On Friday 7 February, 2020 St. Johns Wood Library in London was filled to capacity for an event to celebrate black history month. Our objective was to discuss the contributions hip hop artists have made to American culture and society; and really also their influence on global culture and society. Last year we looked at literature produced by African American writers. On Friday, we talked about Hip Hop and Storytelling. Hip Hop artist have produced a wide range of music that reflects the diversity within America. They have documented, reflected and provoked conversations about everyday life and the collective black experience. Tricia Rose, a prominent scholar, says, “Hip Hop music has often played an outsized role in exporting American culture to the world.” This is partly due to the power of rap as a vehicle to “tell personal stories in an infectious and vibrant manner.” Rap songs are full of “great beats,” vivid imagery, wit and bravado.
As president Obama once noted, Hip Hop embodies the American spirit. Hip Hop culture champions’ individualism and agency. It is an artform that takes a participatory approach; and it is rooted in freedom of expression. “Anyone with a talent for performing, writing, dancing or art” can become a successful artist in the culture (Tricia Rose). Lastly, Hip Hop music is a literary expression in the form of poetry. Its subject matter often challenges social-economic injustice and political discrimination. In many ways, Hip Hop’s global appeal can be attributed to the fact that it discusses both personal and communal experiences with a certain level of truth. This has become a model emulated worldwide and used to engage and overcome certain barriers. Whether it’s in London, Accra or Senegal–Hip Hop culture is a great vehicle for everyday people to tell their stories.
If you are interested in a few books to pair with that great album you like here are a few: Decoded by Jay Z, Just Mercy Brian Stevenson and Hip Hop Wars by Tricia Rose. I would also add, Hip Hop in Africa by Msia Kibona Clark to see the global impact of Hip Hop. The Devil in The Grove: Thurgood Marshall and the Dawn of New America by Gilbert King, and I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes are both phenomenal reads. And of course not to forget the great novel, Jazz by Toni Morrison, I Put a Spell on You, The Autobiography of Nina Simone by Nina Simone, and The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin.
This event was paneled by acclaimed dancer and teacher, Cesa Zuniga and, culture critic, Sarah Ozo Irabor. Both panelists brought great insight on this vibrant topic.
Lydia Kakwera Levy