Monday, June 29, 2009

The Bar Exam

Artist: Common with Hi-Tek, J-Dilla, Marsha Ambrosius, and Nas
Track: Music For Life
Album: Hi-Tecknology Vol. 2: The Chip

Keep the music alive
The good and the strong survive
I closed my eyes and imagined I was Jackson Five
Randy and Michael goin' through life's cycle
Music allowed me to let life go
So vital to a youngster, comin' up amongst street hustlers
The big b to touch us, such a special place
Givin' the ghetto a taste of what freedom is like
I reached a point in my life where I was needin' the mic
No second guessin', self-expression in lessons learned
Aggression, became sessions where sessions burned
Put my soul into it, noww my feet is firm
And the game, where name is hard to earn
And hot cat's careers get scared and burn
Through the years, mine took a Godly turn
This is the story of my life here trapped in a verse
No matter the money or the movies, music is first, yea...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hip Hop Artist, MBA, MPA

We don't often hear of hip-hop artists with advanced degrees, but that phenomenon is becoming slightly more regular. We've read a lot about hip-hop artists taking college classes, earning college degrees, and even speaking and performing at colleges. The next logical step would of course be to get a Masters degree. What hip-hop artist wouldn't be a compelling student in an M.A. in sociology, cultural studies, or even political science program? The experience artists have with culture, travel, and business likely rivals some more traditional graduate students and even the teachers in those graduate programs.

Here's a brief list of hip-hop community members who have dabbled in if not successfully completed graduate education, with a brief look at the dues they've paid:

Sicari: Sicari Ware is a Detroit artist most closely associate with D-12 (Eminem's conglomerate). He's an experienced DJ and successful-break dancer. Education: M.P.A. completed at Kentucky State University.

E-PROPS: A Haitian-American hip-hop up-and-comer born in Brooklyn. Also and independent scholar with an interest in cultural theory. Education: Masters in political science completed at Brooklyn College.

Mick Boogie: By far the most famous member of this list (that I'm aware of). Mick Boogie is the unofficial Mixtape King. He's worked with everyone from Jay-Z to Talib Kweli. Education: Masters in marketing from John Carrol University.

DJ Shy: Popular Korean-American DJ in the LA area, unfortunately better know by the masses as a sex symbol than as an important feminist voice in the male-dominated DJ industry. Education: Masters in Heath Administration from University of Southern California.

David Banner: Popular southern rapper with a strong educational background. He's also an actor. Banner testified before Congress on African America Stereotypes in the Media. Education: M.Ed. from University of Maryland (although sources are conflicting, he either is one course short or is a class and a thesis short from earning the degree).

Other updates to the list? What is graduate education's place in hip-hop? How do degrees impact street cred?

-- Nick J. Sciullo

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hip Hop and Fathers

We all know that urban youth have often had difficult relationships with their fathers many whom have been absent, if not abusive. There are important public policy concerns that must be dealt with regarding fatherhood and urban communities. No matter how much the issue is researched or what disciplines are utilized as ways to engage fatherhood, we'll never have an answer or a set of policies that appeases everyone. But, discussions have not been confined to academic journals. Hip-hop has made countless references to fathers--some good and some bad. Here are several hip-hop quotables that seem particularly relevant on Father's Day:

"Favorite father?
How you gonna ask me that knowin' most of my click grew up without one?"
-- Saigon, Favorite Things

"I hope you grow up to become that everything you can be
That's all I wanted for you young'n, like Father, like Son
But in the end I hope you only turn out better than me
I hope you know I love you young'n, like Father, like Son"
-- Busta Rymes, on The Game, Like Father Like Son

"You see I deal with the premise that all children are ours
And that we all travel the same path
It's just that we don't get there at the same time"
-- Pops, on Common, Pops' Rap

"I mighta ended up on the wrong side of the tracks
If Pops wouldn't've pulled me back an said yo"
-- Nas, Bridging the Gap (featuring Olu Dara)

"Now dad this is a very sensitive subject
From the first time the doctor placed you in my arms
I knew I'd meet death before I'd let you meet harm"
-- Will Smith, Just the Two of Us

-- Nick J. Sciullo

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Bar Exam

Artist: KRS One
Track: Classic (Better than I ever been) (featuring Nas, Rakim, and Kayne West)
Album: Released as a single.

