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This UNC class studied the history of hip-hop culture, then captured it in an album

"Sankofa" is an album produced by a UNC hip-hop class. Photo courtesy of Cassidy Dula.

Looking back to inspire the future: this is the premise behind the album, Sankofa, created by students in professor Perry Hall’s African, African American and Diaspora Studies hip-hop history class. 

The release of this album on April 16 in the the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History acted as a culmination of class collaboration and musicality that stemmed from learning the breadth of hip-hop as a social consciousness indicator and agent for free expression.

“Hip-hop is so thoroughly embedded in our everyday culture,” Hall said. “It has a deep history and has various issues that are fair game for academic exploration.” 

Hall has been teaching "The History of Hip-Hop Culture" for about 10 years. Hall said the inspiration for the class came from his belief that the importance of hip-hop should be better acknowledged. 

James Taylor, the Sankofa producer and writer, said that in mainstream American culture, people often only digest certain pieces of hip-hop culture — often the pieces that don’t engage with the core of Black culture. Music is the remedy prescribed by the 11 students co-creating this album to better intertwine popular hip-hop music with its deeply rooted culture. 

“Hip-hop at its core is fun,” Taylor said. “But there is a strong dichotomy between underground and mainstream hip-hop, important rap versus fun rap.” 

The six tracks that compose the album, Sankofa, all center around the main premise of the word meaning “go back and get it” in the Ghana Twi language. Album cover artist Cassidy Dula portrays Hall holding a boom box as an attribution to his dedication to the class and to the genre of hip-hop as a progressive genre. 

Critiquing materialistic society, leaning into vulgar free verse, uplifting the Black community and showcasing student creativity are all threads of hip-hop that are woven into the text and texture of Sankofa.

Everyone in the class contributed to the album release party in some way, and Taylor said this project acted as a conglomerate for the community.

Taylor said he thinks hip-hop is a communal genre and communal culture. 

“We sort of gained a community of our own not unlike the community that hip-hop consistently builds,” he said. 

The community of this class also embraced the role of past and present women contributing to hip-hop, despite the genre being male-centric. One of the songs on the album is called "WRW (Scammer's Anthem)," which stands for “women run the world.” 

“Lots of female rappers can get lost under the tides,” Taylor said. “We wanted to honor the legacy of female rappers and shine a light on the neglect of recognizing them for being as dope as they are.” 

An homage to empowering women is one of the multi-faceted layers discussing the history of hip-hop. JT Faucette, event coordinator, said he was initially drawn to the class to learn more about hip-hop as a vehicle for political and social digression. 

“Hip-hop has a special place in musical history in the way that it's almost always been socially charged in a way that any other popular genre really hasn’t been,” Faucette said. “It was interesting to see musical discussions double as political and social conversations in a way that allowed people who maybe weren’t music experts to talk about things that they had more expertise over but still have a voice that is valid in how they discuss hip-hop.”

Students from all ethnic and academic backgrounds had the opportunity to take this course and contribute to Sankofa with a variety of skill sets. Faucette and Taylor said they were proud of how the album and class came together.

“No matter really how much you might think the quality holds up to anything else, it just means something to be able to go out there and showcase something that you as a group, or maybe just as an individual, is proud of,” Faucette said.


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