Standing onstage in Kemper Auditorium on March 31, Nick Liu ’23 began with the the birth of hip hop in 1973 and continued on to discuss a wide variety of subjects – from Sichuanese rappers such as the Higher Brothers to prominent American hip hop groups such as the Migos. These were all part of Liu’s presentation, “A Journey to the West and Back: Chinese Rap Movements and International Asian-Black Solidarity,” a culmination of his work as a Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CaMD) Scholar.
Exploring the central question of whether hip hop can transcend boundaries of race, ethnicity, nationality, Liu delved into cross-cultural music and the line between cultural appreciation and appropriation.
“I think [this line] is [one of] the fundamental pillars on which my research rests… It’s about taking the time to check your work essentially and to make sure [that] not only through the physical process, but [also with] what mentality are you approaching culture, [and] approaching music and ownership in music… I can’t draw a line through your Spotify account and say, ‘These songs are racist and these songs are appreciative and should be celebrated.’ I think part of [accountability] lies in the artistic exploration… and I think the other part is about interpretation. It’s about your and your personal engagement with these songs,” said Liu in response to a question during Q&A.
Sophia Eno ’23, who is involved in many music and jazz groups across campus herself, praised Liu’s presentation and its focus on the nuances with rap and hip hop in modern pop culture. For her, Liu touched on one of the most essential attributes of music, the potential and power that music has to unite people.
“I really believe in the power that music has and the power that it has to draw community together. It’s very nuanced and very ingrained in pop culture, with rap specifically nowadays, and it’s a topic that carries a lot of weight to me and I believe in its importance very deeply, so being able to see a CaMD presentation that highlights its influence and the power that it has to create good and create solidarity was very impactful to me,” said Eno.
This was the first CaMD scholar presentation that Ashiq Kibria ’26 was able to attend, and he found himself impressed by the detail and new perspectives that Liu’s presentation offered. Because he felt that aspects of Liu’s presentation were more personably relatable, he found learning about Asian-Black solidarity fascinating.
“I’m very grateful to be able to attend because I found it personally very interesting. I went with some of my friends who were Black and interested in learning more, and since I’m Asian I wanted to hear more about the connections between the two. I’ve heard about conflicts between the two races so hearing more about the solidarity between the two, especially from the perspective of music and hip hop, was very interesting,” said Kibria.
Liu’s faculty advisor, Michael Legaspi, former Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, highlighted how Liu’s research aligned with the essential ideals of scholarship by truly examining and discovering the relations and parallels between Hip-Hop and Black Asian solidarity.
“Tonight is about scholarship,” said Legaspi in his introduction to Liu’s presentation. “Scholarship is not primarily a creative enterprise; scholarship is about looking at what has already been created, looking at what is with a critical eye and an open mind, it’s about looking at what is, articulating it, giving it voice, holding it up for inspection, and illuminating it, which is precisely what Nick Liu has done tonight,”
Legaspi continued, “One thing I learned from Nick’s project was that hip-hop was born in August 1973, and I think when someone writes the history of Black Asian solidarity in this country, March 31, 2023 is going to be a part of that history, because it will be the date that something important was named, something that was happening that had not yet been identified was held up to the light for all of us.”