Harvard professor Marcyliena Morgan details hip-hop’s influence on cultural politics

The evolution of hip-hop from a creation in the eastern United States to a globally adopted culture has come with many side effects – both good and bad – according to Marcyliena Morgan, a Harvard professor who led a discussion on the politics of hip-hop in Storer Auditorium on Thursday night. The talk, “Hiphop and the Global Influence of American Cultural Politics,” was part of the Henry King Stanford Distinguished Professors Lecture Series presented by the Center for the Humanities.

Morgan, a professor of African and African American studies, the founding executive director of the Hiphop Archive and Research Institute at Harvard and the author of “The Real Hiphop: Battling for Knowledge, Power, and Respect in the Underground,” began the talk by defining “hip-hop.” She described it as “the music, arts, media and cultural movement in community, developed by Black and Latino youth in the mid-90s,” and expounded upon its subsequent influence across the world.

Morgan said understanding the roots of hip-hop culture and how it grew into a worldwide genre is crucial to understanding hip-hop culture.

“How important this country has been in shaping what’s going on in terms of the world as we know it now,” she said.

Morgan played videos as examples of how hip-hop infiltrated other countries, making global connections. One video in particular, titled “#HIPHOPISHIPHOP,” showed 14 rappers from 14 countries expressing their love for the genre. Some of the countries included Japan, Italy and Bangladesh.

This part of the program struck junior Raheem Albuaijan, a student from the Middle East. He said that as hard as it may be to believe, hip-hop plays an important role outside of America.

“It’s crazy how many rappers we have back home,” Albuaijan said. “The music that we listened to back home was pretty much all hip-hop.”

Another focal point of the presentation was how hip-hop has become synonymous with the “gangster” lifestyle and criminal activity. Morgan highlighted attempts by police departments around the nation to criminalize hip-hop culture, including in large and diverse cities like New York and Miami.

As an example, she compared two pictures: one of rapper Jay-Z wearing an oversized NFL jersey and a flat brim hat, and what appeared to be a screenshot of a Miami Police Department advertisement for reporting gang activity, one with an illustration very similar to Jay-Z’s likeness.

Freshman Jordan Craft said the discussion furthered his understanding how the discrimination against hip-hop culture feeds into systematic discrimination.

“It explains how that criminalization affects the criminalization of black people in general,” said Craft. “It’s a part of history we don’t hear about.”

Feature image courtesy Pixabay user real-napster.