise of what has brought us in the room today. We'll be working for the rest of our lives, hopefully productively and richly.
DANIELLE HEARD: We have time for two more questions. I think there's two people in line, and if we could take the questions back to back.
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: Not a problem.
DANIELLE HEARD: Thanks.
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: Ms. Hear.
SPEAKER 6: I'll try to be real brief, but I'm hearing you speak up there. You brought up a lot of images and ideas in my mind that I've definitely been thinking about. One of them, I was born and raised in the Bronx. I'm 35, so grew up--
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: I couldn't tell that, by the way.
SPEAKER 6: So I grew up with hip hop, basically. That's all I know. Kid Capri used to come to my house with my uncles to eat. So and I grew up right on Kingsbridge Field, 183rd, all throughout that area. So that's what I knew. And as far as you talking about the knowledge base, most of the stuff that I learned about John Henrik Clarke, Dr. Ben, I learned from the Zulu Nation and the Five Percent Nation, and there's no way you can have a talk about hip hop without including those aspects to it. That's where we obtain our knowledge of self, of the world, and how we view the world. And it heavily influenced hip hop in the early 80s.
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: Absolutely.
SPEAKER 6: And that's a very pertinent fact that a lot of people tend to gloss over.
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: Gloss over.
SPEAKER 6: And I don't recall, man, years back having a conversation of, it's going to be a stolen legacy thing. We're going to create hip hop, and they're going to take it into the academy. They're going to bourgeois the fight, and watch. Everything is just going to change. They're going to have you out as an academic pursuit. Years ago, before you even had hip hop studies up here-- and recently I'd like to commend you on your book, New Black Man. I just recently read it. I was referred to it by Danielle, because I always have conversations about things dealing with feminism in hip hop and stuff like that, but those are some of the issues that I think are very relevant and need to be really addressed.
And to bring up what you said, brother, about the reggaeton and stuff like that, I remember, once again, back in the 80s, I remember brothers rapping in Spanish, mixing it up, you know what I'm saying? Between Spanish and English. So hip hop always had that element. There was always that Latinos-- that African Latino element in hip hop, you know what I'm saying? With the cangas and everything. You couldn't have a hip hop rally without brothers coming up there, Puerto Ricans DJ-ing and break dancing. It was not hip hop without it. You know what I'm saying? They added that spice and that element to it.
As far as bringing things back to the community, I think it has sort of- this is from streets, too. It has sort of went from an area where you had this knowledge base in the streets and it came to academia in sort of-- now it's sort of like almost being a stolen legacy phenomenon, where it is being monopolized and centralized in the academy. And the people who are really-- well, who were really out there, still are out there right now, spreading the knowledge, and dealing with the various aspects in issues that hip hop does tackle, the whole entire culture, are not being recognized. And you did mention why not BCC-- have something like that at BCC, and it's interesting that you said that, because I always felt like, why do I have to come all the way up here-- you know what I'm saying? To here about hip hop, and I'm born, and raised, and lived with hip hop originally.
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: And there's a museum right on 166th Street and the grand concourse.
SPEAKER 6: Yeah, the museum. I know about the museum right there on 166th, and it has nothing to do-- you guys should reel this stuff in there and stuff like that. Well, the hip hop-- I know the Puerto Rican studies at Hunter College did do a small little event there one time and stuff, but I think a lot of the individuals that call themselves scholars and things of that nature, that's kind of separated from the streets, and the knowledge based industries do need to, I guess, develop some type of curriculum or develop some type of program where they can actually bring brothers that are there to enlighten other individuals if that's the purpose and goal of it in the college universe.
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: Ms. Heard, do I have your permission to answer his question first and then get quickly to this? I think what makes this moment very different than other examples of how this has gone down-- there a bunch of us, I think, that are in the academy now that were never intended for the academy. Just straight up. That's what me and Wilfred vibe on all the time. We're not supposed to be here, and there's something about our own experiences and sensibilities that we're bringing to the table that I think is always going to be conscious that we can't separate this from where it comes from, that it just can't be the usual kind of co-option of an energy from outside of the academy to be something that's simply in the academy.
