Fortnightly logo

The State of the Hip Hop Union
ADAM BRADLEY, moderator

Thirty years ago the crossover hit “Rapper’s Delight” (1979) brought the burgeoning sounds of hip hop music to a mass audience. In the years since, hip hop has expanded from a grassroots movement to a global industry with significant implications upon business and politics as well as upon culture. For all of this, hip hop remains a lightening rod of controversy, particularly as it concerns the sexism and homophobia, violence and profanity in some rap lyrics. While it is too reductive to ask with CNN “Hip Hop: Art or Poison?” legitimate questions remain concerning the implications of hip hop’s influence.

Drawing upon the spirit of the annual political ritual of the president’s State of the Union address, the Athenaeum hosts a panel of prominent hip hop writers, academics, and artists who shall help assess hip hop’s importance to the present moment. How will hip hop, traditionally resistant to mainstream politics, respond to the ascendancy of the nation’s first black president? What directions will rap take as an art form? What are the consequences of hip hop’s rapid globalization?

These and other questions will be asked of a panel that will include the award-winning author Jeff Chang whose Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation (2005) has set the standard for hip hop historical writing; Cheo Hodari Coker, whose biography of the Notorious B.I.G. and screenwriting credit on the recently-released Biggie biopic, Notorious (2009), testify to a writer with a deep understanding of hip hop’s past and present; Ebony Utley, a scholar of communication studies at California State University, Long Beach whose work looks closely at hip hop for insights into race and its relationships with gender and language; and Crooked I, a Long Beach MC widely regarded as among rap’s most gifted lyricists, who has gained acclaim in hip hop circles for his numerous mixtape releases. The panel will be moderated by CMC’s Adam Bradley, assistant professor of literature and author of the forthcoming Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop (March 3, 2009).