I’m not going to lie, when I was notified that I got tenure back in May I went numb, overcome by a combination of guilt (a sad case of survivor’s remorse caused by the stresses of the tenure process), fear of professional complacency, and excitement for future possibilities related to new research and education projects to dig my teeth into. One project that has gradually progressed from idea/vision to practical implementation has been the Hartford Hip Hop Digital Archive.
The idea for this archive really came into being when the Hartford History Center at the Hartford Public Library hosted “Hartford Hip Hop: Then and Now” in November 2016. I was saddled with the task of serving as moderator for a panel of 7-8 hip hop pioneers from Hartford from the 1970s and 1980s era. A difficult job no doubt. I basically let them get lost in their memories and recollections of their time as youth artists in Hartford mesmerized by hip hop music and culture until I gave them that look that said, “Don’t hog the mic”. It was an amazing event descibed by one attendee as something akin to a family reunion absent the sweet tea and bbq ribs.
I wish I could say I am the brains behind this project. Truth be told, I’ve been interested in creating a hip hop archive largely due to Trinity International Hip Hop Festival http://www.trinityhiphop.org which I help organize. But the archive reamined only an idea until I reconnected with Jasmin Agosto. Jasmin is a former Trinity student, a former Temple of Hip Hop organizer of the international hip hop festival and former research assistant in creating the Black Panther Party-Hartford chapter archive, all during her time at Trinity.
After heading to NYC to get her Master’s degree at NYU’s heralded Gallatin School for Individualized Study where she wrote a thesis on independent artists and self-sustainability in Hartford, Jas returned home to Hartford, got a gig at the Hartford History Center at the Hartford Public Library and the rest is history. Like me, Jas is poised to preserve Hartford’s rich hip hop history, which dates back to mid-1970s. This digital archive would be accessible to the public, including access to visual, audio, photographic materials. 2017 should be an exciting year, one where I hope to work with Jas in laying the groundwork for an archive that focuses on a marginalized, silenced community.
As I walked to my car feeling despondent, having just got off the phone with my assigned Posse Trainer who notified me that one of my scholars had abruptly left the school and was leaving for home as soon as possible, I kept thinking to myself, “What did I do wrong? As a mentor, wasn’t I supposed to be the frontline, the authority figure scholars would go to for advice, support, and mentorship? In this case, with this student, I started my car with this aching feeling of self-defeat, especially because this scholar never contacted me about anything, rarely coming to our 1 on 1 meetings.
Then, as I was exiting the parking lot, I saw one of my colleagues who had been a Posse mentor. I hit the brakes, rolled down my window, said hello and asked, “How many of your Posse scholars ended up graduating?” I could tell she could see the sadness and frustration etched all over my face. “Seth, I lost so many students. Many didn’t make it.”. Didn’t Make It. This program is about making it. It’s about making it through four years of college, navigating through the struggles of being a POC attending an elitist TWI in the northeast.
Looking back on my first semester as a Posse mentor, this memory – a memory of failure in my mind – sticks out the most. It’s not how I built great rapport and trust with 9 of 10 the scholars. It’s not about their collective GPA of 3.3 – a huge success. Instead, I’ve been harping on the one that got away, the one I didn’t reach, the one that I didn’t establish trust with. That student is set to return this semester and I am excited and concerned. Will the student be welcomed back by the scholars? Is there such a thing as a reset button? Will the scholars ride the wave of momentum brought on by a successful first semester?
Being a Posse mentor is a profound responsibility. What I liked the most was the ability to explore creative ways to mentor. It has allowed me to experiment with approaches to reaching and connecting with undergraduate students. I only hope that the progress made in building unique in relationships with each scholar continues; that the students continue to “trust the process” and develop as students, as leaders, as global citizens.
To kick off my INTS 344: Global Hip Hop Cultures seminar, I sought out Self-Suffice, a Hartford-based emcee, educator and author who plays a big supportive role in the annual Trinity International Hip Hop Festival. For the past couple of years I’ve been collaborating with him on bringing hip hop to the college classrom through lectures and active learning workshops. So when the opportunity came up to apply for a community learning grant from the college, I jumped on it. After seeing Suffice in action for so long, I knew all I needed to tell him was that 1) most of the students know very little about hip hop and 2) if he could address the origins of hip hop in the US. Leading up to the lecture, students read materials that gave them insight into the pioneering agency of DJ Kool Herc as a way to shed light on hip hop’s Jamaican roots. This was supplemented by works that addressed the Peurto Rican and Chicano contributions to the hip hop movement as well. To begin the class session, Suffice wrote and displayed 2 phrases for the students to think about: “Peace Love Unity Havin Fun” and “Sex, Money, Violence, Drugs” , opening the lecture with the question: Which one of these phrases, do you think, is what hip hop is all about? From there, Suffice explored the cultural explosion that unfolded in the South Bronx in the early 1970s by talking about creativity, oppression, individuality, the break beat, the sound system, the fresh styles, the four artistic elements, among other themes.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Posse Retreat at Camp Vacamas in New Jersey. As the Posse Mentor for 10 incoming first year Posse Scholars, (Trinity College, Class of 2020) from New York City, this retreat was an opportunity to get to know these merit-based scholarship students before they arrive at Trinity at the end of the month. For three days we laughed and cried, and we engaged in team building activities. First impressions? The students are pretty dope. They are smart, funny, thoughtful and a joy to be around. They have aspirations and high expectations for themselves and the group. I am really looking forward mentoring them and providing them with the skills to become the leaders of today and tomorrow.
