The syllabi at Temple University are changing. While once dominated by epic works of Greek heroism, dense and insurmountable film theory, and journalistic diatribes that only the most enthusiastic pupil could ponder, a new type of reading list has appeared. Or listening list, as the case may be.
Thanks to the continued work of Will Boone, a graduate student and Ph.D. candidate at Temple, students have been able to study Hip-Hop and Black Culture as part of their scholastic experience. The class is a rare opportunity for students to listen to and discuss works of art being created about and around them.
Instead of waxing intellectual on the Homeric nature of ancient history, the class tackles topics like the wit of Kanye West. While other classes run their mind in circles trying to grasp the ideas of John Locke, the writings of KRS-One are on the minds of Boone’s students.
Boone has been teaching Hip-Hop and Black Culture for the past two semesters. After getting his masters from North Carolina A&T in Greensbough, Boone decided to continue his education at Temple. Finding himself in the African-American Studies Department, he was presented with a very unique opportunity.
“In most departments, TAs help other professors. But in African-American studies, it’s a little different,” Boone said regarding his ability to teach a class while still working toward his Ph.D. “At [A&T], I actually taught classes, so they gave me this one.”
The only thing that Boone is more passionate about than hip-hop is its place in the curriculum at Temple, and its home in African-American Studies.
“Music departments have been reluctant, to say the least, when covering African-American music,” Boone said, explaining why his class isn’t held at the Boyer College of Music. “Similar to jazz, music departments have been hesitant to cover these phenomena.”
Finding room for modern music studies in the African-American Studies department wasn’t as much of a struggle though.
“African-American Studies is multi-disciplinary,” Boone said.
As much as the class focuses on music and hip-hop’s place within black culture, don’t expect the class to be under the tutelage of some didactic bookwork. Boone prides himself on practicing what he preaches. Boone is a burgeoning producer and MC, having sold tracks and beats to several local rap outfits. A self-described, “hip-hop head,” Boone has been actively involved promoting and creating new hip-hop music in and around Philadelphia.
“I think the Philly scene has more potential than even the New York scene,” Boone said, showing some pride for the city of brotherly thugs. It’s this enthusiasm that drives Boone to not only direct young hip-hop scholars, but also get into the trenches of creative output.
“I don’t think it’s enough for me to teach a course,” Boone said. “I need to help develop and cultivate the culture here.”
While Boone admits that hip-hop is an incredible tool for social dialogue and revolution, he holds its local impact in the highest regard.
“It’s important that we start in Philly, and then work our way out,” Boone said about the local hip-hop scene’s responsibility to itself. “You can’t reach people globally until you reach them locally.”
As much as Boone loves to entrench himself and his students in the history and past triumphs of hip-hop culture, he understands that what has come before is only valuable as long as it helps direct the future. For Boone, the future of hip-hop lies in cohesion and camaraderie.
“The breakers have their own clique, the graph artists have their own clique, the MCs have their own click,” Boone said, describing the dissonance within rap culture. “The challenge of hip-hop in the new millennium is to bring all these elements of hip-hop together.”
Robert James Algeo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org