Hip-hop draws grow­ing aca­demic in­ter­est

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Collin Bink­ley

BOS­TON >> The for­got­ten mu­sic of Bos­ton’s early hip-hop and rap scene is be­ing re­vived by two un­likely heroes: a lo­cal col­lege and the pub­lic li­brary.

Re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Mas­sachusetts Bos­ton have been work­ing with the Bos­ton Pub­lic Li­brary to com­pile an on­line ar­chive of demo tapes by the city’s top hip-hop and rap artists of the 1980s. Open­ing to the pub­lic on Satur­day, the Mas­sachusetts Hip-Hop Ar­chive was cre­ated in part to re­claim the city’s role in the gen­res’ his­tory.

“It’s been an un­told story,” said Pacey Foster, a rap his­to­rian and pro­fes­sor at UMass. “Bos­ton is not a city that has had its right­ful place in the early sto­ries of hip-hop his­tory.”

The ar­chive aims to con­nect new au­di­ences to early rap artists such as the Almighty RSO, Guru, and oth­ers who have faded from mem­ory even in Bos­ton.

But the project is also in­tended to spark aca­demic in­ter­est in the city’s rap and hiphop roots. Like a grow­ing num­ber of U.S. col­leges, UMass is en­cour­ag­ing stu­dents to ap­proach hip-hop as a schol­arly sub­ject. Sev­eral stu­dents have al­ready started re­search tied to the ar­chive, and the univer­sity launched a new course on hiphop in 2014.

It joins dozens of other schools na­tion­wide that have added classes on hip-hop in re­cent years, an­a­lyz­ing its value to fields from so­ci­ol­ogy to women’s stud­ies.

At Bowie State Univer­sity, a his­tor­i­cally black col­lege in Mary­land, stu­dents can earn a mi­nor in hip-hop stud­ies. The Univer­sity of Ari­zona says it of­fered the na­tion’s first hip-hop mi­nor in 2012. A year later, the rap­per Nasir Jones — known as Nas — estab­lished a fel­low­ship at Har­vard Univer­sity for schol­ars of hip-hop.

“There are so many di­men­sions to the cul­ture,” said Mur­ray For­man, a me­dia stud­ies pro­fes­sor at North­east­ern Univer­sity. “It’s re­ally rich for anal­y­sis in all kinds of con­texts.”

Some schol­ars still ques­tion whether hip-hop has a place in academia, but its ac­cep­tance is grow­ing, said For­man, who was a Nasir Jones fel­low last year. Univer­sity presses have pub­lished dozens of text­books on

rap and hip-hop’s po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural im­por­tance. Scores of grad­u­ate stu­dents have taken on sim­i­lar top­ics for their dis­ser­ta­tions.

For ar­chiv­ists in par­tic­u­lar, there has been a surge of in­ter­est in preserving the ar­ti­facts of hip-hop, es­pe­cially from its early days in the 1970s and 1980s, For­man said.

“A lot of the early ma­te­ri­als are at risk of dis­ap­pear­ing,” he said. “Peo­ple don’t want to be car­ry­ing around all the ephemera, the con­cert fliers and pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als.”

Other schools with ma­jor hip-hop archives in­clude Har­vard and Cor­nell Univer­sity. Four his­tor­i­cally black col­leges in At­lanta house the note­books and let­ters of rap icon Tu­pac Shakur.

The new ar­chive at UMass fea­tures al­most 300 demo tapes, along with au­dio from a lo­cal ra­dio show whose host was cred­ited with dis­cov­er­ing many of Bos­ton’s big­gest acts. Most of the artists aren’t house­hold names, but Foster said their work captures the youth­ful spirit of a time when artists were seek­ing a new sound.

“It will have nat­u­ral in­ter­est for aca­demics,” Foster said. “This col­lec­tion is a very com­plete look at a scene that no­body has heard about, at a mo­ment when rap was just ex­plod­ing.”

A col­lec­tion of hip-hop cas­sette tapes and mem­o­ra­bilia from the 1980s are dis­played Thurs­day at the Bos­ton cam­pus of the Univer­sity of Mas­sachusetts. Thanks to UMass, the world will soon have ac­cess to 300 un­re­leased demo tapes from the early days of Bos­ton hip-hop. The univer­sity paired with Bos­ton Pub­lic Li­brary to form a new hip-hop ar­chive that’s the lat­est ex­am­ple of col­leges treat­ing hip-hop as a schol­arly sub­ject.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pacey Foster, a rap his­to­rian and pro­fes­sor at UMass, re­views with a col­lec­tion of hip-hop cas­sette tapes and mem­o­ra­bilia from the 1980s at the Bos­ton cam­pus of the Univer­sity of Mas­sachusetts on Thurs­day.

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