Ohio University's Hip Hop Congress educates and entertains for Hip Hop Awareness Week using the four central elements of hip-hop culture
May 8, 2006
By Anita Martin
Don't be surprised to find pounding drum circles, elaborate graffiti murals or spontaneous break dancing while walking through campus this week. Starting today, Ohio University's Hip Hop Congress celebrates the four central elements of hip-hop culture - deejaying, emceeing, B-boying/B-girling (break dancing or breaking) and graphing (graffiti art) - with the campus' third annual Hip Hop Awareness Week.
"Our main purpose for Hip Hop Awareness Week this year is to bring to light that there is hip-hop culture in Athens," says Anita Tobin, president of Hip Hop Congress. "Just because we're in rural Appalachia doesn't mean that culture stops."
The Hip Hop Congress and its Ohio University local chapter distinguish between the culture of hip-hop, which elevates political empowerment and creative expression; and the mainstream rap industry, often dominated by themes of gangs, money and misogyny.
"When you hear the words hip hop, a lot of people think about MTV," says Gabriel Gonzalez, a junior photography major and Hip Hop Congress member. "We're more interested in educating about the grassroots of hip hop."
Sistas speak out
Wednesday's events fast-forward to addressing issues in modern hip hop. "Where 'Da Women At?" a panel discussion beginning at 8 p.m. in the Lindley Cultural Center multi-purpose room, will address female performers in mainstream and underground hip-hop culture. Panelists include DJ ZEN (Alzenira Glick), founder of the Cien Crew, a community group that teaches women how to deejay; Ayanna Jordan, education professor and director of Upward Bound; and Monica Chillious, a senior pre-medical student.
According to Tobin, many women have to work three times as hard as men to be respected as emcees and spoken word artists. "One of Hip Hop Congress' biggest goals now is to bring women into the forefront in hip hop culture," she says.
According to Zen, hip hop, as an industry, has always been dominated by men. "Especially in commercial rap, where lyrics are often degrading to women," she says. "I believe women have a distinct wisdom, and if they can find a voice and a following in the underground movement, it can push us into deeper spirituality as a society."
DJs on the street
On Friday evening, the Hip Hop Congress takes to the streets for an "Ol' Skool Hip-Hop Concert." Local DJs DJ ZEN and DJ Self-Help (Dan Johnson, sophomore audio production major) will perform at the Howard Hall site starting at 6 p.m.
According to Akil Houston, visiting professor of African American studies also known as DJ AK, such outdoor DJ sprees represent the origins of hip-hop culture, when hip-hop pioneers spun records on the streets of the South Bronx.
"You basically had a situation where guys, like Kool DJ Herc, got a turntable and some records and threw a block party," Houston says. "This gave young people a space for creative outlook that didn't require lots of money or training."
Herc and other early hip-hop artists introduced the practice of isolating sound bytes and percussion breaks from funk, rock and soul records of popular artists such as James Brown, Apache and the Incredible Bongo Band. DJs began extending breaks with audio mixers and two records. Eventually, mixing and scratching techniques developed.
Meanwhile, MCs evolved from basic block-party "masters of ceremony" who introduced DJs with short rhymes and basic choruses; to the masters of cadence, improvised rhythm and verse that we now call rappers.
Houston notes that outdoor hip-hop concerts have remained a consistent part of hip-hop culture since the beginning. "It's a kick-back to the old, but at the same time, it's still an active part of hip-hop culture," he says adding, "though not necessarily of the rap industry."
Skillz and sketches
Friday night also provides an opportunity to show off your skills at a "Throwback Party," hosted by Young, Black and Talented and the Black Student Communication Caucus and featuring a performance by AJ AK. The event, held in the Baker Center Ballroom from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., will follow a 1980s-early '90s theme with prizes awarded for best costume, best dance routine and best free-style.
To cap off the week, the Hip Hop Congress invites the public to the graffiti walls on Richland Avenue on Saturday at 2 p.m. to learn graphing techniques and personal tag design. Participants are encouraged to bring a sketch that they'd like to throw up.
Hip Hop Awareness Week activities are open to anyone, from hip-hop fans to the hip-hop curious, Tobin says. "The hip-hop culture in Athens is definitely diverse," she says. "Because it's a college campus you have a lot of different people from different places."
And don't worry if you can't bust a rhyme, spin on your head or even spray-paint a straight line. "Most of the time, people automatically assume that it's all about the talent, when it's really about education," Tobin says. "The majority of the people in Hip Hop Congress can't sing or rap or dance. They just have an innate feeling for the culture."
Break dancing is elementary
Deep bass beats pump through the halls of Trimble Elementary, drawing teachers to the gymnasium to investigate. The gym is packed with first through fourth-grade members of Ohio University's Kids on Campus. In one corner, DJ Self-Help spins vinyl records while two b-boys and a b-girl, representing Ohio University's Hip Hop Congress and Pittsburgh's Caution Crew Productions, teach the moves - and wisdom - of hip hop.
"The most important thing to remember when break dancing is: do not knock out your neighbor," says Caution Crew member Cuba (Joseph Llaneza). The room erupts in giggles. "Hip hop is about being peaceful. No matter how aggressive the competition gets, it's all about love at the end of the day."
The Ohio University chapter of the national Hip Hop Congress visited Trimble Elementary School on Feb. 16 as part of their outreach and education efforts. For Hip Hop Awareness Week, they will travel with Caution Crew members to Amesville, Ohio, this Thursday to teach the basics of breaking (break dancing or b-boying/b-girling) to students at Amesville Elementary School.
"These guys are really good with the kids," says Leslie Moss, director of Kids on Campus. "Some people are good performers, but they don't know how to engage children. These guys can do both. The kids love it."
The Hip Hop Congress and Caution Crew Productions will have done six breaking workshops for Kids on Campus by the end of this year, each time in different elementary schools in southeast Ohio. Cuba, who runs the Caution Crew, teaches breaking at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and at Camp Woodward in Pennsylvania. The crew performs and gives workshops at schools and universities around Ohio and Pennsylvania and enters b-boy/b-girl competitions across the country.
"It's about doing what you love," says Chris "Xtravagant" of the Caution Crew. "This kind of dancing never died. It started underground, went mainstream, went back underground, and just keeps cycling around. We want to give it to the younger generation now so they can do it."
Anita Martin is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.