Com­mu­ni­ca­tion studies pro­fessor and hip-​​hop expert Murray Forman trav­eled twice to Europe over the summer to lec­ture on his hip-​​hop research and help other coun­tries incor­po­rate hip-​​hop studies into school and uni­ver­sity cur­ricula. At the Paris Hip-​​Hop Fes­tival in June, he opened the first round­table dis­cus­sion on hip-​​hop with U.S. Ambas­sador to France Charles Rivkin. The event was an oppor­tu­nity to share expe­ri­ences and best prac­tices between U.S. and French hip hop cul­tures, with NGOs, social workers, local com­mu­ni­ties and youth. Forman also deliv­ered the keynote address at the Hip-​​Hop on the Ruhr con­fer­ence in Dort­mund, Germany.

What can we learn from hip-​​hop?
Hip-​​hop cul­ture is com­plex and mul­ti­fac­eted and it there­fore offers varied lessons. If you watch and listen closely to the cre­ative artists using aerosol, beats and rhymes and their bodies in motion, you can simul­ta­ne­ously detect a legacy of African-​​American and Latino aes­thetics and sophis­ti­cated per­spec­tives on the cur­rent state of cul­ture and society.
Common themes addressed through hip-​​hop include police bru­tality, the crim­inal injus­tice system and sys­temic racism, edu­ca­tional decline and school failure, lim­ited employ­ment and career oppor­tu­ni­ties for black and Latino youth, the fear and threat asso­ci­ated with urban street vio­lence, the crisis of teen preg­nancy and the risks of HIV infec­tion and so on. Artists and social workers not only employ hip-​​hop to express the social prob­lems that they wit­ness but also, in ideal cir­cum­stances, to com­mu­ni­cate pos­sible solutions.

What makes it worthy of aca­d­emic study?
From my media studies per­spec­tive, it is simply too big, eco­nom­i­cally robust and glob­ally dis­persed to ignore as an “object” of schol­arly research. It is a cru­cial ele­ment in the daily lives of lit­er­ally tens of mil­lions of people — in the U.S., Europe and from places as diverse as Cape Town, Dakar, Dar es Salaam, Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, Sydney, Moscow — both young and middle-​​aged. They make sense of their world in and through hip-​​hop-​​inflected dis­courses and prac­tices. It has also proven to be influ­en­tial in many areas of society that are cen­tral to ongoing aca­d­emic research across the disciplines.

Why are other coun­tries inter­ested in U.S aca­d­emic models of hip-​​hop studies?
Hip-​​hop has been around longer in the U.S. and it is better estab­lished in the edu­ca­tion system, from high school cur­ricula to uni­ver­sity pro­grams. Though the edu­ca­tional sys­tems are dif­ferent, some of the bat­tles to secure hip-hop’s place in the academy are common, so there are grounds for sharing insti­tu­tional strate­gies and ped­a­gog­ical prac­tices that ensure schol­arly rigor.

What are the “best practices”between the U.S and France hip-​​hop cul­tures?
I think the cul­tural and artistic exchange between the two coun­tries has always been impor­tant and remains so, as DJs, MCs (the music per­formers), b-​​boys and girls (break dancers) and aerosol (graf­fiti) artists interact and col­lab­o­rate.
Ensuring that com­mer­cial exploita­tion is min­i­mized is a promi­nent con­cern in each con­text. But the col­lab­o­ra­tion between hip-​​hop scholars has been slower to take shape, due in part to dif­ferent edu­ca­tional sys­tems and tra­di­tions. I think what aca­d­e­mics and intel­lec­tuals in each country agree most clearly on is that hip-​​hop studies must be ana­lyt­i­cally rig­orous and, ide­ally, socially rel­e­vant or useful. Ensuring this seems to be at the core of most dis­cus­sions about “best practices.”

Why do we have this sort of coop­er­a­tion with France?
It’s not just France. There are many coun­tries that share an interest in devel­oping hip-​​hop studies and in col­lab­o­rating on all things hip-​​hop. But France has a rather long and deep affil­i­a­tion with hip-​​hop, and the con­nec­tions between French and Amer­ican artists and entre­pre­neurs are quite strong. The French artists show incred­ible skill and talent and the audi­ences are very well versed in U.S. hip-​​hop lore; they care about the his­tory and they “respect the archi­tects.” This makes for a strong bond between the two nations.

Why share it with NGOs, social workers, com­mu­ni­ties and youth?
Hip-​​hop has evolved as a kind of lan­guage of social protest around the world and research on this theme in the U.S. seems to res­onate with for­eign scholars. Another point of interest, evi­dent in France, is the way that hip-​​hop is a cru­cial facet of cul­tural expres­sion among mar­gin­al­ized immi­grant or refugee youth and the urban poor. This really came to the fore in 2005 with the civil uprising in the out­skirts of Paris. The hip-​​hop artists from these neigh­bor­hoods had been voicing their frus­tra­tion and con­cerns for years. To under­stand the youth and their needs, inter­ests, or hopes one must at some point engage with hip-​​hop. That’s as true here as it is in France or almost any other country. A new gen­er­a­tion of inter­na­tional scholars, NGO exec­u­tives, social workers, and youth advo­cacy agen­cies fully real­izes this.

What hip-​​hop artists’ works would you rec­om­mend to novices inter­ested in hearing it?
The fol­lowing list could serve as a very basic entry into what is an almost end­less range of pos­si­bil­i­ties. The inter­na­tional tracks are inter­esting as they are in the artists’ native languages.

Grand­master Flash and the Furious 5, “The Message”

2Pac, “Keep Ya Head Up”

Guru & Bahamadia, “Respect the Architect”

Nas, “Black President”

Mr. Lif, “Obama”

Racionais MCs (Brazil), “Diario de um Detento”

Jaak (Cape Town), “Sweet”

Orishas (Cuba), “537 Cuba”

La Rumeur (France), “L’Ombre Sur la Mesure”

Fiva MC (Ger­many), “Blaue Flecken”

Maitreya (New Zealand), “Sin City”