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MUSC 286: Hip Hop Diplomacy

Konshens the MC and Mark Katz
Konshens the MC, a rapper from Washington, DC, and Professor Mark Katz in conversation on Feb. 11, 2020 in Katz’ MUSC 286 class.

Professor Mark Katz
Tuesday/Thursday, 2:00 – 3:15 pm

Focusing on the period following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this course explores the U.S. government’s use of hip hop as a form of people-to-people diplomacy, the interaction of citizens of different countries meant to establish dialogue, shape public opinion, and influence policy. At heart, MUSC 286: Hip Hop Diplomacy is about the intersection of music and power and explores the power of music to bridge cultural divides, facilitate understanding, and build community. The course seeks to understand the fraught power relationships—between art and the state and between the United States and the international community—revealed in the practice of hip hop diplomacy. The course follows Mark Katz’s work as founding director of Next Level, a State Department-funded hip hop diplomacy program that has visited more than 30 countries since 2014 and will be conducting residencies during the semester.

“I hope these guys don’t think they’re coming to teach us hip hop. I hope they’re going to learn as well and build with [us].” Ngoni Tapiwa, aka Upmost

The statement above comes from my 2015 interview with Zimbabwean hip hop artist Upmost, who expressed his concerns about the Next Level program coming to his community. When Upmost said he hoped that we were coming to build with Zimbabwean hip hop, he was drawing on a crucial concept in hip hop culture. To build with someone is to collaborate, to work towards something that can be achieved collectively, but not individually. Building with someone is different from teaching someone, or to use a hip hop term that suggests domination, schooling them. -Professor Mark Katz

Katz prefers to teach by building with students rather than schooling them. Although he is an expert in the subject matter, he will not simply be dispensing his knowledge or wisdom. He wants to model the type of exchange that Next Level aspires to, one that is fundamentally collaborative, culturally sensitive, and mutually respectful. Students, then, should not consider themselves passive recipients of information but should feel empowered to shape this course and be responsible for its success.

MUSC 286 counts as 3 credit hours towards graduation upon successful completion and satisfies the VP general education requirement.

Konshens the MC in a Rap Writing Workshop
Konshens the MC gives a rap writing workshop on February 11, 2020.
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