Saturday, March 28, 2020

How Hip Hop Differed From Rock and Roll In Its Formative Years

There were significant differences between Hip Hop's emergence as the most popular youth music in the nation, compared to rise of Rock and  Roll, though both began as musical forms in  Black communities. 

First of all, the take off period for hip hop, the time it took from its first commercial dissemination till its conquest of the youth market, was longer than that of Rock and Roll. For Hip Hop, the period was approximately ten years  (1979-1989); for Rock and Roll only three ( 1954-1956).  Both were maligned and resisted, but it took longer for Hip Hop to conquer youth markets, with the major vehicles for doing so being a single Music Show, MTV, along with music radio stations around the nation, rather than variety shows like Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan, and dance shows like American Bandstand, which helped promote Rock and Roll

Secondly, whereas Rock and Roll was a product of a wave of American Prosperity of unprecedented power and length, elevating the incomes of working class Americans, even those from  previously marginalized groups,  to the point where they could produce a teenage market for popular music and creating a wave of optimism that affected almost everyone in the nation, Hip Hop was a product of economic stagnation, urban decay, growing inequality, and the decline of post war optimism and Sixties idealism. The South Bronx of the 70's ("broken glass everywhere, people pissing on the stairs you know they just don't care') would have been- and actually was- unrecognizable to the people who sang doo wop on the corners and in school hallways in Bronx neighborhoods during the 1950's. During Rock and Roll's take off years, no one living in the Bronx in that time  could have ever imagined that housing holding for than 300,000 people could be abandoned and torched, or that the great music programs in Bronx schools would be shut down because of budget cuts. But those were the surrounding conditions  when first hip hop parties were held in community centers,  parks and school yards, creating a music featuring pounding percussion rather than beautiful harmonies of groups like the Chantels, the Chords, and Dion and the Belmonts

Third, the dismal economic and political conditions in which hip hop was created helped create another dynamic radically different from that of Rock and Roll---it was not appropriated, or rebranded by white artists the way Rock and Roll was. There is no equivalent to Elvis Presley in Hip Hop, a white artist so charismatic and successful appropriating a Black art form that he became known as "The King of Rock and Roll,"  For the first ten years of Hip Hop's history, there was not a single white artist who achieved prominence in Hip Hop to the level that Elvis, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, or later the Beach Boys, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones did in Rock and Roll.  The only artist EVER to achieve that status, was Emimen, and he did so 20 years after "Rappers Delight" hit the air waves. The Beastie Boys achieved great popularity fusing hip hop with punk, but they didn't ever pretend to convey a key portion of the hip hop ethos- which was coming from tough urban neighborhoods and triumphing over adversity. Hip Hop credibility in the marketplace become linked to "Blackness" and inner city hardship in a way that had no counterpart in Rock and Roll History. Although most of early hip hop was more party music than political music, its trademark was as the voice of disfranchised youth, left behind in decaying cities.  And since cities were not only decaying all over the nation, but all over the world, this trademark actually helped hip hop spread in a time when growing inequality was a global as well as national phenomenon

Gender Issues in Hip Hop

The one area in which Hip Hop resembled Rock and Roll was in the absence of women artists during its formative years.  From 1979 to 1987, when Salt and Pepa first produced songs which went platinum, there was not a single woman hip hop artist who left a mark on the growing national and international audience for the music, just as no woman artist achieved popularity in Rock and Roll during its take off period ( 1954-1956)  Hip Hop, like Rock and Roll, was aggressively and proudly masculinist in its early years

But unlike Rock and Roll, Hip Hop projected this masculinist ethos at a time when women's labor force participation was growing rapidly, when fewer and fewer women were dependent on male incomes, and when women artists were achieving great prominence in other musical forms, especially pop.   As the numbers below indicate, the change in the US from a  industrial economy to a service and information economy, which  led to a loss of high paying jobs for men, created opportunities for women in entry level jobs in the service sector 

"In 1950, the overall participation rate of women was 34 per- cent.  The rate rose to 38 percent in 1960, 43 percent in 1970, 52 percent in 1980, and 58 percent in 1990" 

 By 1990, when Hip Hop was firmly established as the most popular youth music in the nation, the majority of women were working outside the home, nearly doubling the numbers who were doing so in 1950.  No song illustrates that reality better than the Donna Summer Classic "She Works Hard for the Money"  but women's power and agency could be found  represented all over the radio in the 70's and 80's through the music of the Pointer Sisters, Chaka Khan, Cyndee Lauper, Gloria Gaynor, Madonna, and the still incandescent Aretha Franklin.

