Excited to share Childish Gambino’s new song with the rest of the Hip-Hop Club members, co-head Zach Ruffin ’17 arrived at a club meeting only to realize that he had forgotten to download the music file onto his computer. Frustrated that his plans had gone awry, Ruffin and his fellow board members decided to instead improvise a meeting about Little Yachty, an African American hip-hop dancer, as Ruffin explained in an interview with The Phillipian.
“We didn’t plan for that [meeting] to happen, it kind of just did, and I like that it was spontaneous, and I feel like that just sums up Hip-Hop Club. You’re not supposed to feel like you’re forced to do some things; it’s fun and you should be able to do whatever you want,” said Ruffin.
Hip-Hop Club, run by Ruffin and JayShawn Fuller ’17, holds meetings every Friday afternoon in the Elson Art Center, listening to and discussing new hip-hop music. Inspired by the growing influence of hip-hop in society, Fuller decided to turn informal, hip-hop listening gatherings that he had with friends last year into an official club on campus.
“I feel like in the past couple of years in particular, hip-hop has been picking up more politically and socially-aware themes, because of the media’s attention on what’s been happening in the black community with regards to police violence and just kind of those issues,” said Fuller. “So it quickly went from us kind of listening to new music and just talking about it to more so talking about the themes that were being discussed and picking up on those. I think that it’s particularly important to keep those conversations up on campus.”
At club meetings, the activities range from listening to J. Cole, an American hip-hop artist and record producer, to watching the hip-hop based Netflix show “The Get Down,” or, occasionally, freestyle rap battles. However, the club’s activities are meant to vary based on the interests and talents of the ever changing members.
“Last year, there were a lot of freestyle rap battles because [James “J.T.” Taylor ’16 was] phenomenal in terms of rap ability. And we had [Chase O’Halloran ’18] who’s also a rapper, and they would go back to back just freestyling and it was fun times when you have that type of skill. And I guess, now because JT is gone, it’s hard to get back to that level of hype and energy, but the plan is to sort of find what works with us and just keep it going because each group’s different, and you’ve got to adjust for each group’s strengths. It’s going to be fun either way, so we might as well make it our own,” said Ruffin.
To the members of the club, hip-hop music is much more than just a good beat. Hip-hop music lyrics can also be analyzed and dissected. Topics of police violence and hypermasculinity often surface during club discussions.
“I think usually people think of hip-hop as this genre where you listen to it when you’re in the mood to have fun and party, but I feel like there are so many different themes that lie behind the music that when you’re actually having an intellectual discussion and really breaking things down, it’s like you get an entirely different thing from it,” said Fuller.
“So I feel [it’s important to have these conversations] regarding why hip-hop exists, what hip-hop is talking about, [and] how hip-hop gives a voice to so many different black youth that wouldn’t be able to express themselves in any other sort of capacity,” continued Fuller.
In the future, the club plans to host a regional dance with neighboring schools or collaborate with other clubs to bring speakers onto campus
“We’ve been working on trying to maybe have something in combination with Af-Lat-Am, which I’m also involved in, in which we bring a speaker that kind of talks about the issue of hip-hop activism or maybe bring some sort of hip-hop activist to campus, but we’ll see what happens with that,” said Fuller.