on music without reservations et cetera

The “Bebop to Hip Hop: Young America and Music” students did presentations today.

I just watched the Miami Heat and Charlotte game. Fourth in the series. Miami lost although it was a good fight until that final buzzer.

I am still smiling because it is not over.

I am also smiling because I am so proud of the students in my “Bebop to Hip Hop: Young America Music” class. How cool is it to hear 20 and 21-year-olds saying without a blink “the postwar narrative is” alongside names like Stevie Wonder, Kendrick Lamar, Marvin Gaye, Biggie Smalls, Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash and Tupac Shakur?

Their presentations have contributed to this being a great semester all things considered.  I am grateful to Cynthia Miller, University of Alabama Gorgas Music Librarian, for ordering books, DVDs, and CDs for this course. She was present to hear the students today as was Kathy Yarbrough, University of Alabama, College of Arts and Sciences, Director of Development. The class was respectful. When necessary, they politely acknowledged the profanity heard in some clips as “teaching tools.”

Among the student presenters was Jason Frost who did an overview of Native American hip hop music. Next, he discussed the resonances between indigenous groups and people of African descent. After the Second World War, Native Americans faced federal termination policy that turned tribal lands over to state governments in the wake of perceived mismanagement. A revival in Native culture ensued, Frost wrote. Hip hop music was one way they expressed their anger and heritage.

Aside from Lamar’s “Alright” video, which was presented by Jake Birdsong in his study of the use of wit in hip hop, one of the more provocative primary sources offered today was a Youtube clip featuring a 1994 interview with the late Tupac Shakur. Graduating senior, Undre Phillips, presented it in the context of arguing there can be no hip hop without poverty. In a draft of his final paper, Phillips offered  Shakur explaining how poverty leads to resistance against oppression:  “The people [are] outside happily sing[ing], ‘We are hungry, may we please have food.’ Their requests to gain access are denied….The group begins to sing more assertively over time….[Within time] the song  become[s] “I’m pickin da lock, comin’ through da door blastin’.”

A Powerpoint from one student presentation.


Here’s the obvious: it is not easy addressing difficult issues like poverty and inequities in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Race comes up again and again. I have watched thirteen young people, all History majors, take on these topics with more courage than most.

I see the names on the roster for next Fall’s class and am excited. The next time around it will be a lecture course. While the students will write a lot, there will be more short reflections. Still thinking it through, but two writing assignments will involve mix tapes.

I remember my first mix tape. I had a red tape recorder. It was a gift from my grandmother. One of the cuts on it was Funkadelic’s 1978 hit “One Nation Under a Groove.”

I took my shiny tape red tape recorder to school. At the time I was in sixth grade. My teacher took it away from me. I was later proud. I walked in on him listening to my mix tape while the class was outside with the P.E. teacher. At the time, all of my music on mix tapes was recorded from the radio. Miami’s WEDR was the station I listened to most at the time although I also liked Y-100 and WQAM. Hot 105 was not yet around.

Postscript: One of the grad students emailed about Beyonce’s visual album “Lemonade,” which premiered on HBO this past weekend. I saw a bit of it and can’t wait to see the entire work some time this week.  I have read quite a few writings suggesting that the album is more than a tell-all about infidelity .

More to discuss here, but it will have to wait. Grading ahead. Roll Tide! Go Heat!


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