 in the midst of this, however, Hip Hop remained a male bastion, an arena where women had difficulty storming the barricades. Some would even argue that in communities where women were becoming the major breadwinners because high paying industrial jobs were disappearing and the expanding sections of the economy ( fast food, retail, insurance, finance, real estate, health care) hired women more than men in entry level positions, hip hop became an arena where men, especially men of color, could assert their power and pre-eminence even as they became economically redundant- at least in the legal economy

This difficult issue is one that all lovers of hip hop need to explore--  Why did it take so long for women to crack into hip hop as rappers, dj's and producers and how does the current era- when so many prominent women are making their mark in hip hop- differ from earlier periods?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Lessons of the Churchill War Rooms

A little less than four years ago, my children, to celebrate my 70th Birthday, took me on a one week trip to London. Of all the many memorable things about the trip, the one thing that stood out the most, and has remained etched in my memory, was our 4 hour visit to the Churchill War Rooms.
For those who have never visited, or heard of this site, during the entire duration of WW 2. the British government had to function in an underground bunker because of the relentless bombing London was subject to by the Nazis. The British Prime Minister and key military officials basically lived underground for five years, while the rest of the citizens of London and other British cities had to survive constant aerial attacks that made normal life impossible
In this setting, heroism became a way of life. There was no escape from the danger. But people had to try to go to work and raise their families amidst the constant threat that an explosion could hit their homes, their schools, their factories, their stores, their houses of worship In these circumstances, if the vast majority of Britons were not willing to make incredible sacrifices, the society would have collapsed and the government would have been forced to surrender to the Nazis
We face a similar scenario with the Corona Virus. During the next 18 months to two years, we will be a society at war, not with a foreign enemy, but a deadly virus. No one will be exempt. Not our top government officials, not our business leaders, not our professional athletes. But it is ordinary people, along with medical personnel, who will bear the Bronx of this. They will have to face danger to go to work, keep our medical system and food chain going, and take care of their families. Many will get sick. Some will die. And everyone will have to live differently
This is not something most people in this country ever thought would happen. But the crisis is here, and it is not going away. How are we going to conduct ourselves. We we act in accordance of out best values, and take care of our most vulnerable people, or will surrender to selfishness?
The future of this nation is at stake. Great Briton survived the Blitz. We can survive the Pandemic, but only if we become our own heroes.

Monday, March 16, 2020

When You're Living The History You Are Studying: A Message I Just Sent To My Students

Hello Rock and Roll to Hip Hop Students
First of all, how are you? I hope those of you who left the country or your hometowns for Spring Break are able to fly back safely. Please contact me if you need help with anything. I am here if you need me.
Secondly, I have read all your midterms and they are excellent. I have sent each of you individual letters about your exams, something I have never done before because I usually put ample comments on the exams I return to you. But since it is not sure when, if ever I will see all of you again ( some of you are graduating in May, possibly remotely) I needed to use this method of letting you know what I thought of what you wrote.
But the major reason I am communicating with you is to address an irony in how I was teaching the course. At several points in the semester, I was describing how a sudden unexpected event could change how people lived, thought and even produced and consumed music. The examples I used were the beginnings of the Great Depression, US entry into World War 2 and most recently the sudden escalation of the Vietnam War in 1965 . I was trying to explain to you how before the War took over our lives, I like many people, was expecting my life to move in a predictable fashion. , even though I was a bit of a "rebel." But when the war hit, almost every young person's plans had to be put on hold, and in the process, gender attitudes, racial attitudes, and feelings towards authority changed over night. And this was reflected musically, where the Beatles went from "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" to "Lucy in Sky With Diamonds", the Temptations from "My Girl" to"War": and where female artists like Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin, whose power and eroticism had marginalized them most of their careers, suddenly became the biggest superstars in American popular music.
When I offered those comments, I felt I would have to work extra hard to explain what it felt like to have an unforeseen event turn everything in your life inside out and upside down and make you wonder not only what your future would be like, but if you had a future because this was all so abstract.
Well now, it isn't abstract any more.You are living in an historical moment that is utterly unprecedented and will change yours and everyone else's life forever. It is very confusing when this happens. You don't want it to be real. But when you discover it is all too real, that it won't go away, and that it is much worse than anything you ever dreamed of, you
can become very angry,or paralyzed and depressed
I can't tell you what to feel, or how to respond. But I will tell you this.The years of chaos and division and fear during the Vietnam War extracted numerous casualties,not all of which were in the War itself. But it also spawned a burst of musical creativity that inspired the world and helped give birth to movements that have changed our lives forever- the Black Power/Black Liberation, Women's Liberation, Gay Liberation and Environmentalism
In the weeks, months and years to come, I hope you find your own path through the chaos we are living through and conduct yourselves with courage, compassion and generosity. Please understand that I will be with you trying to do the same. even though I am three times your age
Take care. Be safe. We will meet again on ZOOM when our class convenes the a week from Tuesday
Dr Naison

