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Hip Hop & Higher Education Conference

An upcoming conference will celebrate hip hop’s creativity, criticality and communality, while looking at its marginalisation in UK universities.

Hip Hop Higher Education Poster 1 2

Dr Alex Mason is an early careers researcher, project manager at Sheffield University's Faculty of Arts & Humanities, and co-organiser of the Hip Hop & Higher Education online conference, which is set to take place in July. We chatted to Alex to hear more about the upcoming event.

The Hip Hop & Higher Education Conference is happening on 15 July. Tell us more about who's involved and what folks can look forward to at the event.

The online conference involves a mixture of performances, presentations and workshops that celebrate and critically consider different aspects of hip hop culture, whilst exploring its relationship with higher education. We wanted to honour the five pillars of hip hop, so we have ensured that MCing, DJing, graffiti art, breakdancing and of course knowledge production will all feature. It promises to be a very dynamic day.

There is a really exciting mixture of people taking part. As well as acclaimed academics and educators from the UK, America and India, we will be joined by some brilliant postgraduate students and exceptional artists like Nathan Geering, Dee Warburton, Lady Sanity, NikNak and Jahi. Former Poet Laureate of Sheffield, Otis Mensah, is also one of the conference organisers.

What prompted you to organise the conference?

I was feeling frustrated about the lack of engagement with hip hop at my own university and was keen to connect with other people who, like me, understood its richness as an art form and source of knowledge.

As well as wanting to cultivate a community of like-minded people, I wanted to create a platform so those researching, teaching on and creating hip hop could share, discuss and develop their work. I also wanted to explore the benefits and potential dangers of introducing hip hop into higher education with those who had experience of doing this work, not only in the UK but around the world.

Why do you think UK universities have so far been hesitant to embrace hip hop?

I think there is a general disregard, and even disdain, for hip hop in UK universities. It isn’t seen to have the same aesthetic or intellectual quality of other art forms like poetry or literature, and so is considered unworthy of serious study.

This is in large part due to the racism and classicism that underpins the higher educational system. It is no coincidence that hip hop derived from and is associated with Black working-class people and finds itself marginalised or entirely excluded from UK universities. However, there are small pockets of people doing really important work with hip hop in higher education, so if we can further platform and connect this work together, the attitude of UK universities might well change.

Who is the conference for? Is it mainly aimed at students and academics, or will it have a broader appeal?

This conference is for anyone who is passionate about hip hop and/or education. Students and academics will get a lot from it, as they will see how hip hop has valuable insights and frameworks that can be used to enrich a whole range of subjects.

But one of our key objectives with this conference is to dismantle the boundary between the university and wider community, so we have put together a programme of performances and presentations that we hope speak to a much wider audience. As we will show, hip hop sheds light on important social issues and fundamental questions about identity, and this is relevant to everyone.

What are your hopes for the impact of the festival?

I hope that it inspires more people to seriously engage with the aesthetic and intellectual qualities of hip hop currently being ignored by universities. I also hope that it helps cultivate a network of people critically engaged with hip hop and leads to future collaborations, events, programmes and even modules.

Finally, I hope that it gets people thinking about ways we can establish hip hop in higher education without compromising its fundamental features and principles. This isn’t about assimilation. I want to see hip hop shake up the higher education system and show that there are different, more expansive, enriching and liberating ways of doing things.

by Felicity Jackson (she/her)
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