April 12, 2007

Taking Hip-Hop Higher

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Completely shutting off one’s mind the moment that class ends is not atypical for a college student. Drudging home after a grueling day — two prelims, a paper and a lab — to finally turn on the stereo and relax is an all too familiar picture for many Cornell students. But students Angad Bhai ’08, Bennett Fox ’08, Sheyen Ikeda ’09 and Ezekiel Rediker ’09, are not content with this mindless music-consumer culture.
These students are pulling their combined efforts to enliven the conscious hip-hop scene at Cornell. “Conscious hip-hop is community oriented, not materially oriented,” Rediker said. Rediker hosts the Slope Radio program, “The Big Picture,” where he plays old school and classic hip-hop on Wednesday nights. “Conscious hip-hop pricks our collective consciousness, helping us to understand the entire spectrum of human emotion. From the realities of poverty, drugs and racism, to the deepest feelings of beauty, love and compassion, conscious hip-hop can unite people around a common cause and love for music, while materialistic hip-hop cannot,” he said.
Rediker and others are currently trying to heighten the awareness of listeners in the community, hoping that the seeds of a booming hip-hop movement will blossom. “We’re trying to get everyone interested in hip-hop on the same page to really make it happen around here,” he said.
What interests Rediker is hip-hop as a social movement: a form of personal, intellectual and artistic expression. “Hip-hop is poetry. If you look at some of the best rappers of all time, their rhyme structures, and the complexity of their metaphors, all of these things add up to create to an incredible component,” Rediker said.
Fox, who recently performed in Beat Box Bard at the Schwartz Center, explained this notion: “Hip-hop is a relatively new art form, and I feel like it’s been defined and confined by mainstream labels that are inappropriate for such a new art. Hip-hop is so young and fresh that nothing [about it should be censored] — hip-hop is whatever you want it to be — and it belongs to anyone who enjoys it.”
There are many people in the Cornell community who share this love of conscious hip-hop, and, as Fox explained, “The great thing about hip-hop is that it can bring so many different kinds of people from different walks of life together.”
Working with professors and other students, Fox, Rediker, Ikeda and Bhai aim to start a hip-hop club, where they can not only bring people together, but where they also strive to “bridge the gap between academia and hip-hop,” Bhai said.
As treasurer of the Sikh Student Association, Bhai recently organized for rapper One Be Lo of Binary Star to perform at the Theta Delta Chi fraternity. But more importantly for Bhai was the lecture that One Be Lo gave prior to the performance at the University.
Bhai explained how in his eyes many conscious hip-hop artists are most importantly writers, and that simply speaking about personal experience can be “so much more insightful than anything you can do on stage.” He wants to increase the dialogue between fan and artist because, “we’re students and they’re students,” he said.
Bhai and Rediker discussed the development of a forum where they would bring artists to the university in order to engage in critical discussions about their work. Bhai mentioned the “Princeton Hip-Hop Symposium,” where professor/activist Cornel West, rapper Talib Kweli, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters of California and others sat on panel together on Friday, Oct. 6 2006, at Princeton University. Bhai sees opportunities such as this as a “mutually beneficial exchange.”
Ikeda expanded, “hip-hop is all about interacting with each other.” Ikeda produces his own music and is currently working with Rediker, Bhai and others to create more outlets for people to share their own music. “There hasn’t been a place for these people to drop down, get together and, you know, kick rhymes. And it seems like more and more we’re starting to find a place for that,” he said.
There are organizations around campus that have brought big name rap artists to Cornell. The Cornell Concert Commission brought Twista and Lupe Fiasco to Barton Hall on Dec. 6. And Slope Day featured The Game and Snoop Dogg in 2005, Talib Kweli in 2006 and recently announced T.I. as the main performer for 2007. While these acts may be enjoyable, Rediker and the others want to establish a place for an intelligent dialogue to ensue — not only for these big-name and often mainstream acts to perform.
Rediker’s radio show serves as a solid foundation for the movement, as One Be Lo spoke on the air about his music with Rediker. Last night, Fox, Bhai, Ikeda and others performed at Lincoln Hall. And in the near future, Ikeda plans to establish a cypher — a freestyle session — at CTP on College Ave. These student performances and other positive events are constantly happening around campus. Prolific author and prominent scholar of hip-hop and African-American culture, Michael Eric Dyson spoke at Sage Chapel on March 15, 2007, an event that Bhai sees as crucial to the dialogue between academia and hip-hop. But in order for hip-hop to take off, there simply needs to be more.
“We have the funds, we have the venues, we just need to support” Rediker said. By pooling resources Rediker hopes to gain a level of excitement about a conscious artist — such as Qwel of the Typical Cats, who recently performed at the Theta Delta Chi fraternity on March 30 — as was stirred by the announcement of T.I. for Slope Day 2007. Bhai, Rediker, Ikeda and Fox want to heighten the consciousness of the Cornell community, but for them, hip-hop is simply what they love.
“There’s nothing I would rather do on any night than get together with my friends and kick beats and freestyles” Fox said. With their initiative, Bhai explained, “Not only can you love it. We’re trying to make something so you can be part of it.”
To hear music from these artists visit: