This course surveys hip hop as a vehicle for social change since its origins as a youth movement in the Bronx, New York. Historical and ethnomusicological methods guide the inquiry of hip hop as protest music, as modeled in seminal and emergent scholarship on hip hop history and culture. Students will explore three specific moments in American hip hop history: 1) early hip hop of the 1970s; 2) commercial rap of the 1990s; and 3) the burgeoning popular music of the Black Lives Matter movement. Students will investigate the musical and sociocultural contexts informing the performances of artists including Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, “This is America” performer Donald Glover (Childish Gambino), Beyoncé, and Macklemore. Additionally, students will consider commercial hip hop’s activist limitations and strengths at the intersection of race, socioeconomic class, gender, and sexuality. As such, students will identify markers of protest music, and grapple with the complexities of balancing activism and commercialism in the American music industry. Students will tackle questions such as: 1) How are capitalist impulses and social change imperatives reconciled in commercial hip hop and pop music more broadly? 2) Does commercial hip hop aid or hinder social change at the intersection of race, socioeconomic class, gender, and sexuality? In all, students will gain analytical skills for engaging music as cultural production, commodity, and vehicle of protest.
Classes include discussion of films, music videos, and other sound recordings. As part of this course, every student will create an Action Plan applying program concepts to engage in social change in their community. Students interested in majoring in cultural studies, sociology, visual and sonic arts, gender studies, American studies, and/or ethnomusicology would be well served by the discussions and analytical approaches utilized in the course.
Learn more about hip hop scholarship at Brown:
Hip Hop 25th Anniversary Series at Brown
This course is part of the Leadership Institute, a two-week academic program that helps students cultivate the knowledge, skills, and attitudes associated with effective and socially responsible leadership. This unique program consists of three integrated elements: academic content, leadership development, and the Action Plan. Our students are thoughtful and compassionate youth who are interested in social issues and creating positive change. Enrollment in this program requires several hours of online engagement prior to campus arrival. This online participation can be completed at any time where internet access is available. Once on campus, participants can look forward to full days in a community of engaged and curious learners.
Prerequisites: Prerequisites: All students are welcome but those with an existing interest in hip hop, urban art and music, and/or art and activism are especially encouraged to participate.