By Gess Charniga
Students experienced hip-hop on a personal level during Rider’s first-ever hip-hop conference on Nov. 20.
Comprising lectures from scholars, authors and artists, as well as a live concert, the event was organized by Dr. Mickey Hess, Dr. Justin Burton and Dr. Brea Heidelberg, all of whom teach hip-hop classes at Rider. Students both interacted with scholars who study the subject and saw old-school hip-hop performed live.
The day was packed with presentations about topics in hip-hop that are not often discussed in an academic setting. Dr. Barbara Franz, a professor of political science at Rider, gave a lecture on underground rap in Austria; Dr. Kyra Gaunt, author of The Games Black Girls Play, spoke about twerking; Travis Gosa, a professor at Cornell, gave a lecture on the concept of neoliberalism in hip-hop; and Traum Diggs talked to the audience about his experience as an artist and described how hip-hop can be used as a type of journal therapy.
In between the presentations, three students were able to present their own essay topics to the audience. Allie Triglianos, senior American studies major; Queen Ross, senior business major; and Alison Varra, senior popular music culture major, all spoke about what they chose to write for their midterm papers in Hess’s Hip-Hop and American Culture course.
“Presenting at the hip-hop conference was a great experience,” said Triglianos. “I was able to pitch my topic not only to my peers, but to distinguished professors and members of the hip-hop community.”
Varra also enjoyed the experience and was able to overcome nerves because of how engaged the audience was.
“Presenting myself was a bit nerve-wracking, especially because I’ve never presented at a conference before,” she said. “But the audience was attentive, which I always find makes it easier to speak in front of people. It was great that I got the experience speaking in that sort of setting and had a receptive audience.”
Two other students were able to participate in a discussion panel with the non-student presenters as well. Justin Rodney, senior journalism major, was one of the two students chosen to be on the panel.
“The discussion panel was just a great opportunity to have conversations with professors and my fellow students about hip-hop,” Rodney said. “I was pretty stoked to talk about literally anything, but it came down to talking about the issues and connections that hip-hop has created for many listeners around the world.”
Students observing the panel also enjoyed the in-depth conversation.
“Hearing the different perspectives on the genre and culture during the panel session was really interesting because, while the answers were similar, everyone had a different explanation to the same question,” Triglianos said.
Hess, who recently published his own book about the life of hip-hop artist Ol’ Dirty Bastard, was excited to have the conference come together.
“It was great to see so many faculty and administrators in the audience,” he said. “We had a packed room throughout the day, and even some special attendees from off-campus, like Eva Ries, the marketing executive who handled European press and tour scheduling for Wu-Tang Clan since their first album in 1994.”
Though this was the first official hip-hop conference at Rider, Hess says that he’s been bringing rappers to campus since 2007 as guest speakers and performers, including Masta Ace, MF Grimm, Greg Nice, Prince Paul, Buddha Monk and K-Blunt. He also knew Traum Diggs personally, and was glad to have him involved in the conference.
“I met Traum Diggs when we were both part of a hip-hop panel discussion at SUNY Rockland. He’s the perfect person to include in events like these because he’s a rapper and a scholar — he enrolled at Temple U when he was only 16.”
Hess, as well as his co-organizers and students, were all extremely enthusiastic about the concert. Traum Diggs performed first, with a full band including flute, saxophone, guitar and drums, and though the BLC theater wasn’t packed, the students started to get into the music.
After his performance, Rah Digga, one of the most prominent female MCs and former member of Flipmode Squad, took the stage.
“Rah Digga’s performance was one of my favorite events of the day,” said Eva Truncellito, senior American studies major. “It was terrific to experience the combination of energy, intellect and pure fun of live hip-hop.”
Hess was ecstatic about bringing the opportunity of seeing live hip-hop to Rider’s students and agreed with Truncellito’s praise for Rah Digga.
“Rah Digga’s performance was the highlight of the day for me,” said Hess. “She and Traum Diggs each brought in full bands along with their DJs, and they put on such an energetic show. It would seem silly to me to have students spend a semester reading about hip-hop but never have the chance to watch it live.”
Rah Digga’s own response to performing at Rider was a positive one. According to Hess, she tweeted, “Thank you @RiderUniversity for being such a great crowd!! Yall ROCK!! Call on me anytime!” and “I love college kids. They just REALLY get hip-hop. Big difference rapping to people that paid attention in school.”
The students who were able to participate in this event were appreciative of the thought-provoking lectures and the opportunity to see live hip-hop. “It was great to see Rider University supporting these kinds of learning opportunities for students and the community,” said Truncellito.
Organizers hope this conference will become an annual event, so that future generations of Rider students can experience the academic side of hip-hop and also see live performances by artists who are passionate about the genre. With such enthusiastic professors, it seems likely that students can look forward to more opportunities like this one. Hess certainly hopes to make hip-hop a more prominent subject on campus with the help of his colleagues.