Hip-Hop Music Explored

The School of Law hosts a roundtable discussion on a new book that explores the impact of hip-hop music.

By Christopher Ivory
Special to UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 25, 2013) — A packed house turned out Friday at the Newman Alumni Center for a review and discussion of Fear of a Hip-Hop Planet: America's New Dilemma, the newly released book written by Donald Jones, a professor in the University of Miami’s School of Law.

The book by Jones, who teaches Constitutional Law, Criminal Procedure, and Employment Discrimination, explores how hip-hop music penetrates law and culture through the voice of otherwise voiceless urban youth.

Joining Jones in the discussion were fellow law professors, Osamudia James, Kunal Parker, and David Abraham.

Professor Kenneth B. Nunn from the University of Florida Levin College of Law moderated the discussion and Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree, Jr., also participated via Skype. Ogletree is the founder of Harvard Law School's Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice and is a prominent legal theorist.

“Jones is one of the leading intellectuals in critical race theory,” said Ogletree. “Hip-hop itself helps us keep up with changing demographics, allows for intergenerational conversation, and furthers our understanding of young persons’ ability to learn and express themselves.”

In James’s analysis, she explored the element of classism discussed in the book. She challenged the idea that hip hop reflects the black middle class's rejection of poor and working class blacks. Such a characterization is questionable because the two groups are closely connected, she said.

Parker made a connection between hip-hop and immigration. Throughout the early 1900s, Asian and European immigrants were subjected to removal efforts and denied jobs, which in some light is comparable to the plight of African Americans, the group that largely shapes the hip-hop culture. Pointing out a short but powerful sentence in the novel – “I feel you” – Parker credited Jones’s bravery in attempting to understand the struggle of the disenfranchised urban youth.

“We may have overcome the color lines, as seen with a black president, however, urban neighborhoods are too often viewed in a criminal-genic way; hip-hop exploits a cultural divide as deep as a racial divide,” said Jones.

Not shy of his own historical analysis, Abraham challenged hip-hop’s place in society. He believes that while hip-hop is reminiscent of the rebellious, self-empowering spirit that Malcolm X pushed, it is not absolved of criticism.

Is hip-hop a rebuttal of assimilation, or is it the sound of those seeking empathy? Is hip-hop relevant to any political agenda? Abraham proposed these questions to Jones.

“Although hip-hop has not translated its messages into a political program, hip-hop converts the junk from the inner-city into something that can sell and build culture,” said Jones. “It is an extension of the civil rights movement – the product that it is selling is a sense of pride and identity in the inner city.”

After the discussion, Nunn mentioned how he was impressed with the classroom and out-of-class education at Miami Law.

Fear of a Hip-Hop Planet: America's New Dilemma is available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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