Finding Lost Love Between Hip-Hop and HBCUs

Wale at Howard University

Article can be found at: http://www.hbcudigest.com/editorial-finding-lost-love-between-hip-hop-and-hbcus/

The marriage between hip-hop and historically black colleges is in need of couple’s therapy.  Their love, which once existed as a blissful blend of shared support and mutual satisfaction is now a shared existence between domestic partners in a small living space in black culture.

Legislative and media organizations have launched an all-out assault on HBCUs, questioning their relevance, their value and need for continued existence in a new economic culture. Hip-hop, by choice or by circumstance, now ignores the spouse with which it shared so many good years.

During their honeymoon, the relationship between hip-hop and historically black colleges and universities was a sight to behold.  As an underground art form, black college students forced the basement-born, park bench-raised musical expression of hip-hop into the mainstream.

As their relationship matured, hip-hop became a preferred target of the political and religious right.  With every profane, sexual and bullet-riddled verse, HBCU students defended the right to free expression, living its politically charged message and challenging the establishment to hear their voices and to embrace the passion, the violence, oppression and rage reflected therein.

For middle-class and rural-raised students, hip-hop connected innocence to the raw imagery and emotion of broken homes, drug trade, and fight for survival amidst urban decline. They identified with the common cultural thread of struggle and striving for success, and in turn, headphones and a heavy bass line comforted and encouraged students in the most difficult of moments.

Rappers created a fashion trend by wearing HBCU clothing and paraphernalia in music videos, and fed a marketing and branding boon for HBCUs that today wish for the revival of its impact. Students took pride in the representation, and student governments on HBCU campuses opened their stages to recreate the Chitlin’ Circuit, a practice that remains today in spite of their cold and distant relationship.

At the apex of their relationship, hip-hop soon began to realize the entirety of its commercial potential. Its market reach expanded beyond beats and rhymes and birthed opportunities in entrepreneurship, acting, and global branding. At the same time, HBCUs began to feel the full thrust of desegregation, with black students en masse opening their minds and education options to predominantly white colleges.

As hip-hop’s brand grew, the HBCU brand began its cultural atrophy. And since then, their relationship has become a passing fling reserved for homecoming concerts, spring break road trips, and the occasional lecture series.

HBCUs are in desperate need of a rekindled romance with hip-hop. From its prominent artists, HBCUs need a rediscovery of co-branding and name-dropping of premier black college campuses. From its executives, a commitment to finding and cultivating the next generation of artists from HBCUs who can reintroduce hip-hop’s true artistry for commercial success and cultural influence.

Through a renewal of its relationship with hip-hop, HBCUs stand a stronger chance of recapturing the imagination of the black youth base inside and beyond their campus borders. The call for activism to defend those institutions that for so long were the only option for progress must come from the spokespersons of today’s youth movement.

And with this renewal, a growing delegation of young activists will once again discover what it means to stand for something created for them and by them. Endorsement from the hip-hop community will allow a global community of color, totally familiar and open to the uniting themes and presentation of hip-hop, to again celebrate and support its institutions of higher learning.

Nothing about the potential of such a reunion will be easy. Affluence and ignorance on the part of many in the hip-hop community, combined with apathy and immaturity from many in the HBCU student and administrative community, would make such a move very difficult to achieve and far more difficult to sustain.

But all marriages are exercises in wishful thinking, and there’s no greater cause and no more critical time for two distant lovers to find their love.

Article posted by HBCU Digest.

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