The power of hip hop: More than just guns and girls
When you hear the words "hip hop", you may think about girls, guns and the other usual stereotypes that haunt the genre
12 Jul 16

When you hear the words “hip hop”, you may think about girls, guns and the other usual stereotypes that haunt the genre. Your mind is much less likely to wander to the dusty tomes of academia. Yet if the Power of Hip Hop proved anything, it’s that through a unique mix of academic presentations and live performances, hip hop’s capacity for facilitating social change across the world is undeniable.

The two-day event, co-organised by Index on Censorship and In Place of War, began with a day of academic presentations that proved hip hop is as worthy an avenue of study as any other musical genre. A new paper by Veronica Mason, a lecturer at London Metropolitan University who spoke at the event, will be the first inter-generational study of hip hop in academia, and having a platform to share that with other hip-hop academics is invaluable.

Then came a day of performances from the likes of Zambezi News, two satirists and hip hop artists from Zimbabwe who had the whole venue laughing over their impression of Mugabe, and Shhorai, a Colombian MC and microbiology researcher. Shhorai rhapsodised about being in the UK, telling Index how willing Londoners are “to give you a hand, to smile, to help you”. In fact, this solidarity that In Place of War has helped to cultivate over the past decade seems to have generated a real sense of female solidarity in Shorrai: “We need to support each other because it’s the only way that we’re going to move forward.”

When asked what the Colombian touch in hip hop was, her answer was immediate: “The best exponents of Colombian hip hop are great freestylers. But there are very few women because the battles are sexist. The guys just say ‘it’s a gathering of witches, nothing more.’”

But no one had anything negative to say in RichMix when she performed along with Poetic Pilgrimage, a frank, Muslim female duo. In fact, the audience went on to happily digest what was an appropriately heavy second day of the event when figures like Afrikan Boy and Rodney P freestyled about the recent shootings in the US. Having talked about how “music is my visa”, the gang-ridden streets of Afrikan Boy’s youth seemed closer than ever as he talked about seeing Alton Sterling’s bereaved son break down at the press conference. “I had to just sit down and cry those tears. It struck me as a father. I thought – my life’s going to get taken away for that?”

“No justice, no peace, persecute the police,” was the thoughtful, provocative refrain of his rap that held the audience in the palm of his hand.

A genre that began with a party Bronx in the 1970s has, without a doubt, gone on to transform lives across the world. Whether you grew up in Colombia or London, Zimbabwe or Bristol, it is a genre that enriches the impoverished, educates the deprived and represents the unrepresented. After such an empowering weekend, all that’s left to wish for is that their voices will be heard.

More from the Power of Hip Hop:
– Poetic Pilgrimage: Hip hop has the capacity to “galvanise the masses”
– Colombian rapper Shhorai: “Can you imagine a society in which women have no voice?”
– Zambezi News: Satire leaves “a lot of ruffled feathers in its wake”
– Jason Nichols: Debunking “old tropes” through hip hop

By Sophia Smith-Galer

Sophia Smith-Galer is a broadcast journalist currently studying at City, University of London. She is a member of Index on Censorship's youth advisory board.