Saturday, June 2, 2012

Tricia Rose and the Rise of Hip Hop Scholarship

One of the most prominent developments within or from black studies over the last 10 to 15 years has been the rise of what might be broadly defined as "hip hop studies," which includes scholarship and college courses on the music, conferences, and even an archive project like at Harvard. Last year, Michael Dyson's class on Jay-Z at Georgetown University gained an extraordinary amount of media attention; his course was one of many that focused on rappers and hip hop across the nation.

When and if we were to write an intellectual history of hip hop studies or scholarship, we would definitely need to highlight the significance of Tricia Rose's groundbreaking book Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (1994).  Rose's work provides one of the first systematic, scholarly treatments of rap; charts the art form's early history; and includes a gender critique of hip hop and rappers. Most serious students of rap are hip to Black Noise.  

Rose's book appeared at a time when black public intellectuals were beginning to receive unprecedented national attention, and "the golden era of hip hop" was still very much alive.  Black Noise connected, on the one hand, to the enterprise among black (cultural) studies scholars such as Cornel West, bell hooks, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Michael Dyson, and many others who were presenting takes on the significance of race and African American cultural and artistic productions for increasingly large audiences. Black Noise also responded to the pressing interest among hip hop heads for scholarly treatments of the music, beyond what journalistic writings could provide.      

Rose was born in New York City, so she had grown up witnessing the music first-hand. Black Noise emerged, in part though, based on Rose's graduate work at Brown University in American Studies--a field, like African American studies, that thrives on interdisciplinary approaches to analyzing texts, historical moments, and  cultural productions. For more than a decade now, Rose's work and hip hop studies in general have been more likely to find homes in black studies programs, whose scholars have often hosted guest speakers and conferences on hip hop, designed courses on the music, and produced articles and books.

In her recent visit to St. Louis, Rose mentioned aspects of hip hop, but she did not dwell on the subject. At one point, during the Q & A, she noted that she's studied and written about rap music. It was the understatement of the night. Her book Black Noise helped shape an entire field.

Tricia Rose at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis
Guides to Consciousness: Tricia Rose & Alondra Nelson
Black Intellectual Histories 

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