Little separates hip-hop music and the cultural issues facing urban
America, says an organizer of an academic conference on hip-hop that's set to explore that idea this weekend at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
"Hip-hop by definition of its structure … is a method of dialogue,"
David Muhammad, 22, said. Muhammad spent most of the school year planning "Hip-Hop Generation: Hip-Hop as a Movement" with other students.
The conference will begin Friday and last through the weekend. Chuck D of Public Enemy is scheduled to give the keynote address, and rappers Bahamadia, Screwball, Defari and Zion will perform. Other notable attendees, presenters, panelists and participants will include
Afrika Bambaataa, breakdancer Crazy Legs, San Francisco activist Davey D and Professor Griff of Public Enemy.
The topics extend far beyond music. Among the titles of the panels
are "Political Empowerment and Hip-Hop," "Misogyny in Hip-Hop,"
"Hip-Hop Culture vs. the Hip-Hop Music Industry" and "Cointellpro &
the Attack on People of Color." Social activists from the Black
Panther Party, the Nation of Islam, the Prison Moratorium Project and
other organizations will speak.
"[The students] are taking hip-hop extremely seriously," said Craig
Werner, a professor of African-American studies at Wisconsin who
teaches a class called "Hip-Hop in the '90s." "They were very conscious that this wouldn't become a stargazing event."
Werner advised students as they organized the conference. He's been teaching hip-hop classes at the university since 1986.
Muhammad said he and his colleagues were sensitive to include the
viewpoints of all sides in hip-hop, which he said explains why Defari
and Tash of the Alkaholiks, both hardcore rappers from Los Angeles, were invited.
"If we cap on anything, let's capitalize on the opportunity for people
to talk about where they stand in the hip-hop community. We're looking at ourselves," he said.
In recent months, politics and social-consciousness have crept more
into the hip-hop spotlight. Common addresses poverty, misogyny and
racism on his album Like Water for Chocolate. Mos Def and Talib Kweli of Black Star, who've embraced Marcus Garvey's views on black nationalism, organized Hip Hop for Respect, an EP that addresses police brutality (April 25). Mos Def and Common share the mic on Common's album for the philosophical "The Questions" (RealAudio excerpt).
Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Dead Prez eclipse those artists sizably with their album Let's Get Free, which angrily denounces white racism and, at times, calls for an uprising. Muhammad said the group was invited but will not be able to attend. But he said the group's song "Hip Hop" (RealAudio excerpt) nevertheless serves as an anthem for the conference. On that song, rappers stic.man and
COLOR="#003163">M-1tell listeners that what you say is more important than how you say it, though the song is ironically catchy.
"There's a lot of people like that," Muhammad said. "They love the art,
they love the culture. But they're disgusted with the way it's being