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New initiative at UCLA highlights hip-hop's impact on the world

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Posted at 8:29 PM, May 03, 2022

LOS ANGELES — A cultural movement born out of poverty and oppression, hip-hop emerged nearly 50 years ago in the South Bronx. The genre would go on to change the world, influencing everything from politics to entertainment, language, fashion, technology and art.

"The places in society where power is housed — power and wealth — understand full well the importance and impact of hip-hop culture," said H. Samy Alim, an anthropology professor at UCLA, "Ask any major business and corporation.“

Alim is the associate director of UCLA's Bunche Center for African American Studies, founded in 1969 in response to the struggle by Black students at UCLA to have their history and culture recognized and studied.

“What hip-hop means to people is something far more significant and profound. This is an arts movement that has radically transformed individuals, communities, and societies," said Alim. “Hip-hop music and hip-hop culture is the most visible form of Black protest and Black performativity in the world, period. And it has stood the test of time over the generations."

The center is launching a wide-ranging Hip Hop Initiative, building on the decades of hip-hop scholarship produced at UCLA and across institutes of higher education since the 1990s. Alim, director of the new initiative, says the effort establishes UCLA as a leading center for hip-hop studies globally.

“We’re approaching 50, but what about 50 years from now? One-hundred years from now?" said Alim. "How will those generations have an understanding of hip-hop culture? Truly deep, scholarly, rigorous, historical understanding of hip-hop culture.”

The initiative includes a wide range of programs:

  • Artist residencies
  • Global community engagement programs
  • Book series and publications
  • Oral history and digital archive project
  • Postdoctoral fellowships

“We have a responsibility," said Alim. "Because a lot of the major figures are still here with us. They’re living and breathing."
UCLA's world-renowned hip-hop scholars will work alongside those who helped build and sustain the culture. Chuck D, the longtime leader of the rap group Public Enemy, is the program’s first artist-in-residence.

“We call it hip-hop, but he [Chuck D] refers to it as the next iteration of Black creativity for survival," said Alim. "The hip-hop artists themselves are theorizing the culture from within.”

The initiative will also serve the city’s Black and Brown communities with projects like the Hip Hop High School–to–Higher Education Pipeline and the Hip Hop Disability Justice Project with the Krip-Hop movement.

Co-leading the initiative with Alim are Bunche Center assistant director Tabia Shawel and Samuel Lamontagne, a doctoral candidate in the department of ethnomusicology.

“My first goal is to do justice and to do right by the hip-hop community itself. We don’t exist without the hip-hop community," said Alim. "We don't exist without the culture creators, the artists — the millions of artists across the globe who have created this movement.”