Speaking to the Value of Studying Hip Hop
Published: Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 02:09
‘How do you spell ‘Hip Hop’?”
This question struck me as odd after spending three years at an institution rich in knowledge and committed to diversity and serving others. It was especially shocking because the professor who posed the question had just finished explaining his 20 years of experience working in Georgetown’s music ministry. How could someone know so much about music — its compilation and how to play it — and not know how to spell arguably the most influential music genre of my generation? His question illustrated a deeper issue in what scholars deem appropriate or worthy of examination and research. Can musicians use Hip Hop to express their praise and worship? Our class received an answer when the professor identified each genre of music he believed used Christian musical elements to worship God. Hip Hop wasn’t one of them.
After the professor questioned his own ability to the spell the popular genre, my expectations of his views of these “non-traditional genres” were bleak. I then took to heart his response when a classmate mentioned that there were indeed Christian Hip Hop artists — very successful ones at that. His bewilderment turned into intrigue, and I left class feeling somewhat pleased that my professor was discovering another realm of Christian music.
Our next class proved just as intriguing. I was right: My professor had been inspired to research Hip Hop and was eager to share his newly gleaned information with us. He began by informing the class that the first website that showed an overwhelming amount of information on hip-hop was Wikipedia and — like every scholar knows — Wikipedia is not a reputable source. Relieved to hear this, I listened carefully to what would be an entire class lecture on the origins of Hip Hop, its compilation, musicians in the genre and its cultural meaning taught from definitions and examples provided by the most unreliable source of them all: Urban Dictionary.
There were a number of things wrong with the conversation, mostly due to my professor’s previous lack of exposure to such a prevalent genre of music and reliance on a less-than-sound source. What if none of my classmates had raised their hands to inform him there was a thing such as Christian Hip Hop music? If not, our dialogue surrounding music genres used in worship would have been limited to a view that illustrates society’s easy dismissal of subcultures. Georgetown stresses the importance of intercultural dialogue and often addresses compassion and understanding toward dominant cultures. Most notably, when professor Michael Eric Dyson announced he was dedicating a course to examining the sociology of Hip Hop, focusing on rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z, there was quite a backlash from parents and scholars who judged the musician unworthy of an entire course. Whether or not one considers Jay-Z comparable to Shakespeare, the situation made me question the texts that scholars and faculty feel are worthy of examining.
This was not the first classroom experience in my undergraduate career at Georgetown where the decision to speak up meant being looked at as “that black girl,” but after several years of experience, I now recognize the value in acknowledging my experience of the minority regardless of the pushback. While some may believe that ignorance of cultures outside of salmon-colored shorts is bliss, this attitude ignores our call to be men and women for others, so to answer the question that my professor earnestly asked at the beginning of class last Wednesday, H-I-P (no hyphen) H-O-P.
Aya M. Waller-Bey is a senior in the College.