Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Not taking professors seriously when they talk about hip-hop?

There's an interesting article from January 5, 2011 over on The Chronicle... here. it talks about teaching copyright law in the classroom. The article's pretty good, but one quote from University of Illinois - Chicago UIC Distinguished Professor of Communication Steve Jones seemed particularly interesting.

Jones is quoted in the article as saying:

"I don’t think they [students] see anyone who’s a professor as having authority on hip-hop and rap."

Is that true? Does being a professor, or being academically inclined somehow detract from one's credibility or knowledge of "hip-hop and rap?" It seems to me this could not possibly be the case. Does one lose their street cred once one enters academia?

Many of the bloggers here on have experience in hip-hop culture beyond their academic interests, and as many fall in the loosely defined "hip-hop generation," it seems that they have some authority on the question of hip-hop. This seems to be a common charge against academics, the notion that they are somehow apart from their area of scholarship, but usually that charge is leveled by non-academics. But, that criticism is certainly not universally applicable. Is it even legitimate?

I don't think anyone is confusing any of the bloggers here with Nas, MC Lyte, or whomever, but I also don't think that's the point. No one on this blog is trying to become a hip-hop star (at least not to my knowledge). The goal for hip-hop scholars should not be to be rappers. I don't ever want to be mistaken for any of the people I listen to or write about, I just want to bring my personal story and research to the hip-hop and legal communit(y)(ies) and see what happens. I don't think what I write is valuable because I have a J.D., I think it's just another voice in the milieu, hopefully a voice that says something important and adds to the ongoing discussion. Most of us writing on this blog, are modest in this respect and I think it is something we try to convey to friends, colleagues, and students. But, according to professor Jones, few people may be taking us seriously...

I wonder what Professor Jones means when he talks of this monolithic "professor." What are the characteristics of his "professor?"

I'd be interested in seeing what others in the blogosphere think about this article and about the above mentioned quote.


  1. I think the tossed around argument that academics and professors don't have hip hop credibility is 1) antiquated & 2) still used only by professors and academics to make all those who don't take them seriously look ignorant.

    I try to keep this in mind: French poet Baudelaire said, "it would be unthinkable for a critic to become a poet; and it is impossible for a poet not to contain within him a critic."

    But then there are always situations like these-

    Dyson holds it down just as well as P and Banner.

    Anyways, if you've noticed rapper Bun B is now teaching at Rice University.

    And Jim Jones is teaching at a NY high school. (

    Profs maybe its time to step up your rap game.

  2. Douglas,

    Great thoughts! I appreciate it. I think you may be on to something. Perhaps we academic types need to try our hand at rapping. There's certainly nothing about academic pursuits that would render one unable to rap.

    I also like the Baudelaire quote. Baudelaire's great, but I don’t think many come across him unless they've studied English extensively. Baudelaire was fairly significant in terms of rhetorical theory and the use of symbols. He laid the foundation for much later work. It would probably pay off for rap artists to read some of his poetry.

    Keep the comments coming...

  3. In the late 70s and 80s, I chafed at hearing adults talking about hiphop, because I felt they could not be authorities when they were not where HipHop was at. And once radio stations started playing rap music, the problem got worse. People began to assume that what's on the radio and what's produced by the rap music industry defines hiphop. And now this misleading view is entrenched.

    As professors, while some of us are hiphop and some of us truly love hiphop, we must remain humble enough to acknowledge that we are at this stage of our lives rarely at places where non-industry hiphop is performed and rarely associate anymore with those artists or their fans.

    That does not mean our insights are irrelevant. It just means we should very humble while taking on the task of explaining hiphop to our new constituents.

    Andre L. Smith, Associate Professor
    Widener Law School


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