Today at 12:30 p.m., the enlivened discourse on the subject will be injected with a dose of hip-hop.
The UNC Institute for the Arts and Humanities is hosting the Silent Sam Cypher in front of the statue this afternoon, featuring members of the UNC Cypher in a freestyle rap session designed to encourage discussion about the racial controversy and history of Silent Sam.
Mark Katz, the Institute for the Arts and Humanities’ director, decided to organize the cypher after observing (J) Rowdy — UNC graduate Josh Rowsey — and his fellow cypher rappers perform on Wednesday nights in the Pit. He thought the cypher would be an entertaining, productive way to encourage serious conversations about Silent Sam’s lasting legacy on campus.
“I see Silent Sam every day. I see him outside my window, and of course, I’ve been aware of all the controversy surrounding Silent Sam and the calls to take the statue down or contextualize it in some way,” Katz said. “I sort of put two and two together and thought a peaceful, creative and constructive way of confronting the issues around Silent Sam would be through a cypher.”
Though the improvisational nature of freestyle rapping prevents any true agenda for the cypher, Katz and Rowsey hope the cypher will provide students and observers with an approachable alternative method of dialogue to discuss difficult racial issues related to Silent Sam.
While Rowsey and company will lead the cypher, participation from the crowd is encouraged. Ultimately, Rowsey said he hopes to provide frustrated students a safe place and a musical channel for their emotions that allows them to speak their mind.
“I think it will bring light to how people actually feel. I think a lot of people who feel affected by the Silent Sam statue, what’s been going on nationally and on college campuses across the United States, don’t feel safe at this time,” Rowsey said.
“I think the cypher gives people a safe space to express any hurt, negative feelings they have in a productive way.”
This ideology — that hip-hop can provide a voice to the voiceless — pervades the cypher mentality and reflects the socially influential nature of hip-hop and rap music. As the Black Lives Matter movement combats issues such as racial inequality and police brutality, socially conscious rap artists like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole have lent their support, speaking out against these injustices in a culturally attractive medium.
Watching Rowsey freestyle in the Pit Tuesday afternoon to promote the Silent Sam Cypher, first-year Pk Krentsil said the merging of hip-hop and social activism sounded like a familiar tune to longtime fans.
“Hip-hop has always been political, especially since groups like Public Enemy and N.W.A. broke out. It’s like history repeating itself,” Krentsil said.