Hip hop culture took the CentreTerm stage this past January, when Johann Van Niekerk, assistant professor of music, led an inaugural course exploring the history of the art form. Previous iterations of the class focused on music and social resistance in general, but this course solely focused on the culture and influence of the hip hop genre.
“This course was designed for any first-year students who were curious about hip hop and how it started, evolved and became the international pop culture phenomenon that it is today,” Van Niekerk said. “This is essentially a broad survey course of the history of hip hop. We looked at the socio-political conditions that gave birth to the genre, the pioneers who spearheaded its rise and the birth of various diverse genres from the 1980s onward.”
Throughout the course, students critically examined a vibrant cultural combination of music, innovation, visual art and dance. Students learned to disseminate large amounts of information, organize and memorize key components and use this new language and terminology in discussing hip hop music in written and oral form.
“Hip hop was created by populations under extreme distress,” he added. “This course showed the responsibility for that distress and the ways in which mainstream culture appropriates, criticizes and benefits from this expression. It gives us the opportunity to listen to a side of the story that is seldom told and taught, through the engaging vehicle of music. It furthermore expands our ideas of what constitutes culture, art and scholarship.”
Van Niekerk said he loved teaching this material, because it was essentially climbing into a time machine and reliving the 80s and 90s.
“The vibrant music—influenced and infused by Afro-Caribbean musical and philosophical elements; the oftentimes hilarious and cringe-worthy music videos from the MTV era; frank discussions about difficult and misunderstood concepts such as violence, gender and homophobia; the criminal-justice system and the Civil Rights Movement; and the incredible output of clever, powerful hip hop in the years since Ferguson and the age of BlackLivesMatter.”
by Kerry Steinhofer
February 13, 2019