Harvard Professor Marcyliena Morgan Discusses the Importance of Hip-Hop Culture and Education

Professor Marcyliena Morgan understands how important hip-hop culture is to society. As the director of the The Hip-Hop Archives at Harvard, Morgan facilitates the examination of hip-hop culture and art from an intellectual perspective.

During rolling out’s recent visit to The Hip-Hop Archive, Morgan discussed why the study of hip-hop is needed at an Ivy League institution and how the hip-hop generation has approached higher education.–amir shaw

How did The Hip-Hop Archives come into existence?

The Hip-Hop Archives came about when I was a professor at UCLA. Many of my students were involved in hip-hop in the late ’90s. They would bring me hip-hop material and I took a closer look at it. I am a linguistic anthropologist so I’m interested in language and culture.

Why is it important for a Ivy League school to highlight the study of hip-hop?

The people who were involved in hip-hop always took it seriously. Los Angeles had an underground hip-hop scene called the Good Life. There was an importance of the quality of the content of lyrics of emcees and beats. People were committed to the highest levels of story telling. I saw it as part of African American oral tradition. University setting was ideal because it’s where you take time to examine things that change culture, art and life. People will say with a lot of disdain, ‘Why is the Hip-Hop Archive at Harvard.’ I ask, ‘Where do you think it should be?’ When you’re talking about hip-hop at its highest skill level, why wouldn’t it be at Harvard? A lot of topics are being discussed because of hip-hop. Whether it’s sexuality, responsibility or crime, it’s discussion that hip-hop keeps in the mix.

Do you think that the hip-hop generation takes receiving an advanced degree seriously?

I think the hip-hop generation takes education seriously. It’s a misrepresentation to believe that the hip-hop generation doesn’t realize the importance of being able to read, learn math and take care of their business. Unfortunately, we often associate advanced degrees directly with jobs. If your focus is in engineering, you assume that you will be getting a job in the engineering field. But if your focus is english, there is not a specific english job. Many people in our community aren’t informed about what a degree means in this society. A degree tells us that you have self-discipline, know more about the world and you have a set of skills to figure out a situation. It’s incredibly powerful. but we have done a terrible job of informing the youth on how powerful that is.

What advice do you have for black students who may feel out of place at an Ivy League school?

As long as you have a hip-hop aesthetic, you can adapt to any environment and achieve. The hip-hop aesthetic is you can’t step on the stage if you’ve never practiced, studied your environment or neighborhood, and if you don’t know your history. You will have to battle. It’s not about who is liked the best, it’s about skills. If you put that type of work in to advance your skills, you can achieve at any college in the world.

A.R. Shaw is an author and journalist who documents culture, politics, and entertainment. He has covered The Obama White House, the summer Olympics in London, and currently serves as Lifestyle Editor for Rolling Out magazine. Follow his journey on Twitter @arshaw and Instagram @arshaw23.

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