Hip Hop Legend Afrika Bambaataa Named Visiting Scholar at Cornell
He’s already a hip hop legend, social activist, and pioneer in the music world, but now DJ Afrika Bambaataa will add another profession to his already impressive resume: Ivy league visiting scholar at Cornell University.
Bambaataa—who is widely accepted as the originator of electrofunk sound—joins a growing list of prominent hip hop artists exploring the world of academia. Earlier this fall, New York University recruited the Roots’ ?uestlove who teaches a two credit music course at New York University. NYU also picked hip hop producer Swizz Beatz as their Producer in Residence for the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at the Tisch School of the Arts.
It's great to see influential hip hop artists and the music they create validated by academia, but one can't help to notice that these heavyweights of hip hop seem to gravitate toward exclusive universities with hefty price tags. Cornell, for instance, is notably lacking in black students (there are only 190 in it’s class of 2016) compared to other ivies.
To some, hip hop is more than just a genre. It's a culture, with roots in storytelling that originated from a socially discarded and discounted generation of young people. Yet hip hop's continued prominence in popular culture—which has made it less a vehicle for social change and more of a stifling rehash of status quo values—has put legends like Bambaataa out of reach for young people of color and lower economic status.
Perhaps more well-known hip hop artists should consider teaching at academic institutions with more economic and racial diversity, like Texas rapper Z-Ro who recently taught a class on Houston's Hip Hop scene at Houston Community College, or Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA, who teamed up with Columbia professor Christopher Emdi to launch an experimental project that uses hip-hop to teach science in New York City public schools.
Cornell University Library's Hip Hop Collection, which boasts “the largest institutionally assembled collection of early hip hop recordings on vinyl (7,000 recordings and growing),” invited the legendary Bambaataa for the three year stint as a visiting scholar. He will tour the school’s Ithaca New York campus several times a year to perform, give lectures, and attend community events. Perhaps at those community events, those who couldn't afford the courses can still catch a glimpse and a lesson or two from the "Grandfather" of hip hop.
Bridget Todd is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetMarie.