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Students learn the artistic roots of hip-hop at lecture

Contributing Writer

Published: Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 17:02

Central Florida Futre

Liset Valle-Jimenez

Nigerian-born Donald Harrell typically focuses on teaching others about African life and culture, particularly music.

On Feb. 22, Harrell took a turn for the modern and gave a presentation to about 30 audience members on "The Evolution of Hip Hop" in the Student Union's Key West Ballroom.

Harrell explained that hip-hop is the latest artistic expression of African people as a need of addressing the times, but that many factors were involved in its development.

He said regardless of your race or ethnicity, hip-hop reached the masses. It became a part of fashion, media, culture and music.

"Hip-hop helped elect our first black president," Harrell said.

Harrell presented a YouTube video featuring disc jockey Kool Herc, a hip-hop legend. In the video, the viewer is able to see life through the eyes of Herc. He describes shootouts and life within the Bronx.

Harrell called him "the father of hip-hop." Herc is seen as a founder of hip-hop, incorporating music from James Brown and the reality of life in the streets, which is a story with a number of elements to it.

"The story of hip-hop can be told a variety of ways," Harrell said.

Hip-hop can be divided up into four categories. The four elements are: DJing, emceeing, break dancing and graffiti writing.

Each comes together to create hip-hop culture,  Harrell said.

A DJ takes the music made by the emcee and often mixes it in techniques known as blending, scribbling and juggling. All the while, a breaker, or break dancer, performs to the music.

Many believe graffiti to be an art form, but it began as a way to rebel against inner-city life spawned by socioeconomic problems in places such as Harlem and the South Bronx, in which hip-hop was confined to in its early years. Hip-hop has since become a global hit and a serious competitor with rock n' roll.

Harrell said he recognized that hip-hop also came from a gang dynamic, but that it was new music that "sprang up out of this desolate situation."

"It was an opportunity for people to move away from gangs and find individuality," Harrell said.

Eric Wright, professor of African American history and culture course, asked his class to attend the event for credit as a part of the James Weldon Johnson lectures series. Wright's class focuses on music as a continuing cultural tradition.

Hip-hop characterizes a generation, Wright said.

"Hip hop has had a social influence on me from the way I dress to how I act," said sophomore advertising major Michael Soler.

Soler and his friend, Alex Polanco, came to the event after seeing a post on Facebook.

"People think that hip hop can be a negative impact, but in reality, they overlook positive factors," said Polanco, a social science education major. "For example, many don't know that rapper Lil' Romeo goes to USC; his father Master P had to be a positive influence and great father figure."

Harrell concluded the talk by giving, "props to hip hop."

An Evolution of Hip Hop class will be available at UCF in the summer.

"There are many ways in which we could approach the class," said Harrell. "We can look at the evolution of hip hop in a economic and political form."

Summer A's course will be taught by JoAnne Stephenson, program director for African American Studies, and summer B's course will be taught by Harrell.


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