It’s a shame I didn’t get a chance to really check out this month long display of jazz music from across the globe, but that’s what happens when you go to a city where there is so much to do but such little time. Luckily I got a chance to see a few good acts, starting with Soil & “Pimp” Sessions. Hailing all the way from Tokyo, Japan, this sextet gave a really exciting show, especially the pianist and trumpeter whose solos were pretty on point throughout their group’s performance.On a beautiful Sunday evening, before the rain came, Ilam was able to satisfy my need for some African music. After all, any music from Senegal is a safe bet. And it wouldn’t it be shameful if I didn’t find the time to check out some local hip hop? The Lyonz of Montreal (2 rappers, 2 singers, and a DJ) brought out a sizable contingent of local hip hoppers whose hype for some homegrown talent making it to the jazz festival stage was infectious. Throughout The Lyonz’ set I found myself in one of those head bobbin’ trances thanks to the DJ’s trippy beats while desperately trying to locate one of the emcee’s voice and rhyming style. Did he sound like Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest or Will.I.Am of Black Eyed Peas? I’m telling you it was a toss up, but pleasing to listen to nevertheless.
It looks like I travelled to Montreal during the July 4th Weekend at an opportune time. What was initially a planned out jazz festival sojourn, morphed into a tour a French-Canadian city with a vibrant street and graffitti art scene.
When walking around the ‘hood where my AirBnB spot was located, I saw murals practically every other block, so I assumed I booked a place in the Williamsburg of Montreal, thinking it was simply an anomaly, a hipster enclave within the city. But after a biking and walking tour, combined with a dinner convo with Pablo, a Montreal native and filmmaker, I came to learn about a few things.
For one thing, about two weeks ago Montreal played host to its 4th annual Public Art Festival (June 9-19). Sponsored by LANDMARK, and about 20 other corporations, this festival not only fosters the sharing and exchange of ideas among local, regional and international artists but also lets the city landscape (i.e. the sidewalks, buildings, storefronts) serve as their canvas.
The Festival, however, is not without its fair share of critics. Admittedly, I got that creepy-hipster-gentrification vibe about the whole thing because the street art outnumbered the graffiti by a wide margin.
The graffiti scene in Montreal dates back to the 1980s bombing era, and holds special kinship ties to Paris for obvious reasons. During this time, graffiti had a political edge in its messaging, which you could find displayed in typical post-industrial locations like the TA Wall and Redpath.
By the mid-90s, crews such as VC and graf writers such as Seven and Castro elevated the scene to a new level, passing the baton to artists such as Ja One, O’Clock, Ich and Bates and crews such as Crazy Apes.
Like most public art friendly cities, Montreal’s muralist community too is undergoing some internal discord between the street artists and graf writers largely as a result of the influx of corporate patronage. While corporate sponsorship has provided a source of income to these artists, corporations’ favoritism for street art over graffiti has raised unresolved questions about the reasons for doing street art in the first place. Does getting in bed with Corporate Canada mean the death of graffiti? Probably not.
After 6 years of heavy recruitment, of dodging and weaving the Office of Multicultural Affairs, I finally decided to serve as a Posse Mentor under the auspices of the Posse Foundation. Posse was founded almost 2 decades ago, and it is a merit based scholarship program for students under-represented at Traditionally White Institutions of Higher Learning. So I have 10 students from NYC that I will be mentoring for their 4 years in college. The week-long training simply revealed to me that I stay true to myself and that I should expect the unexpected.
We all miss Biggie big time. So every time his birthday comes around is a reason to celebrate. For 2016, emcee and graf writer, Dina Brass, hosted a such an event at her store Venom Vintage. With DJNEB and other musicians holding it down by reproducing Biggie beats live for emcees and spoken word poets to express themselves.