Kendrick Lamar’s music pumped through tapping feet on the floor of the Motley Coffeehouse, spilling out of the whispered lyrics nearly everyone’s lips knew by heart.
“At its essence, hip hop music is meant to educate and meant to give people an outlet they wouldn’t ordinarily have,” said Vani Dewan SC ’21, founder of Hip Hop for Change at the 5Cs, which held a listening party and discussion for Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” album Feb. 7. “The organization’s effort is to bring that back, and that’s what I’m trying to do as well on this campus, to study hip hop in an academic lens … not just listening to it passively, but allowing it to take up space with these types of conversations.”
Hip Hop For Change started as a non-profit organization in Oakland, California, working with local artists and musicians to host educational and community outreach events and using the genre of hip hop and grassroots activism to fund underrepresented voices.
Dewan established the club at the 5Cs fall 2018, and has ambitions of making the group a larger, independent organization.
“[Hip hop] is worthy of analysis and time. [It] doesn’t usually receive that kind of attention,” Dewan said. “People think of it as more of a trivial art form when really it’s more intentional and soulful than many other genres of music.”
The listening party was the first official event hosted by the club, which chose the 2015 album to honor Black History Month and begin its gatherings with a classic.
At the event, club members curated, played and analyzed a seven-song set. Dewan chose three of the songs and the four other members selected one track each. Charity Turnboe PO ’22, a member of Hip Hop for Change, shared “King Kunta” and discussed its allusions to “Invisible Man” and “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.”
“The mission of the club is to change the narrative and the stereotype of hip hop,” Turnboe said. “A lot of the times people view it as one-dimensional, but there’s so much variety.”
Dewan said Hip Hop for Change seeks to advocate for the true heart and soul of the genre by exposing both fans and strangers to lyrics, and in turn starting conversations at the 5Cs.
“Our short-term mission is to educate and empower on our campuses,” Dewan said. “By taking up space, putting people together that normally would not be in conversation together … we share personal stories that serve as an outlet for the speaker and an educational experience for the listeners.”
The lyrics for each track at the listening party were projected with annotations from Genius.com, providing context for the audience. Each member came prepared with discussion questions, but the conversation flowed naturally over time and branched into tangents such as race, gang affiliation and the listener’s connection to Kendrick’s stories.
“I see the conversations happening on small levels with friends, but for this kind of a large scale, multi-campus wide discussion, I don’t think that’s happening currently. That’s why I think people are so into the idea [of this club]; it’s different,” Dewan said.