The Cultural Significance of Hip Hop

Why do universities need to archive and research contemporary popular culture? How can the study of hip hop foster new understandings of cultural value and knowledge in academia? What kind of knowledge can be exchanged between researchers of hip hop in the US and institutions in the UK working with hip hop, British rap and grime? How can we think comparatively about similar projects and initiatives in the UK?

These are just some of the questions addressed by The Oxford Research Centre  in the Humanities’ (TORCH) Race and Resistance Programme, which hosted a discussion on Friday 17 February about the cultural value of hip hop.

A lecture by Marcyliena Morgan (Harvard University’s Hiphop Archive and Research Institute) was followed by a panel discussion, in which Professor Jason Sjanyek took part.

‘The Hiphop Archive’s focus, which includes projects like analysing the poetic quality of 2Pac’s lyrics to understanding the post-civil rights dimension of Outkast’s Southern rap, demonstrates that hip hop is a source of artistic innovation and enjoyment on its own terms, while also providing us with insight into the cultural, social, and political conditions that have shaped recent times,’ writes Louisa Olufsen Layne, a DPhil student in English at Oxford.

‘Hip hop as a musical and global cultural form forces us to think critically about what we define as valuable knowledge, who we recognise as knowledge producers, and how knowledge can be created and shared. The study and archiving of hip hop encourages us to recognise how contemporary forms influence our view of the present as well as our understanding of the past.’

Harvard’s Hiphop Archive was established in 2002, and its mission is to facilitate and encourage the pursuit of knowledge, art, culture, and responsible leadership through hip hop.

Hip hop is not a new subject of study in Oxford. Jason Stanyek has taught a course on global hip hop to first-year Music undergraduates since 2012.