And I think more often than not when folks get to really articulate their full experience-- and I'm not trying to say that every black person that's in the academy has some sort of easy working class experience that they translate. There are a bunch of cats who didn't have that experience, but they're more than likely folks who have had that experience and we've ever seen in terms of previous generations of folks who are going through. And that doesn't mean that even those folks can't be co-opted at some point, but I'd like to think that there is a core folks who are doing this kind of work that are always doing it in consideration of the places where this comes from.
And your point about in terms of the Zulu Nation and Five Percent Nation, I think it's amazing that there's so many of us, in particular if you went to school in New York. Everything that I heard of consciousness before I got to college is because there was some Five Percenter sitting next to me in shop class. He was like, yo, buddy, you know about the true gods? And you're wondering all these cats-- you're going to school one day, and you're like, yo, what's up, Brian? It's like, that's not my name anymore. It's like, what's up?
So, yeah. So I think we need to always hear those critiques. Those critiques need to be made, and we need to not be so damn sensitive to them in a real sense, because this really needs-- has to be a kind of joint collaborative effort if this is going to be done right and the way that can really have the best impact that it can. Ultimately we have to ask ourselves what good is it to build this space for hip hop in the academy if it never comes down from the top of the tower. There's just no logical reason for it function that way. Yes, sir? Last question.
JORDAN: My name is Jordan, and I have a real quick comment and then a question. I'm actually glad that this archive is not going to be in the Bronx, because when I grew up hip hop was a Philadelphia experience, because I'm from Philadelphia. And hip hop wasn't a New York experience. It wasn't New York hip-- it was hip hop. And it was from my-- and I was from Philadelphia. I grew up with it, and it was a Philadelphia experience. And I bet you kids Chi-Town, kids from all over, it wasn't a New York thing. It was a hip hop thing.
I wasn't even conscious that it was from New York until I was like well into my late teens, because it was hip hop. So I'm actually glad it's not in the Bronx. I think people from the Bronx sometimes want to bring it there and make it all about that, and that's not the case. And then just my really-- I guess one of the problems-- I'm glad I'm hearing more and more that this is-- but one of the problems I'm seeing with hip hop scholarship, and one of the things I let-- scholarship is supposed to arm you for the world, get you ready to sort-- especially college students-- get you sort of ready to take on some of the things that are going out there. And one of the biggest problems I have is, how do I make that connection to my baby cousin who's listening to some-- who I'm trying to tell her, trying to get her back to the roots, some of the stuff that I listen to, some of the stuff that I heard about and picked up later on when I was old enough to appreciate it.
And then some of the stuff she's listening to now, and my eyes glaze over, and I have a horror and sweating, and I worry about it, and I guess I'm worried that hip hop scholarship has been good at sort of talking, I think-- or getting better at talking about where it came from, but where is it going? Why is it going in the direction? Why are we seeing the things we're seeing? And I think one of the things I worry about is it's not doing a good job of giving us a context for what we're seeing about where it's going. And then selfishly [INAUDIBLE].
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: I imagine Professor Rose will answer that question in her session.
TRICIA ROSE: Great set up.
MARK ANTHONY NEAL: Yes. Absolutely.
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Mark Anthony Neal, professor of black popular culture at Duke University, lectured and led a discussion during Cornell University Library's hip hop conference on Nov. 1, 2008, in the Alice Statler Auditorium. Neal has written four books about race, gender, music and popular culture. Danielle Heard, Ph.D. candidate in the department of English at Cornell University, introduced Neal and served as moderator.
The event was part of a two-day conference celebrating Cornell University Library's acquisition of "Born in the Bronx: The Legacy and Evolution of Hip Hop," a collection that documents the early days of hip hop with recordings, photographs, posters and more. Events on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, 2008, included music, performances and lectures by several of hip hop's founders, and roundtable discussions led by prominent speakers from the hip hop and academic communities.