WMU News

Annual music festival affirms hip-hop's political statement

Jan. 22, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- It's a bum rap.

Hip-hop and rap music, often maligned for their portraits of violence, drug use and mistreatment of women, actually make valuable political statements if people take the time to listen closely. That view is the basic premise of the Exposition VIII Minifest set for Friday and Saturday, Jan. 31-Feb. 1, on the campus of Western Michigan University.

The annual event takes place in the Dalton Center Recital Hall and will both educate and entertain audiences, blending lectures by guest speakers and high-energy performances by entertainers in the genre. Activities begin at 7:30 p.m. both nights and are free and open to the public.

Because of the high amount of criticism leveled at hip-hop from the mass media, clerics and women's organizations, uninitiated listeners stereotype the genre, says Dr. Benjamin Wilson, director of WMU's Africana Studies Program.

"One who does not listen to the genre assumes, based on the information supplied by the press, that hip-hop artists speak only of gangsterism, degradation of women, police brutality, drugs, et cetera," Wilson says. "These are topics that some performers rap about, but they do not represent the only forums for expression in this musical genre."

Wilson notes that in the early 1990s, hip-hop began to increase its presence on the "mainstream" music scene fueled, in part, by the arrival of the controversial form known as "gangsta" rap. Early practitioners included such artists as the Sugar Hill Gang, Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg, and many questions arose about gangsta rap's lyrics. But, Wilson says, the style has come a long way since then.

"The problem with the complaints given was that they were being presented by people who knew very little or nothing about hip-hop," Wilson says. "The critics look at hip-hop as something that is corrupting the youth by glorifying negative aspects of urban street life.

"Certain rappers will tell anyone who argues with their style that they are 'telling it like it is.' Urban youth felt that the problems of inner-city life needed to be exposed, and through their music it was happening 24-7, whether in Los Angeles or New York City."

The intent of Expo VIII is to listen to and appreciate hip-hop from a black socio-political-historical and musical perspective. Lecturers will address how and why this cultural genre has become so controversial and threatening. Points that will be emphasized are: how the musical genre transcended international borders; how it has influenced the wigger philosophy and how it differs from Norman Mailer's beatniks of the 1950s; how the Sugar Hill Gang, The Last Poets and Richard Prior contributed to the development of hip-hop artists, both musicians and comedians; and the impact of hip-hop on the fashion industry and other big business sectors.

Lecturers include Dr. Melvin Peters, associate professor at Eastern Michigan University; Dr. Gwendolyn Pough, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota; and Dr. Horace Boyer, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Performing will be The Last Poets on Jan. 31 and the Josh Ampey Band on Feb. 1.

This is the 15th year for the popular minifestival, which coincides with Black History Month. Previous festivals have explored other African American musical forms, including jazz, blues, reggae and funk.

For more information, call Wilson at (269) 387-2667.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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