Thursday, September 6, 2018

John Malveaux: Keepers Of The Underground: The Hiphop Archive At Harvard

                 Producer 9th Wonder speaks with student staff members at The HipHop Archive & Research Institute in Jan. 2018.
Harold Shawn /Courtesy of The Hiphop Archive & Research Institute at Harvard

John Malveaux of 
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Harvard Hip Hop Archive

National Public Radio

September 6, 2018

This story is the first in NPR's new Morning Edition series produced by The Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva) called The Keepers, stories of activist, archivists, rogue librarians, curators, collectors and historians — keepers of the culture and the cultures and collections they keep.

Over a decade ago, students of Dr. Marcyliena Morgan, then a Professor of Linguistics at UCLA, started falling by her office, imploring her to listen to hip-hop.

"I taught urban speech communities," Dr. Morgan says. "Students said, 'We want to do work on hip-hop.' I said, 'That's performance but it's not a speech community.' They said, 'We'll be back.'"

They wanted her to hear the rapping and rhyming, the bravado of the wordplay, this new underground culture that was being created. They wanted her to help them begin to archive the medium.

"They came back with the most amazing projects," she says. "They showed the elements of hip-hop: rapping, MCing, the writing of lyrics, the poetry and rhyming, b-boy, b-girl dance, graffiti art. And what it meant to their lives."

Dr. Morgan wasn't an archivist and she didn't listen to hip-hop. But she listened to her students. Bit by bit, she opened her office and her resources and began to collect the history and material culture of hip-hop. In 2002, The Archive went from her office at UCLA to Harvard University, where she and Professor Henry Louis Gates founded The Hiphop Archive & Research Institute at the W.E.B. Dubois Institute at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard.

"I remember when Marcy shared her idea with me and I thought, "Oh my god,' Professor Gates says. "I'm no fan of hip-hop, but you don't have to be Albert Einstein to realize that this was a brilliant idea. Imagine if someone had thought of this when jazz was at its zenith. 'Why don't we have the jazz archive at Harvard?' Of course it would have been turned down but in retrospect they would have been a genius."       

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