Tricia Rose breaks down hip-hop's history and its future

By Marissa Warden & Katie Havranek, News Editors

Students filled Kagin Commons on Feb. 5 for a lecture by Professor Tricia Rose entitled “The Hip Hop Wars: What we talk about when we talk about Hip-Hop and why it matters.” Rose was passionate, energetic, and personal with the crowd. Though her lecture touched on a number of important issues concerning hip-hop culture, her unique style of speaking, theatrical hand gestures, and musical interjections lead the crowd to laugh one moment and listen in silence the next. Rose begged the organizers of the event to allow her to answer all of the questions after being on stage for over an hour and a half. “She was fresh and provocative,” said Taylor Bowman ’11. –

The Mac Weekly: How has growing up in New York influenced your research and interest in hip-hop? Have your own experiences had much to do with your research?

Tricia Rose: Well, my sense of hip-hop is directly related to my adolescent childhood. I was a teenager when hip-hop was “born.” And I grew up in the Bronx in that period. So when high school came around-it was born my freshman year in high school so I mean it is my generation’s actual form-contrary to popular belief. But it wasn’t wide spread. It was this really weird homegrown thing. The other thing that’s relevant is that as a woman I was also an athlete. So I heard a lot of the street sort of early unrecorded hip-hop stuff because they were playing it on the basketball courts.

In your book Black Noise, you explain that rap evolved during the 1970s through the hip-hop movement, were you able to see much of this change while growing up and how did this impact your community?

You know by the time I think it was big enough to have an impact as opposed to be something kids just kind of did on the side I was already not living in New York City full-time. When I came back to New York, in the late 1980s, it was still very much an underground scene. It’s really not until the 90s that hip-hop became so widespread and so ubiquitous and so, sort of impactful in that. Now what I can say is since then, I see a huge impact, and some of it’s good and some of it’s bad. Some of the good is that there is a lot of freedom of creativity. A lot of young people feel entitled to rhyme to tell stories and that’s a beautiful thing no matter what their background is, but especially those who don’t have a lot, that their story isn’t being told in the mainstream world and so for them to feel empowered through this medium to tell that story is a great thing. On the other hand with the commercial success of certain types of stories, gangsters, pimps and hoes pretty much, being hip-hop’s main trinity-it’s like that’s how -you get God in hip-hop is combining the Father, Son and Holy Ghost; it’s the pimp, the hoe and the gangster and that is very destructive, in that it takes a real condition for some and elevates it to an iconic emblem for all. ——

Do you feel that the hip-hop movement is changing? Evolving or devolving and in what ways?

Well, I think commercial hip-hop has devolved dramatically, but I think that there has been a really substantial push among people who would count in hip-hop to challenge that. Some are on the margins, some are underground types just trying to get their own attention. But some people are really working from what I would call within the spirit of accepting the beauty of what hip-hop can be to make it better in a variety of ways, in schools and education curriculum and you know battles and youth groups and independent record labels trying to use the web and Youtube to really promote alternatives within hip-hop. And so I think there’s a lot of energy there, but I think it really depends on a wider range of people really getting the picture right for them to survive. Hip-hop needs a wide range of non-black youth from inner cities, especially the white middle class to really get the problem and be in tuned to in such a way that they are making the right choices which will enable this progressive wing of hip-hop because by itself, it will be crushed by the shear corporate power of celebrating gangsters you know and celebrating that lifestyle with no discussion it would be impossible.

What role, if any, has hip-hop played in the racism of our generation?

A lot of people like to talk about hip-hop as this great cross-racial movement. You know, hip-hop’s not black, it’s multi-national, it’s global, everyone’s involved in it, but it works as a weird kind of racial marker because, if hip-hop is so global why can’t anybody not black be on the radio? But I think that this is a really a post-civil rights problem. It’s my sense that in the post-civil rights era people who come of age after all of the laws have changed and basically discrimination is now illegal. When young people began to see, starting in the 90s, that things really weren’t all that different, particularly for the working class and that race really did matter extra. Once people began to feel that all this so-called change really didn’t mean anything, a certain kind of disillusionment sets in where instead of wanting change, there’s more like I’m just gonna single-off and get mine, kind of internalization of almost a market logic-I’m not gonna mess with white folk cuz they represent the bad guy. But what that does, is it creates a wedge. The sense of anger and frustration of the situation that doesn’t really have a name because it’s supposed to be equal now-and the fact that so many white kids are so illiterate about race and get to keep being illiterate. In what could be a really nice interpersonal relationship between you and your one friend gets waited down by all of this which isn’t you and which isn’t them but it just becomes heavier than you guys. And so I think that it’s not that hip-hop has created that problem, but that we have a real problem still in this country. I don’t care how many black presidents we elect. I actually don’t care, we can elect 20 in a row- if this condition stays the same, it will be a classic example of exceptionalism — exceptionalism does not create structural equality. So the question is really going to be, are we willing to do the work? Some of that work’s emotional, some of it’s ugly, some of it is just sheer literacy. We have to have real almost civics lessons on race on class on the history of the impact, on gender not come college. I’m talking about you know high school, junior high so that you and your friend are having an exchange that’s related to some knowledge base, not just personal perception and distortion and misplaced anger on all sides. It doesn’t mean we’ll all have to agree when we come out of it but the more you know the more you’ve read the better off and more intelligent you can be about it. So that’s a real problem. Hip-hop papers over that.

What is your favorite hip-hop song and or artist?

Lupe Fiasco from Chicago, favorite artist now. I like a lot of his songs. Of his really popular songs my favorite is probably “Kick Push” and “Paris Tokyo,” “Day dreaming” and “Dumb it down.” I think he’s really just extraordinary.