Loren Kajikawa talks hip-hop and rap’s road to popularity

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The music department continued its annual guest lecturer series at Blow Memorial Hall. COURTESTY PHOTO / WM.EDU

The College of William and Mary’s music department continued its series of guest lectures April 4 with a presentation from associate professor of musicology Loren Kajikawa of George Washington University. The lecture, which focused on hip-hop and its road to popularity, discussed the disregard hip-hop and rap first faced when the genres began gaining recognition 

Kajikawa highlighted the sophistication found in hip-hops rhythmemphasized the deeper meaning portrayed by the genre’s lyrics and commented on hip-hop’s extensive cultural influence. Kajikawa focused on Tupac Shakur’s song “Life Goes On” and provided an in-depth analysis of its legacy.  

Lauren Kehrer, an assistant professor of music at the College, assisted in hosting the event and introduced the guest speaker. Kehrer described why this lecture was held and gave greater context for the music department’s goals for the ongoing guest lecture series.  

We [The Music Department] every year do a series, called the Music and Culture Series, and through that series, we invite a number of guest speakers to present on their research and topics that are relevant to all the disciples we include  largely academic sides of music study,” Kehrer said. “ The idea is to have them come engage with our students and offer some of the most cutting-edge recent work being done in these fields.” 

“We [The Music Department] every year invite a number of guest speakers to present on their research and topics that are relevant to all the disciples we include…The idea is to have them come engage with our students and offer some of the most cutting-edge recent work being done in these fields.” Kehrer said.

Kajikawa began his speech by explaining the two factors that are overlooked in the study of hip-hop and explained how changes in musicology need to be made in order to more accurately examine music.  

“Raps defenders often rush to embrace its differences, whether musical or racial,” Kajikawa said. Today, I want to talk about two interrelated concerns about hip-hop and difference … [firsthistorically white disciplines, like musicology and music theory, perpetuate racial exclusivity … [second] important aspects of hip-hop that might be overlooked when scholars rush to presume its fundamental difference from other musical genres and styles.” 

Kajikawa then explained what is known as epistemology of ignorance, which refers to the exclusion of minority views and circumstances in historical studies.  

“Philosophers critical of their own disciplines white male biashave coined the phrase ‘epistemology of ignorance to describe the practice of pursuing knowledge while excluding as beyond the purview the lived experiences of women, racial minorities or LGTBQ+ people and others unable or unwilling to adopt the privileged position of a white heteromale subject,” Kajikawa said. 

Later in the lecture, Kajikawa played Tupac Shakur’s song “Life Goes On.” He explained how the work of Shakur and his producer Johnny Jackson utilized real musical skill in both the rhythm and lyrics.  

“Tupac wrote his lyrics in the studio while listening to the beat, and the way he organized and delivered them matched the loop that Johnny J crafted, Kajikawa said. “You can hear how Tupac breaks up his verses into four measure ideas that coincide with each cycle of the chord progression … The beat that Johnny J composed also contributes directly to the song’s somber yet inspirational message. 

Kajikawa’s lecture described how Tupac Shakur, his music and his symbol as a “Thug Angel,” helped influence hip-hop and how it became a voice for an unheard minority. His lecture aimed to show that hip-hop and rap are not useless noise  as they were once thought to be in musical discourse  and that they are instead important forms of musical art.  

question from the audience prompted Kajikawa’s explanation on the real importance behind beats and how their conception matters in a song’s meaning.  

“Beats sound different, it matters whether it sounds like someone pounding on a table, or it sounds like the sounds were taken from some other recording somewhere,” Kajikawa said. “We need a more robust way of talking about how meaning is produced through beats, and what beats actually contribute through a song that doesn’t just spoil it down some grid.” 

“Beats sound different, it matters whether it sounds like someone pounding on a table, or it sounds like the sounds were taken from some other recording somewhere,” Kajikawa said. “We need a more robust way of talking about how meaning is produced through beats.”

One audience member Brigid Cryan ‘22 shared her thoughts on how certain musical genres should not be disregarded based on social stigmas.  

It’s important to consider [a] genre’s dignity, regardless of social context,” Cryan said. 

After the lecture, Kehrer shared her thoughts on the talk and commented on why she believed it is important to analyze music in terms of its societal implications.  

I think that we are grappling with really serious issues with how our studies of music are trying to grapple with some of the ways in which racism and other forms discrimination have been imbedded in our methodology,” Kehrer said. “It’s important that we talk about how that has worked historically and continues to, and do the work of unpacking and try[ing] to rectify that.” 

I think that we are grappling with really serious issues with how our studies of music are trying to grapple with some of the ways in which racism and other forms discrimination have been imbedded in our methodology,” Kehrer said.