|Student listening to Dometi Pongo on the Malcolm X Mixtape, April 2010.|
In April of 2010, I coordinated the release of the Malcolm X Mixtape, a flash disk with audio recordings of raps based on Malcolm produced by Dometi Pongo. The flash disk also included short video clips related to Malcolm produced by Al Henderson. After we released the mixtape, we coordinated a series of listening and viewing sessions. One of the sessions always stands out in my mind because of how a group of first-year collegiate black men responded to the project.
Various people stopped by the listening/viewing event. We had Henderson's video clips looping on a big screen in the room. We posted Pongo's lyrics around the room, and we provided visitors with audio devices so that they could listen and walk around the room, and read along with the posted lyrics. Most people did that, except the young black men.
A large group of them sat in the back of the room and listened to each of Pongo's raps. I was moved by how intensely they concentrated as they listened. Various other students, staff, and faculty -- black women, white men, and white women -- came and went. They took some time to take a quick listen and move on.
But not those young black men.
They stayed put and listened closely to each and every track. Why were they so focused as they listening, I wondered. What were they searching for?
After all, I knew these students from my classes. They were typical first-year guys in the sense that they were always joking around and having fun. But they were transformed in this moment with the mixtape. Why were they taking Pongo's raps, his creative work so seriously?
My thinking and blogging this coming semester will address the extents to which young black men engage rap music and other creative productions.
• A notebook on knowledge, creativity, and collegiate black men