The Smithsonian curates hip-hop and rap history with help from USF communications expert


Aisha Durham, associate professor of communication at the University of South Florida, was among a group of advisers chosen by the Smithsonian Institution to curate its first hip-hop multimedia collection. The recently published Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap chronicles 40 years of hip-hop and rap music and the development of localized culture as it emerges from the Bronx to become a global sensation.

“Hip-hop culture is the most influential cultural phenomenon to come from the United States and it remains one of the most transformative ways we can think of popular culture today,” said Durham. “We take it for granted that hip-hop is a culture that was primarily shaped by working class young people of color, many of them first generation immigrants.”

In 2014, Durham was invited to work on the initial phase of the project, joining a group of star contributors that included LL Cool J, QuestLove and Chuck D. They received 700 songs and were asked to consider the importance of each song. in terms of politics and social issues to reduce the selection to 100. Durham is a cultural critic and author best known for her research on hip-hop feminism. She uses auto / ethnography, performance writing, and intersectional approaches refined in black feminist thought to analyze media representations of racialized gender.

“It was important that as a hip-hop feminist I made sure I listened to the contributions of women and other gender minorities, as well as what we might call misogynist, or hate. black women, as well as homophobia, ”Durham said. “While I could draw attention to the excellent lyricism, I also had to think about what this means in terms of how I engage in hip-hop culture as a feminist.”

This process allowed Durham to revisit old songs and remember his 80s coming of age in Norfolk, Va., Social housing with his brother, known as “DJ Wood,” and the space of creative ingenuity that was his one bedroom apartment. . “I didn’t know then that this would be one of those indelible markers of my thinking about how to use poetics and how to use my life story to talk about a larger culture,” said said Durham.

One of Durham’s favorite songs featured in the anthology is Missy Elliott’s “The Rain”, featured on “Supa Dupa Fly”, Elliott’s 1997 debut studio album produced by Timbaland. This song personally resonated with Durham because she brought it home. Elliott is also from the Tidewater area of ​​Virginia, and this is one of the locations featured in the song’s clip.

As for the song’s broader meaning, “Missy marks this shift in how we think of hip-hop as this northeast phenomenon and now we have the south going up,” Durham said. “She’s probably the most underrated host and producer we’ve ever had. Its impact in terms of production, writing and aesthetic quality cannot be matched.

The history of hip-hop and rap is a defining era of music not only because of the cultural formation that brought us trends in fashion, dance and language, but also the way the musical genre is. known to challenge power and traditional systems. or dominant narratives in a commercial space.

“Racism, police brutality or even thinking about sexuality and owning one’s sexuality, these are sometimes considered taboo topics in popular culture, but there is a long tradition of amplifying these conversations in the context of hip- hop, ”Durham said. “The ability of hip-hop to remix invites us to think about the present moment, but also to imagine the future.

The anthology is a collaboration between the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. The set is sold online for $ 159.98 and includes a collection of 129 tracks on nine CDs and a 300-page book of essays and photographs. This is the third major collection produced by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings which tells the story of a defining era in music “of, by and for the people”.


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