For many, the standards of hip hop — Kanye, Jay-Z and Eminem — typically serve as the backdrop to overcrowded fraternity parties or long road trips.
But for Manny Nimarko ’19, it was both a passion and a lifestyle that led him to found Cornell Hip Hop Heads two years ago.
“Growing up I’ve always been a big hip hop fan, and a big part of my childhood was discussing hip hop,” Nimarko said. “Like talking about hip hop with my friends in the barber shop.”
As individuals at institutions like Cornell often lack a knowledge of the genre, Nimarko said, he set out on creating an organization that would allow students to both “help people learn more about the genre” and create “an atmosphere that allows people to talk about the music they love.”
The story is much the same for Dalia Mota ’21, the group’s current social media chair, whose decision to join the Hip Hop Heads group was rooted in her upbringing alongside the music style.
“Hip hop always surrounded me … I grew up in Harlem, so I remember a lot of [it] from my childhood,” Mota said. “I’m very interested in how much hip hop has impacted people … because it is the culture.”
Members regularly meet each Friday, where discussions are usually centered around an album of the week, which members listen to in advance of the meeting, according to the club’s website.
Last week’s meeting centered on the newly released Lil’ Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” a song that has divided fans for its eccentric blend of country and hip hop influences. During the hour long meeting, the ambiguously-themed track sparked debate on what exactly constitutes a genre.
“The first time I heard this song, I thought it was pretty ‘meme-y’,” Colin Whitten ’19, a member of the club, said. “I don’t think he was trying to be taken seriously.”
But discussions also sometimes delve into some of hip hop’s more weighty aspects, such as “drugs in hip hop, mental health, violence and politics,” according to Nimarko.
Mota, for instance, highlighted the increasingly intertwined nature of politics and hip hop as one topic to which the club has paid particular heed, as well as the new wave of “up and coming women” in the historically male-dominated genre.
“It’s been interesting following how hip hop artists have become martyrs in some ways, with their involvement with the law and how people have reacted to it,” she said, citing 21 Savage’s February detention by the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency as an example of how hip hop has collided with the political world.
“Hip hop artists … are increasingly speaking on issues that everyone is talking about,” Mota continued. “Becoming ‘woke’ for lack of a better word.”
While the club was initially started as “just a group of people getting together to talk about a shared interest,” the organization, in addition to regular meetings, also hosts a range of events aimed at exploring the various facets of hip hop in front of a wider audience.
The events are normally done in collaboration with other organizations, and will use hip hop as a prism through which to examine or explore another related issue.
“More recently we’ve had one about women in hip hop, and before we’ve had one about Kanye and his legacy, and then some people reach out to us wanting to talk about law in the music industry or the impact of hip hop on politics,” Mota explained.
But most importantly, Nimarko stressed, is hip hop’s unique ability to not only understand the world, but bring people together.
“Hip hop builds bonds, it was something created from nothing,” Nimarko said.