The Challenges We Face As Teaching Goes Online- A Guest Post by Alec Shantzis

In addition to the COVID-19 virus and the health and economic consequences we are facing.  All over the country, teachers are going online today. 
This will shine a light on a reality teachers face every day.  It is difficult to get students to work.  Even in a classroom with a trained pro, students resist working. They care even less about the tests that teachers and districts have been mandated to treat as important to students learning.  The age we live in has created millions of disinterested students, overloaded parents, a lack of fascination with mastery and a social norm that sadly includes a growing amount of disrespect and lack of etiquette in general. 
Tasking parents with the full responsibility of getting kids to do schoolwork will have limited, if any, success in many schools .
Parents are about to find out why teachers should be paid well ! 
My predictions-
- a large percentage of students will see this as a vacation and unless parents immediately insist that their children treat each day like a scheduled, disciplined school day, spend time and effort keeping their children focused and completing schoolwork, we can expect maybe a 10% completion rate of assignments if we are lucky.
-mandated state testing will be disrupted and test scores for this year will be absolutely meaningless.  Superintendents and school boards have been bullied by states for a number of years regarding squeezing ever ascending test scores from our students.  Governors that cancel testing will take a huge emotional and administrative burden off of the backs of administrators at a time when stress relief will be much appreciated.
-Governors have signed contracts worth billions of dollars nationally ( mostly with Pearson but not completely) to prep, administer and grade tests.  Wise governors will use the declared national emergency to declare there will be no state testing this year.  -Colleges must begin creating alternative protocols for deciding which students will be accepted using means other than standardized test scores.  
This will be fought rigorously (some of you will get my little pun there....)  by Pearson and the other education companies. 
- Many Students will approach this like a summer vacation and approach schoolwork as if it only need be completed before they have to report back to school.  They will play a lot of video games
-  each September, teachers work to create routines that create an atmosphere conducive to learning.  It takes from a week to a month to get a whole class on board.  When students return, we will be not only starting from scratch but facing a student population that at best, has experienced the adults around them stressed and at worst, we will see students that at a young age have been traumatized by illness, possible deaths around them, dire economic family situations , and fear.  
The focus of education, if some thought is put into it, should be helping our students re integrate, but also on caring for a range of student issues from stress to trauma. 
This is my initial set of thoughts about it. I will probably write more at some point.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

An Old Dog Learning New Tricks- My Transition to On Line Teaching.

I am a 73 year old professor of African American studies and History at Fordham University who has been teaching for 49 years, and whose main lecture course, From Rock and Roll to Hip Hop was written up as one of the most popular college courses in New York City. The transition to on line learning has been difficult and exhausting. I think it was successful, but to do it in a way that captured the atmosphere in my classes, I have to work three times as hard as I normally do. The reason for the difficulty is that is difficult to replace my extremely "hands on" teaching methods. Not only do I play music videos in my classes, I dance with my students, have regular guest speakers, and periodically bring in pizza, wings and other tasty food items. Although my classes require students to do a lot of reading and write long take home exams and term papers, students perceive them as an adventure with an eccentric professor where you never know what is going to happen. How do you duplicate THAT on line?
Capturing the energy and spontaneity of my class experience, for me, was as important as making sure the content was there. In terms of content, I made sure they understood the material I was trying to get across by writing up formal lectures for each class session which I would send them by email a day before the class session, illustrated by four or five music videos. Then I would hold a formal class session on ZOOM, which it took me a few days to master, where students could comment, reflect and see one another's faces. But to lighten up the atmosphere in the class and create a sense of community, I also decided to send them short 12-30 second videos of me rapping and dancing in unlikely places, from the Fordham College Dean's Office, to a local beach, to a chair at my hair cutters! My students, many of whom were traumatized by the experience of suddenly leaving the residence halls and moving back in with their families, loved seeing me make a fool of myself that way. I encouraged them to make videos of their own as well as comment on my class lectures. I also created a contest for my students where they chose their favorite hip hop songs of all time and send the list of winners to my class via email.
The result of the combination of presenting course content through formal lectures, having a contest and sending them short videos is by the time we actually had the class meet on ZOOM, my students were excited and ready for an enjoyable experience. We had everyone come on line visually as well as orally which turned out to be hilarious because several students had pets on their laps- one dog, one cat, and one cockatoo. We had a great discussion both about the class material, and about the crisis we were all living through, and had more than a few laughs.
I actually felt great after the class session because there was so much positive energy in the group. But a lot of work went into this- writing lectures and posting videos, assigning them relevant course readings and films to view, staying in email contact with students individually, making short comic videos and learning ZOOM. This is MUCH harder to do than live classroom instruction if you want to capture the energy of the way I normally teach
Dr Mark "Notorious Phd" Naison