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. 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

Poetic Pilgrimage: Hip hop has the capacity to “galvanise the masses”

PP Le Space hi quality

Poetic Pilgrimage formed in 2002 when Muneera Williams and Sukina Owen-Douglas met at secondary school in Bristol, where they were part of a choir. Their love of music brought them together, but it was Williams, who was a DJ at a pirate radio station, who started Owen-Douglas on the path of hip hop by introducing her to artists such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Nas and Slum Village.

Following their conversion to Islam 11 years ago, Poetic Pilgrimage continued to make music despite facing criticism by those who considered their music to be haram, or forbidden by Islamic law. The pair now use their music as a tool to tackle all kinds of prejudices.

Poetic Pilgrimage will be performing at The Power of Hip Hop on 9 July. The event, co-organised by Index on Censorship, will explore the influence of hip-hop culture on social change in a global context. Performers include the inaugural Music in Exile Fellow Smockey, plus Zambezi News, Shhorai and Jason Nichols.

Index caught up with Poetic Pilgrimage ahead of the event to find out what it is like to be female and Muslim in the UK hip-hop scene.

Also read:
– 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

8-9 July: The power of hip hop


A conference followed by a day of performance to consider hip hop’s role in revolutionary social, political and economic movements across the world.