Part of the University’s Community Values Statement reads, “We celebrate our differences, for they are our strengths.” So when Dr. Mickey Hess, assistant professor of English, started the American Studies course Hip-Hop and American Culture, he hoped it would help the University “to get its foot in the door for hip-hop studies.”
“We use it as a common ground to ask what people think about incidents such as [the] Jena [six], Louisiana or on campus,” he said.
In the past years, the University has offered similar courses, such as the Social Impact of Rock ’n’ Roll, but there was no class about hip hop. Last year, Hess published a book Icons of Hip Hop, so who better to teach the first Hip Hop and American Culture class than he?
“A lot of other universities have started hip-hop classes over the past five or 10 years, such as Princeton with [its] hip-hop symposium and Stanford’s hip-hop archive,” Hess said.
On Oct. 16, Hess and his class brought their ideas to the community when they helped host Inside the Rapper’s Studio: Is Hip Hop Dead? with artist Masta Ace in the Bart Luedeke Center Theater. A roundtable discussion with a Q&A from the audience about the lecture was followed by a concert.
According to Hess, one of the major focuses of his class is Masta Ace’s fourth album Disposable Arts. Masta Ace, who was born and raised in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York, has worked with artists such as Kool G. Rap, Biz Markie, and Marley Mar. He has also been cited as an influence amongst rappers such as Eminen. Masta Ace first arrived on the hip-hop scene by winning a contest, according to the artist.
“The contest was at a skating rink in Queens called United Skates of America,” he said. “First place was recording time with Marley Mar and second place was $500. I just wanted the money.”
Masta Ace beat out 18 other contestants to win first place. After meeting Masta Ace, Marley Mar took him under his wing, and from there, the artist wound up recording with him.
“Originally, I wasn’t supposed to be on track,” Masta Ace said. “I was asked just to warm the mic up, and at the end they decided that they liked the way it sounded and kept it on there.”
During the lecture, Masta Ace talked about the importance of hip-hop’s influences. Many hip-hop artists do not only take material from their own experiences but also strive to improve based on their fellow artists’ performances.
“Most of my influences are a lot of my experience from the time when I was a child to now,” he said. “I also get motivated to write from listening to other rappers as well. If a rapper is really good, then that motivates me to do better as well.”
The event served a dual purpose for certain groups on campus such as the Black Student Union, who co-sponsored the event with the Student Entertainment Council. According to senior Joy Clayton, BSU president, hosting Masta Ace was “an honor.”
“Masta Ace is really influential to promoting good music and the positivity of hip-hop,” said Clayton. “This event is a great opportunity to bring awareness to BSU, but it lets the community know and understand what we are doing in reference to our music and our culture.”
In the meantime, Hess hopes that events like Inside the Rapper’s Studio will happen more often.
“I’d love to do an event like this with a different rapper every year if we find the funding and the students keep being interested,” Hess said.