How many y'all got criminal minded?
You? You? You? Y'all don't be blinded?
Me, I got no jewels on my neck
Why? I don't need 'em I got your respect
KRS One, for 20 years I rock
I do it for J&J and Scott LaRock
This hip hop
And we's a nation
Don't you want to hear more KRS on your radio station?
Instead of broadcasting how we smoke them trees,
On the radio we need to hear more local MC's
Where you at? Come on where you at?
This is the difference between MC'ing and rap
Rappers spit rhymes that are mostly illegal,
MC's spit rhymes to uplift they people
Peace, love, unity, and havin' fun,
these are the lyrics of KRS One

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hip-Hop Scholarships a Reality?

Recently, one of the top selling R&B groups of all time, Boyz II Men, came together to talk about the initial planning of a hip-hop scholarship. They spoke at the Institute of Production and Recording in Minneapolis and discussed everything from their high school days at the High School for Creative and Performing Arts to Will Smith and Jodeci.

Like Boyz II Men or not, the vast majority of folks listened to them in the early and mid-90's. It would have been difficult not to. While the R&B group in general has become a less marketable entity than the R&B soloist today, R&B groups dominated much of the 1990s with acts like Public Announcement, Next, 112, Silk, Shai, Mint Condition all holding strong fan bases. Boyz II Men was really out in front of this phenomenon

This marks a positive development for hip-hop that often hasn't been perceived as promoting traditional methods of education. This presents an encouraging development in hip-hop's giving back to the community. Because Boyz II Men are a mainstream voice in the larger urban music movement with cross-generational and genre appeal, this could greatly enhance the reputation of hip-hop and R&B artists especially as it relates to education.

Will other artists and groups follow suit?

For the full story and to watch a video of the interview, click here.

-- Nick J. Sciullo

(Photo of Boyz II Men from

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hip-Hop and Kids

Not all hip-hop fans or even people influence by hip-hop were born in the hip-hop generation, a contested time period roughly between the mid-60s and the mid-80s. Today children of all ages are listening to hip-hop, the demographics of hip-hop's audience has changer, and hip-hop has become increasingly international.

Two recent stories provide interesting spring boards to a discussion of hip-hop and age. Bob Marley's eldest son, Ziggy Marley, released a kid-centric reggae album entitled Family Time. The album is a departure from his more traditional reggae products which have addressed issues as diverse as relationships, violence and parties. Not many artists are willing to depart from their bread and butter to branch out into new and unexplored territory. Common, of course, gave us the critically praised, but commercially unsuccessful highly experimental album Electric Circus. The Rugrats Movie CD did not exactly fly off the shelf, even though it features songs that included Mase, B Real, Busta Rhymes, and Loon. Ziggy Marley has a bit more ethos, being a father of five, but it's difficult to imagine a platinum-selling kids album.

What role does hip-hop have in raising children? If playing classical music into the womb is supposed to create smarter children, what affect might hip-hop have? Is Ziggy's decision to do a kid-centric project admirable?

I applaud Ziggy's choice and have always been a fan of his music. I hope that he'll inspire other artists to address children in their music. Hip-hop and reggae can and often have positively affected the lives of many. Hip-hop is a pedagogical tool. Why not begin to teach children through hip-hop, not just about it?

Also in the news, Akon recently spoke to a small gathering of teenagers in Poughkeepsie, New York. Akon's no stranger to trouble, and in this talk he helped educate teens about making the right decisions and the dangers of gun violence. The appearance was not part of the community service he was ordered to complete as a result of his KFest fan-launching incident in 2007. Unfortunately, we do not see enough hip-hop artists talking to youth. It happens here and there, but relatively few young people can claim to have listened to hip-hop artists other than on a CD.

As a powerful social movement, hip-hop must take a more forward-looking stance on its relationship with children of all ages.

(Photo by Ann Johansson/LA Times)