If you go
What: Adam Bradley, Bridging the Gap: From Literature to Rap
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Chautauqua Community House, 900 Baseline Rd., Boulder, 303-442-3282
More info: chautauqua.com
Author and University of Colorado associate professor Adam Bradley has an impressive CV in the realm of hip hop and black popular culture. When we heard he’d sharing some of that knowledge and experience at the Chautauqua Community House next Wednesday, we rang him up to pick his brain.
Do you think it’s still a common misconception that hip hop can’t be positive?
A perspective I’ve gained … is just how much the stigma surrounding the music and the culture remains. …The kinds of conversations that you have really suggest that, for all the ways that hip hop has become so mainstream and even become enshrined in high culture, there’s also a deep level of skepticism. Another surprise to me is that I always assumed it was a generational thing, that young people wouldn’t feel that way, but teaching classes on hip hop that I do at CU, I find myself facing the very same misconceptions against hip hop — that it’s against women, that it’s a world of violence and homophobia, and on and on and on. Indeed, you can find that in the music, just the way you can find that when you step out your door that day. You can find that all around us in our culture … Hip hop is a reflection of us as a culture.
I think we really saw this problem when Common’s performance at the White House caused controversy.
One of the great stories I haven’t told about that — when the White House incident occurred, Common was invited to a poetry event and there’s push back from Fox News and people like Sarah Palin — when all that happened, we were just putting the finishing touches on the memoir. I actually heard about it before he did and I texted him and said, “You hear what people are saying about you?” … We finally got on the phone and he said, “Oh, man, I can’t believe this. We gotta get some of this into the book.” I got in touch with the press and said, “I think we got another chapter.
I was talking along these lines with someone recently, as it relates to Kanye, and commentary being misinterpreted as bragging.
It’s true. Braggadocio is one of the cornerstones. In “Decoded,” Jay-Z has a passage that says people often question rap’s legitimacy as an art form because it’s just about people saying how great they are … It’s no different than a sonnet about love, it has a structure to fit into. When given a set of constraints, how do you build something novel or beautiful? Rap is no different, so when you hear a Kanye album, hell yeah you hear a lot of bragging … But there’s more going on than simply self-aggrandizement. There’s a way where it opens up space to acknowledge the deprecation that young black people have faced in this country for years. There’s a disparagement that continues today, whether it’s in the body of a young boy named Trayvon Martin or the way that the black female image gets appropriated for pleasure and profit. Whatever the case may be, what rap does for the ego is it’s a recuperative thing or a restorative thing.
What can people expect from your presentation?
I’m collaborating with DJ Lazy Eyez … We’re putting together a presentation that will take you to the other side of hip hop, the one that is both obscure, but right in plain sight. I’m not talking about backpack rap or some esoteric stuff. I’m talking about the complexity and richness that you can hear on the radio or at parties or pouring out of cars as some kid drives by you on the freeway. What we’re doing is kind of a multimedia tour through that other hip hop. I want to share essentially the experience I had working with Common, seeing rap form right before your eyes and ears. It can shape the way you see artistic creation.
Say someone who wasn’t a fan before walks away from this wanting to dive into some new music. What do you recommend?
First thing I’d say is I’m never one to turn a hip-hop atheist into a believer. My goal is not to make everybody who leaves the event Wednesday leaving with Kanye bumping out their speakers. But it’s a way to begin a cultural awareness of this music and it’s impact, not just in sound, but in every aspect of our lives.
As far as a playlist, you can’t go wrong with classics like De La Soul, any album from A Tribe Called Quest, Lauren Hill’s classic Miseducation … I think we’re living right now in a hip-hop renaissance where there’s a return to lyricism … The stuff listen to now includes Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper, artists like that, who are creating a sense of an album. Pusha T and Drake, on a more commercial side, who are nonetheless doing more sophisticated things with lyricism. This is a great time to be alive and listening to hip hop.
What about your classes next semester?
I’m on leave doing something that I hope will be really exciting … It’s a laboratory for rap and popular culture, aka the Rap Lab. Our mission is simple, to start conversation and to create spaces for learning and exchange about popular culture as it intersects with race and diversity. We’ve just begun a menu of events for the spring that will be both on and off the campus. We’re going to do a kind of listening session at Albums on the Hill. We’re partnering with individuals and organizations who are doing exciting things with pop culture and race … reaching out to people and building the kind of community people want to see, where we can embrace diversity, whether in race or religion, and emerge nodding our heads to the same beat.