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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Hip Hop: the medium of unheard history

“Hip hop is the home of the narrative,” Akrobatik said as he welcomed students to class on Zoom. Akrobatik is the stage name of Jared Bridgeman, local Boston rapper and co-teacher of AMST 263: History of Hip Hop and Hip Hop as History, along with Professor Rachel Rubin. This innovative and collaborative humanities course and others like it are funded by a grant from the Mellon Foundation. That day, students had the chance to hear from a special guest who has helped define the narrative of Boston hip hop for the past 30 years, local artist, Edo G. 

To introduce their guest, Akrobatik played the music video for Edo G’s first hit with Da Bulldogs in 1991, “I Got to Have It.” The song was widely played on Boston radio stations, and in the chat, students responded enthusiastically as they watched the video featuring shots of different areas of Boston.

Edo G introduced himself to the students as a “conscious rapper,” or a rapper who writes lyrics to produce change. He defined hip hop as being about peace, love, unity, and having fun, or, in the words of ‘I Got to Have It,’ “the black united leaders livin’ directly on groovin’ sounds.” He explained how he got his start in the mid 1980’s when he began to write and get inspiration from local people at skating rinks in Roxbury and around Boston. From there, he and Da Bulldogs were signed, and they released their first album, Life of a Kid in the Ghetto, in 1991. He has since released four solo albums and toured around the world. 

Both Edo G and Akrobatik touched on the global reach of hip hop as a genre and how they toured in unanticipated places, mentioning countries like Australia and Poland that have a real heart for the music. “Hip hop takes place in different shapes all around the globe,” Edo G said, as he shared stories from his tours in Europe. It was clear from their conversation that to discuss hip hop is to discuss a global phenomenon. 

As their time with Edo G came to a close, students were able to ask questions and they jumped at the chance. Questions ranged from a discussion of the influence of reusing a portion (or sample) of another artist’s song in a new recording, to what being an artist looks like during COVID-19, to the new generation of rappers in Boston’s hip hop scene, and, finally, the way hip hop has been and continues to be at the forefront of social consciousness when it comes to issues of racial justice and social change. 

For Professor Rubin, this last conversation is the one which makes the course so important for students. “Because certain groups of people have been excluded from mainstream history books, hip hop has served as a way to tell history on numerous levels,” she said. 

The class looks at how history is told through hip hop through many lenses, including analysis of sampling, lyrical content, music videos, breakdancing, fashion, and graffiti. Assignments center around an innovative pedagogy that requires students to listen and 

respond to curated playlists, document graffiti works in their local communities, and analyze news stories that involve hip hop. 

Hip hop is a place where students go as a creative and social outlet. As Professor Rubin noted, many students come into the course with the view that popular culture is “just entertainment.” The course seeks to impart to them that hip hop, in fact, offers a more complex and varied narrative, a narrative that reflects and shapes the hopes and realities of social change in uncertain times.