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From Questlove to Nas: Hip-Hop Finding a Place in the World of Academia

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Last week, Harvard University announced that they would be instituting a Nasir Jones Hip-Hop Fellowship. With the creation of this fellowship and other artists like Questlove taking teaching positions, hip-hop seems to have finally found its place in the world of academia.

Since the 1970s, hip-hop has steadily gained intellectual credibility because while the genre does come out of black American culture, the genre itself transcends cultures, ethnic, and generational boundaries creating a prime subject for a field of study. Harvard University took the next step in hip-hop education by creating the Hip-Hop Archive and Research Institute in 2002 to explore the educational merits of the social and cultural phenomenon. On an educational level, the hip-hop subculture satisfies four academic areas of study: linguistics, music, kinesthetics, and art.

The art of hip-hop with its raps and rhymes caters directly to linguistic intelligence. And with artists like Nas being proclaimed one of the greatest lyricists the world has ever seen, Harvard will have an upper hand. Dj’ing, appeals more to the musical intelligence by requiring a vast technical musical understanding as well as the history of music. Questlove, a walking encyclopedia of music history, brought a vast knowledge to his students in his NYU seminar. Breakdancing  appeals to the kinesthetic senses while the art of graffiti, a prevalent force in hip-hop culture, appeals to the artist.

Using hip-hop as a lens into the world of academia can also open the area of social discussion in ways that the classroom hasn’t always been able to breach. At the heart of hip-hop are the hot topic issues that are ever prevalent in our society, issues like race, gender, class, and oppression. Hip-hop is challenging because it brings to the table social meanings that are often overlooked. It adds that needed flair to make the world of academia an exciting and progressive place. Hip-hop has more than earned it’s place in our universities and their curriculum.

Mackenzie is an Alabama native attending NYU and studying Journalism and Dramatic Literature. She hopes to one day live in London and write for the BBC.