Aspiring emcees and music culturists alike will now have the chance to practice and appreciate the craft in the classroom.
Music 286, called Music as Culture, or Emcee Lab, is being offered for the first time at UNC this fall. The idea for the class came from music department chairman Mark Katz. Katz said the inspiration for the class came from a hypothetical “Carolina Beat Academy,” a beat-focused music program he created for a class project in an arts entrepreneurship class he taught.
“It’s kind of coming true, which is really amazing to see. I’ve taught — and continue to teach — a class called Beat Making Lab, as well as DJing and a class called Rock Lab, which is where students come together and form bands and put on a show at the end of the semester,” Katz said.
“So one of the missing pieces was rap.”
Katz asked Pierce Freelon, a music professor at UNC, to develop the syllabus for the class in the same style as the Beat Making Lab, which Freelon already teaches.
“Emceeing, with your voice as an instrument, hasn’t been offered yet,” said Freelon, who stressed the importance of distinguishing between emceeing and rapping.
“With an emcee, there’s a lot more to it, and a lot more than just knowing how to rhyme words.”
The class is much more than just learning how to emcee, though, Freelon said.
“I hope (students) take away a sense of the extent to which rap music — and what you hear on the radio — is really just a sliver of hip-hop culture,” he said.
“Emceeing is something much more robust, and hip-hop is a lot more robust than any genre on your iTunes playlist.”
Sophomore Jeremy Kleiman, who took the Beat Making Lab class with Freelon over the summer, said he really enjoyed the contemporary structure of the course.
“It’s a nontraditional music class with a focus on a more modern music form than the more academic class composition stuff that exists, especially with the Beat Making Lab,” he said.
James Livingston, also known as “Median,” is a practicing emcee in the Durham area. He will be co-teaching the class with Freelon.
“Basically, we’re teaching students how to analytically observe hip-hop, in addition to how to practice it,” Livingston said.
“Hip-hop came as a response to a set of conditions America was in at the time in the early to mid-’70s, and it’s something that continues throughout the tradition as a way to give a voice to the voiceless.”
Livingston also said the course has things to offer for all students, even those who aren’t music majors.
“It’s about empowering yourself,” he said.
“And that’s something that a person can take from the class even if they’re not interested in being an emcee as a professional goal.”
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