Articles

I’ve Been to the Mountaintop! II

In Shout Outs, Sina's Posts, Trips on April 28, 2012 by SN

On Friday noon, 30 March 2012, I flew to New York City to attend the conference Show and Prove. It was organized Dr. Imani Kai Johnson, Assistant Professor at the NYU Performance Studies Department, and Dr. Marcella Runell Hall, Associate Director of the Center for Multicultural Education & Training. It was nice to see Marcella again as I met her a few years ago at another conference. This year’s topic “The Tensions, Contradictions, and Possibilities of Hip-Hop Studies in Practice” has the objective to provide “an opportunity for a community of scholars, practitioners, and Hip Hop lovers to come together and address the challenges and possibilities of the field” (Show and Prove 2012).  Like many hip-hop conferences, this one is also very interdisciplinary ranging from MA students to renowned scholars, from East Coast to West Coast guests, guests from Europe to America, all the way from scholars to artists and activists. This interdisciplinarity is what I admire and enjoy most about studying hip-hop.

Attending this conference at NYU was really a dream come true. Not only it is taking place in the city that influenced my personal and academic development, it is also taking place at one of my all-time most favorite American universities. No disrespect for Oglethorpe though!

My special relationship with the City was already apparent when the plane approached New York City. I was greeted by Brooklyn’s Coney Island:

Last Exit Brooklyn: Coney Island.

Show and Prove started off on Friday evening with a presentation on the inspiring book Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education by Sam Seidel which addresses the question how educators and pedagogics can use the potential of hip-hop culture:

Saturday morning (31 March) kicked off with my presentation on “Hip Hop as a Transnational Phenomenon” in the panel Hip Hop and Europe. I felt very honored to be introduced by NYU graduate student Joel McIlven as a “pioneer of European Hip Hop Studies”. That gave me just the last push to hold one of the best presentations in my academic career so far! In my paper I argued for a closer examination of the various transnational flows back and forth across borders, thus taking a new angle on the study of hip-hop which is mostly though of in terms of an appropriation of American hip-hop to the various cultural contexts in Europe. In discussing the famous Kraftwerk sample by Afrika Bambaataa and American hip-hop heads’ encounter of the Wuppertal-based crew Walkin’ Large, I showed how German music and hip-hop has traveled to America and created a contact zones of exchange, interaction, and (sometimes also) confusion. The panel also featured an American sociologist who researches how Tyrolean teenagers appropriate hip hop language into their lives in the Alps. The third presentation dealt with hip-hop from a French jazz musicologist’s perspective. Our session went very well and our talks converged just wonderfully with each other. We were all awarded with great feedback on our presentation afterwards. A couple of days later I even received an follow-up email with the subject “brilliant paper”. Word!

The conference was inspiring in terms of the presentations and the people. I listened to very interesting presentations on all kinds of hip-hop topics, such as suicide in American rap lyrics, or how an Atlanta dentist uses hip-hop to educate the inmates at the Warren detention center, etc. I also met wonderful people, such as a political science professor from our, that is, Dortmund’s, Israeli partner university Ben-Gurion who is currently a visiting scholar at NYU. I was introduced to Farbeon, director of The Hip Hop Re:Education project, who enthusiastically told me about the transnational music projects that emerge from the exchange between Bronx and Berlin hip-hop artists. I talked with Brooklyn MC Eprhyme about the need for theorizing hip hop as a transnational practice (see his latest music video below). And finally, I chatted with Johan, who wrote the first PhD thesis on hip-hop in Sweden.

The most amazing moments were when I talked to the artists who helped to establish the Bronx as a creative place in the 1970s – one of the three main parts of my dissertation. A session featured an interview of Carlos MARE 139 Rodriguez, a famous graffiti writer back in the day.

Graffiti Writer MARE 139 (left), Interviewer iona rozeal brown (center), and Show and Prove Organizer Imani Kai Johnson (right).

It was intriguing to hear him talk eloquently about how he started graffiti writing and where graffiti and hip-hop stands today. While he was talking, pictures from Martha Cooper’s Street Play were shown in the back which I knew by heart because I analyzed them in the course of my dissertation.

MARE 139 and Photographs of the South Bronx.

I felt that I had never been closer to the subject of my dissertation in all those years than on this day. Here was one of the pioneers of the graffiti movement in the Bronx sitting in front of me and telling his story. Incredible!

After the interview I had to go downstairs out on the street to digest of what I had just been part of. Standing outside I bumped into another “founding father” of hip-hop: Jorge “Popmaster Fabel” Pabón, Vice President of the Rock Steady Crew, the famous break dance crew of the 1970s! I told him about my research and he was very delighted to hear that a young German researcher is so dedicated to studying the Bronx. After he finished his cigarette he said goodbye and vanished in the afternoon crowd on Broadway. What an amazing experience!

Living Legends: Graffiti Writer MARE 139 (left) and Rock Steady Vice President Popmaster Fabel (right) at Show and Prove 2012.

Thank you NYU <3 and especially Imani and Marcella for putting together such a wonderful event!

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One Response to “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop! II”

  1. I’m so glad I stumbled across your blog. It’s good to hear this level of appreciation. I hope we can keep it up.

    Respectfully,
    -ikj

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